Sheriff Knezovich has since contacted the author, and threatened legal action for posting incorrect information. In his email to RTC, the Sheriff kindly provided the amounts for the legal and expert fees, not available to KR at the time of the publication of the original article. Here is the breakdown of the costs of the lawsuit:
Federal Lawsuit Settlement: $50,000 Public Records Request (PRR) Settlement: $28,000 Legal Fees: $18,000 Expert Fees: $19,000
Therefore, the actual cost to Spokane County taxpayers was only $115,000, not $150,000 as our initial report stated. We apologize to the readers and Mr. Knezovich for the mistake.
Danny Lee was sentenced to the Spokane County Jail for an assault involving shooting paintballs at bystanders. At that time, the jail was still under the command of Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich. Lee has mental health issues and takes prescribed mental health medications. At the time of Lee’s sentencing, the judge ordered the jail to provide these medications. The Lee family was led to believed Lee’s medications could be brought to the jail when he surrendered to do his time. This was until the jail could provide them from its own supplier. There were several requirements including confirmation from the treating physician and the medications were delivered in sealed containers from Lee’s pharmacy. The jail refused to accept Lee’s medications and to comply with the judge’s order.
Lee eventually received his medications after ten days following exhaustive efforts by his family. This included a meeting by Danny Lee’s parents, Rob Lee, and Angie Lee, with Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and several senior staff members in a Sheriff’s Office conference room. Rob Lee told RTC that the Sheriff was very combative, intimidating and bullying in this meeting to the point that his wife, Angie, left the room in tears.
Rob Lee said he only wanted to get his son’s medications. Sheriff Kenzovich’s demeanor and behavior were very unprofessional according to Rob Lee. Rob Lee said if the Sheriff had been the least bit cooperative, understanding and gave some assurance that Danny would get his medications, no lawsuit would have been filed. Rob Lee said the money was never the issue. The family wanted the jail to make changes to ensure this didn’t happen again.
Sheriff’s Office Internal Affairs Sgt. Rich Geer during a later interview apologized on behalf of the Sheriff’s Office to Rob Lee and his wife that the jail had not followed its own medication policy. See video of this interview:
Rob Lee at the time filed a PRR (public records request) for the jail’s medication policy and was given a different policy that didn’t allow for inmate supplied medications. This was the basis for the filing a separate state lawsuit against the County for withholding the original policy that Sgt. Geer had referred to. This lawsuit was settled in favor of Rob Lee for $28,000. As reported by the S-R:
Danny Lee subsequently filed a federal civil rights lawsuit. Lee was represented by Jeffry Finer of the Center for Justice (Co-counsel in the Otto Zehm federal lawsuit). The lawsuit named as defendants Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, Jail Commander John McGrath, Lt. Dan Veloski, Deputy John Propp and Geiger nurse Michelle Erdem. The facts and circumstances of the lawsuit were previously reported by the Inlander in these articles:
A mediation hearing was held by a federal judge in the Federal District Court in Yakama last Thursday. The parties agreed to a settlement of $50,000 with the understanding that changes were and will be made in jail policy, procedure, staffing, and training. RTC does not have exact figures, but the County’s costs and attorney fees probably will approach $100K.
There are several other federal civil rights lawsuits pending for similar issues after the Lee case involving alleged denial or delay in providing inmate medications. These plaintiffs are also being represented by the Center for Justice. Settlements in these lawsuits could be even higher in that the County had knowledge that these incidents were not isolated events and were still occurring.
Spokane, Wash. — Spokane City Administrator Theresa Sanders accused Sheriff Knezovich of lying about her attempt to influence the language of a news release concerning an alleged sexual assault by a Spokane Police Officer. According to Knezovich, Sanders did not want the words “sexual assault” in the press release, because they are “inflammatory”. In a KHQ interview, Sanders vehemently denied the allegation, calling it a “fabrication” and promising “consequences” for the Sheriff.
KHQ: To your knowledge, was there any move on the part of the City to call this anything but a “sexual assault”?
Sanders: No, there never was, and, you know, Ozzie’s remarks are a pure fabrication, and there will in fact be consequences for him perpetuating that lie. I consider it to be a personal attack on my reputation and I intend to take action.
KHQ: When you heard [the remarks], what was your first reaction?
Sanders: That it was a complete fabrication, and I was amazed that the Sheriff would perpetuate a fabrication of that nature.
