While that standoff in Oregon has ended some, like Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, believe the issue is far from over, that its bound to happen again, possibly right here in Spokane County.
Knezovich says pretty plainly that there are people out there who believe they’re above the law. He believes that you can have your own interpretation of the Constitution as long as you obey the rules.
He points out that just last spring, Spokane almost had a similar situation to the one in Oregon, when a group of gun rights activitists flooded the federal courthouse plaza to protest a ban on weapons on the premises. The group carried guns and disregarded a court order to stay off the grounds.
While this was a peaceful rally and no one was hurt, Knezovich says that others in the country have ended badly.
“The sad thing is, the law abiding gun owners in this community have made one thing very clear to me, whenever I’ve run into them, whenever I talk at their events, ‘Sheriff, will you please tell these people to stop, they’re making us all look bad,'” he said.
Knezovich added that it’s very hard to have a productive conversation about the Constitution staring down at the business end of a gun.
Court records show 52-year-old Plank arranged to meet a 15-year-old girl in a hotel room for sex in exchange for Xanax and cash. However, the girl Plank agreed to meet didn’t actually exist and he was actually communicating with police officers the entire time.
The investigation started earlier in the month when detectives received information that Plank “had a habit” of having sex with young girls in exchange for Xanax. Police then began communicating with Plank.Detectives say Plank agreed to meet the “girl” Thursday afternoon at a motel on Sunset Highway. When Plank showed up at the agreed upon meeting time to the agreed upon room, officers arrested him.
After being read his Miranda rights, Plank told officers “I know you guys aren’t trying to entrap me, but this is embarrassing. I’m friends with Ozzie (Knezovich),” according to court documents.
The Inlander published an article in which Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich expresses his opinion on the Hammonds case, the standoff in Oregon led by Ammon Bundy, and the militia in general. Unsurprisingly, the sheriff again aligns himself with the federal government against the militia. From the article:
Knezovich, a vintage law-and-order conservative, isn’t sympathetic to the Hammonds, citing the allegation that Hammonds were trying to “light up the whole country on fire” in order to cover up poaching.
“This wasn’t just a little, ‘Oops I burned some weeds,” Knezovich says. “This was done purposefully.”
But his condemnation of Ammon Bundy and the militia is even more pointed.
“They hijacked the Hammond issue for their own purposes,” Knezovich says. It particularly irritates him as a gun-rights supporter. “Quite frankly they are doing severe damage to their cause. Doing severe damages to their organization.”
He doesn’t buy the idea these militia members are part of the age-old American tradition of civil disobedience.
Of course not. Because the FBI told him that they aren’t:
“I’ve actually been following it fairly closely,” Knezovich says. “I’ve talked to the FBI about it. Especially after Matt Shea’s post from yesterday…. [He] basically stated that the FBI was trying to prevent a peaceful solution to the issue.”
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Spokane Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich is putting on a special edition encore presentation of his controversial “The Threats We Face” presentation from last summer.
“I’m updating it a little to address the issues that have happened since then — Paris, San Bernardino, this mess in Oregon right now,” Knezovich says. “It’s guaranteed to irritate the Tea Party further.”
In the spirit of irritating the Tea Party, the sheriff shares his fantasizes about arresting militia members:
He suggests such a confrontation could certainly happen in Spokane County in the future. “It could have happened with the federal courthouse building with [gun-rights activist Anthony] Bosworth,” Knezovich says.
So how would he, as sheriff, handle such a militia standoff? “We’re not going to give them what they want,” Knezovich says. “We’re not going to make them martyrs… [But] if they come and point guns at people, they will be arrested.”
Let them protest until they burn themselves out, he says. Then, after they leave, that’s when you arrest them and file charges.
On January 3, Rep. Matt Shea shared his thoughts on the situation in Oregon on his Facebook page, saying, in part:
I suspect our Sheriff and President Obama will try to once again to paint Constitutionalists as domestic terrorists as part of the President’s gun control agenda this week. And therein is the problem. Divisive rhetoric by Obama and our Sheriff (with the only solution seemingly being taking away yet more rights “for our own good”) is only going to make the situation worse.
Knezovich took offense, demanding that Shea “quit lying about me supporting the President’s agenda”. However, the sheriff’s words and actions make it clear whose side he’ll be on, should the orders come to disarm the citizens.
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!