Cases To Be Heard By Police Ombudsman Vary

SPOKANE — Next month, the Spokane City Council is expected to approve hiring an ombudsman to help oversee Spokane Police Department activities.

The ombudsman would have the authority to sit in on all Internal Affairs investigations. But what type of complaints end up in the internal affairs unit?

Last year, Internal Affairs investigated 59 complaints and about a third of those cases resulted in officers being disciplined. The question is will those numbers change when the new ombudsman gets to ride shotgun on the Internal Affairs process.

In 2007, a pair of Spokane police officers lose their jobs as the result of Internal Affairs investigations. Jason Uberuaga was fired for drinking then driving his unmarked patrol car, while Jay Olsen was kicked out the department after an off-duty shooting in Peaceful Valley.

The two men are among 17 officers punished last year for misconduct.

“Our administration, they investigate things thoroughly, very thoroughly and if they think we did something wrong, we will get punished for it,” says Cpl. Jon Strickland of the Spokane Police.

Last year, the unit investigated seven complaints about an officer’s demeanor, ten people felt police inadequately responded to their call for service and ten citizens reported officers had used excessive force. Internal Affairs also investigated 20 policy and procedure investigations, and most of those complaints came from police themselves.

“We’ve had officers who were terminated because of investigations that were started by other officers,” Strickland says.

Consider the case of Nathan Bohanek. When his fellow officers saw Bohanek punch a handcuffed suspect along Trent Avenue, they reported the incident to Internal Affairs. And when Officer Jonathan Smith allegedly bought marijuana-laced cookies to The Gorge Amphatheater, other off-duty cops snitched him off as well.

In fact, 25 of last year’s 59 internal investigations where initiated by other officers, so Spokane’s rank and file don’t expect the new ombudsman to be turning up a lot of new dirt.

“If the citizens feel the need to have a civilian ombudsman that they can actually sit in on the Internal Affairs investigations,” says Strickland, “then we don’t have anything to hide.”

Those 59 Internal Affairs complaints in 2007 are considered a low number when compared to other cities the size of Spokane. But critics say that’s because people are afraid to complain about the police, so in the future members of the public will be able to go directly to the ombudsman’s office if they have any concerns.