Spokane, Wash. — Records of the Sheriff’s Citizen’s Advisory Board (CAB) released last week confirmed that the board is wholly dependent on the Sheriff, and is unable to provide objective oversight.
The 217-page document [PDF, 30 Mb] provided by the Spokane County’s Sheriff’s Office in response to Rob Lee‘s public records request consists of the meeting minutes, copies of PowerPoint presentations, incident reports, email exchanges between the board members, and candidate applications. By far the most interesting document is the group’s charter, found on page 4 of the PDF. According to this document, and despite Sheriff Knezovich’s public statements to the contrary, he has absolute control over who gets to be on the board, and the CAB’s own charter forbids it from providing oversight — unless the Sheriff directs them to:
Minutes of the group’s meetings leave no doubt as to the identity of the man who sets the tone and calls the shots:
“Sheriff will get the speaker some talking points for the meeting [with County Commissioners, in support of a tax]” (page 50)
“Ozzie and Jeff plan to get together and determine a focus for this group” (page 63)
“Sheriff distributed the officer involved shooting incident we will be reviewing: (page 74) • The sheriff gave the group a quick overview of the incident • We can take as long as we need to review (summer if needed) • Prosecutor has concluded this was a justified shooting”
The use of unmarked vehicles by law enforcement for routine police work and wanton arrests for “obstruction” are hot-button issues for people who call themselves “Constitutionalists”. A 74-year old local pastor was killed by a Spokane Sheriff’s deputy who was sitting on his property in an unmarked police car. People have been threatened with arrest (and some actually went to jail) for asking questions and videotaping police encounters.
In response to my Public Records Request, Spokane County Sheriff’s Office mailed me some documents. Among them, I was surprised to find a 2-page memo dated January 20, 2015 that touches on both issues. It reads:
Recently, law enforcement personnel have been approached while in the middle of a call-for-service or traffic stop. Based upon these events, coupled with other societal events (protests) throughout the United States, the training unit offers the following information. If any Sheriff’s Office commissioned Personnel is approached by a person(s) who wish to discuss the legality of the vehicle being used for “official purposes,” or, what “rights” they wish to exercise in order to enter a secure premises (PSB, U-City, etc.), please consider the following:
Per our mission, we will treat all people with dignity and respect. Additionally, if any person hinders, delays, or obstructs you in the discharge of your duties, you have the authority to make an arrest for obstructing a law enforcement officer. (See RCW below).
If possible, give the person(s) a warning that they are “obstructing” and that they are subject to arrest if they continue. A call for back-up is highly recommended, and if appropriate, make an arrest.
No doubt the memo was the Spokane County Sheriff’s reaction to Gavin Seim’s video of a citizen making a traffic stop on a deputy for driving an unmarked vehicle. The video gathered well over 5 million views, and received local press coverage. Grant County Sheriff Tom Jones explained in a Facebook message that the patrol car the deputy was driving was awaiting vinyl graphics to be installed.
Unlike Sheriff Jones, who admitted that the car should have been marked, the memorandum reveals that Spokane County Sheriff Knezovich responded in a characteristic heavy-handed fashion, by advising his deputies to threaten citizens with arrest for exercising their constitutionally protected right to question the actions of their peace officers.
It is clear that the memo played a key role in my arrest on June 24. When I asked why my niece was being detained and what she was being charged with, the deputies ordered me to leave and threatened to arrest me for obstruction if I didn’t comply. I could not abandon a teenage girl with two male deputies on a deserted highway, so they acted out on their threat, and took me to jail — just as the memo prescribed.
Free Speech Is Not “Obstruction”
The Washington State Supreme Court made it clear in their “STATE OF WASHINGTON v. E.J.J.” decision, that you cannot be charged with obstruction for merely speaking:
The obstruction statute provides, “A person is guilty of obstructing a law enforcement officer if the person willfully hinders, delays, or obstructs any law enforcement officer in the discharge of his or her official powers or duties.” RCW 9A.76.020(1). To save the obstruction statute from being unconstitutionally overbroad in a First Amendment setting, we have construed the statute narrowly. Our cases have consistently required conduct in order to establish obstruction of an officer. State v. Williams, 171Wn.2d474, 485, 251 P.3d 877 (2011). In other words, a conviction for obstruction may not be based solely on an individual’s speech because the speech itself is constitutionally protected. This review is also consistent with the approach established by the United States Supreme Court. See Street v. New York, 394 U.S. 576, 578, 89 S. Ct. 1354, 22 L. Ed. 2d 572 (1969).
