Spokane Police ombudsman recommends enhanced training in report about controversial arrest

Officer Dan Lesser’s use of force was deemed warranted, but he will still face discipline over his demeanor. 
Officer Dan Lesser's use of force was deemed warranted, but he will still face discipline over his demeanor. 

SPOKANE, Wash – Spokane Police officers endangered themselves and a police K9 during a controversial arrest that was captured on body cameras, according to a review completed by the Office of the Police Ombudsman.

The incident happened in February of 2019. Police were looking for Lucas Ellerman, who was wanted on several felony warrants. It became the subject of controversy when members of the Spokane City Council saw the video that showed officers swearing at Ellerman before releasing the K9 into the vehicle in which he was sitting.

The body camera video shows Officer Dan Lesser repeatedly yelling threats and expletives at Ellerman. Then, Lesser releases the K9 into the vehicle; the K9 bit Ellerman even as he was being pulled out of the vehicle. Officer Scott Lesser, a nephew of the other officer, punched Ellerman multiple times in the head, saying he did so because Ellerman was believed to be armed and was reaching for his waistband.

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Ellerman was eventually arrested, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 70 months in prison.

Spokane Police reviewed the use of force in the case and ruled that the officers were justified, but Dan Lesser faced disciplinary action because of his demeanor during the arrest.

Officer Lesser later apologized for his language in a letter to the community.

Because a citizen filed a complaint to the Office of the Police Ombudsman, that office looked into the case and recently published its analysis. While the report says it does not challenge the Chief’s disciplinary findings, it did issue a list of 23 recommendations going forward.

The report does indicate that, at the time of this incident, Spokane Police did not have a de-escalation policy in place. That was added to the police department’s policy last fall. 

In this incident, the ombudsman’s report says the department did not follow proper review policy; did not do enough to examine disputed facts; that the officers put themselves “at substantial unnecessary risk”; and that “we question the tactical choice to deploy the K9 inside the vehicle at the moment it was deployed; as it appeared unnecessary to garner further compliance.”

Among the recommendations made by the ombudsman were calls to reinforce aspects of training and a suggestion that the city consider shortening the time frame for the release of body camera footage.

You can read the full report and all 23 recommendations at this link.