The Supreme Court reversed the conviction, noting that “obstruction statutes may not be used to limit citizens’ right to express verbal criticism, even abusive criticism, at police officers” and quoting from another US Supreme Court decision:
“[t]he freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state.“
When I asked Sheriff Knezovich via a Facebook message if he knew about the decision, he dismissed it with:
[..] this case was not in affect at the time you were pulled over. It was filed June 25, 2015 you were arrested on June 24,2015. No one knew of it and therefore the Deputies can not be held accountable for a new court decision they never knew about. So this is really a pointless discussion.
The authoritarian Sheriff spits on the rights of Spokane citizens and violates state law, while gloating about his election record (70% of voters foolishly cast their ballots for Knezovich). If you care about your rights, I urge you to contact the Sheriff’s office, and demand that:
They use unmarked vehicles only for undercover police work, as the law and common sense demand.
Issue a correction to the memo, advising the deputies that a person may not be threatened with arrest for exercising their First Amendment right to free speech.
Also, please take the time to educate your friends and family about these issues. You can start by sharing this blog on your Facebook page.
P.S. As the murder of Pastor Creach so clearly demonstrates, using unmarked vehicles for non-undercover police work is reckless and fatally dangerous. A plain reading of the law leads one to the obvious conclusion that such use is also illegal. However, instead of admitting his mistake, Sheriff Knezovich added insult to injury by successfully lobbying the Spokane County commissioners to pass an ordinance authorizing the use of unmarked patrol cars.
Last month, over a thousand signatures were delivered to the County Commissioner’s Office requesting that they enact an ordinance providing independent oversight for the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. These signatures were not from a specific political group or party. Citizens just like you from all walks of life formed a coalition built on principle to bring about a collaborative and constructive voice to police oversight in our community and for our Sheriff’s Office, a great deal of which has been misunderstood.
What is independent oversight?
Either in the form of an Ombudsman or a Citizen’s Panel, it is a mechanism staffed by citizens who review the findings of internal police investigations independent of the Sheriff’s Office. They are not members of the Sheriff’s Office nor are they commissioned law enforcement officers. They can review and make public their findings as well as the findings of the Sheriff’s Office. They may also review information provided to them from parties other than the Sheriff’s Office. They work for you, on your behalf.
Doesn’t a system like this shift the power to discipline deputies from the Sheriff to the Ombudsman or Panel? No. Independent oversight has no authority to circumvent anything the Sheriff’s Office does or decides to do. The Sheriff’s Office would continue to conduct investigations and sanction or uphold their deputies as they have in the past. The Ombudsman or Panel would provide to the citizens a comparative analysis of their investigation and the investigation of the Sheriff’s Office. In most instances, these are the same. However, in instances where they are not, public officials may be able to quickly address the observed deficiencies and restore public confidence.
How much will this cost the taxpayer? Not very much. Recent media reports quoting public officials say that it may cost as little as $250,000 a year. To put this into perspective, Spokane County would spend more on animal control each year than independent oversight.
Don’t we already have a Citizen’s Oversight Panel? No. Many years ago, the Sheriff’s Office formed a Citizen’s Advisory Committee. It was intended to provide the Sheriff’s Office general insight into community affairs. Although still in operation today, none of the members are specifically trained to understand complex police investigations or officer-involved shootings. These are also politically appointed by the Sheriff’s Office and serve at the pleasure of the sitting Sheriff. To form an official conclusion, they rely solely on the information provided them from the Sheriff’s Office.
Creating independent oversight for the Sheriff’s Office is not about exposing poor performance. Moreover, it is about promoting the fine work that the Sheriff’s Office does while providing citizens with the representative government and transparency they deserve. Our community is sadly behind the times as many other counties have embraced independent oversight. Join us in making Spokane County proud of their law enforcement, elected officials, and public servants. Support independent oversight for Spokane County by calling your County Commissioner today, at 509-477-5722.
Spokane, Wash. – Commissioner Al French expressed his support for truly independent citizen oversight of the Spokane Sheriff’s Office, Commissioner Milke spoke out against it. Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn is now the deciding vote.
Please call Commissioner O’Quinn, and urge her to support this common-sense measure. Explain that the CAB (Citizen’s Advisory Board) set up by the Sheriff is neither independent nor impartial. Urge her to set up an independently-appointed oversight commission with the ability to review law enforcement-involved use of force and incidents that result in the injury and/or death of citizens.
The Board of Commissioners is expected to make their decision in the next few days. Act now!
Subject: Message from Constituent… regarding Citizens Oversight Board…Sheriff’s Office
Wanted to share some information that you might not see elsewhere concerning the critical need for an independent citizens oversight board for the Spokane County Sheriff. Why? Frankly our Sheriff is just not an ethical law enforcement professional. He is a frankly a disgrace. Rather he takes advantage of civilians and even county commissioners….with inadequate LE understandings. He blows smoke. Therefore, only an independent group can produce a far better review and oversight product for taxpayers rather than just looking for typos in the Sheriff’s spoon-fed documentation. Details are as listed below.
The win-win is simply to require inquest panels for all officer-involved shootings and deaths that occur in Spokane County. This should include inmate deaths in the jail too. Can be done quickly by your ordinance with a simple majority vote without any need to meet and confer with the police unions. What is lacking in Spokane is a truly independent review of the investigative work product. This would be an organizational/system check that wouldn’t rely on people. King Co has done this since 2002 and could be used as a simple template.
A longer term project would be to implement a mechanism where citizens can make complaints involving alleged police misconduct and abuse not involving a death. Complaints should be easy to make without having to go into the Sheriffs inner sanctum ……where he believe me when I say this….commonly bullies, badgers, and threatens others via force to sign a statement under penalty of perjury. Both Rob Lee and Ron Wright have firsthand experience with this. The normal citizen would be literally shaking in their boots. I spoke with both of them about this. It results from a narcissistic personality.
The Citizens Advisory Board that the Sheriff is now trying to say does an effective review is clearly a total sham/fraud. Why? Members are hand selected by the Sheriff, kept in the dark and spoon-fed information……like mushrooms. As former Under Sheriff Wiyrick said in a recent Inlander article …. garbage in garbage out. I discussed this with him too.
Believe me….The Sheriff has attempted to dismiss and marginalize supporters of this petition as right wing extremists and those with political axes to grind with him. Not true. The support includes those from the Center for Justice, the Spokane Human Rights Commission, PJALS and the ACLU. Strange bedfellows indeed.
I’ve studied the special Spokane environment and based on my professional education, training and 40 years experience….. inquest panels would quickly raise the professional bar of these investigations. If they are low balled or a law enforcement cover-up is in the works it would be quickly exposed.
There have been a number of questionable deaths by Sheriff’s deputies while perhaps not criminal in nature (Exception of Ryan Holy death where the deputy was going over 70 MPH with no red lights and siren) Scott Creach, Quinton Dodd and William Berger, there are very serious issues of poor or flawed police policy, procedure and training or lack of leadership holding deputies accountable for violations. Difficult job and mistakes will be made. If you don’t learn from them and remediate the causes the civil damage awards will only escalate.
Wright and Wiyrich are extraordinary professionals who are highly ethical LE whistleblowers urging your vote to fix a critical cancer in the Sheriffs Office. We need confidence building measures. This petition does exactly that.
Please support it for our whole community. Hope this is useful.
Berne M. Indahl
Spokane, Wash 99223
U.S. Department of State
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
505 West Riverside Ave., Suite 550
Spokane, WA 99201
Spokane, Wash. -KXLY4 TV issued a report, claiming that a Spokane Valley couple “tried to provoke a confrontation” with a deputy by following him in their SUV. The report admits that the activity “is not illegal” and that the couple was not arrested, but in the reporter’s opinion it is a “tremendous distraction” and speculated that the couple “were looking for trouble.”
The report looks like a propaganda piece in support of the embattled Sheriff. Following (and filming) police is not illegal for a good reason: it is the duty of the citizens to monitor police activities and make sure the cops are not abusing their authority. Recent cases involving the killings or mistreatment of citizens at the hands of the Spokane County Sheriff’s deputies prove that there is an urgent need for citizen oversight of the SCSO, and Sheriff Knezovich’s opposition to the establishment of an independent Citizen’s Oversight Board is forcing people to take it upon themselves to “police the police”.
The report concluded:
If you don’t care about nervous deputies who are now looking over their shoulders at people following them, consider this: A number of deputies were drawn away from patrolling neighborhoods and businesses so they could help figure out why the driver of the SUV was following this deputy.
John Bergman Jr., a member of the Spokane Sheriff’s Office Citizens Advisory board, made the decision to resign at next week’s meeting. According to Mr. Bergman, the public debate turned the CAB “political”.
Mr. Bergman has served on the board since its founding in 2001 by Knezovich’s predecessor, Sheriff Mark Sterk.