March 18, 2015

Arfee: Did Settlement Fix the Problem?

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: — Bill @ 7:19 am

sleight of handThis morning’s Coeur d’Alene Press is reporting that the Coeur d’Alene City Council agreed to an $80,000 out-of-court settlement with Craig Jones, the owner of Arfee, the dog shot and killed by a Coeur d’Alene police officer in July 2014.

The article included quotes from Coeur d’Alene Mayor Steve Widmyer who called the shooting “a mistake” and from Councilman Woody McEvers who seemed to conclude that money payoffs resolve everything.  Many of the online article’s commenters called for Officer Kelley to be fired.  None of them looked beyond the money settlement and asked if their solutions really solved the underlying problem.

As we suggested in our post entitled Careless Composition or Intentional Deception? on July 11 just two days after the shooting,  “… the examination of this incident must not be limited to the conduct of the officer who fired the shot.  We think it needs to go further to understand what in the officer’s mindset, supervision, and training led him to behave as he did in this incident.”

In our post on July 21, 2014, entitled Don’t Start Construction Yet…, we suggested:

The officer who fired the shot did not act in a vacuum.  The action he took on July 9 was a function of the training and supervision he had received up to the moment he pulled the trigger.  To the extent his actions were provably contrary to that training and supervision and departmental policies and practices, he was culpable.  However, to the extent his actions were a function of incomplete and conflicting training and supervision as well as unclear or imprecise policies and practices, his culpability is shared equally by several above him including his field supervisor and watch commander, the department’s training officer, the department’s command staff, the chief, the Mayor and City Council, and the Idaho Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.

Since then, Coeur d’Alene has hired a new police chief, Lee White.  We hope that Chief White has begun to take the steps necessary to fix the real problem as we see it.  When both line and staff police officers engage in a series of entirely inappropriate actions as happened in the Arfee shooting, one line officer’s action involving lethal force (or as Widmyer dismissed it, “a mistake”) should lead to corrective actions well up the police department’s institutional food chain.

So we ask:  As a result of the lessons learned from the Arfee shooting, what has changed in the way Coeur d’Alene, Idaho’s police officers are selected, trained, and supervised?

October 22, 2014

Good Grief, Mike Patrick

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , — Bill @ 8:22 am

Investigations-FactsIt’s no secret that OpenCdA has complete disdain for the Coeur d’Alene Press.   That’s why we regularly refer to it as a skewspaper.  A newspaper reports facts; the Press — not so much.

The latest example of the Press’s indifference to factual reporting can be found in today’s story headlined Arfee owner sues city over dog’s death.  The article by Keith Cousins states, “A Washington-based attorney for Craig Jones, owner of the dog shot and killed by Officer Dave Kelley, has filed a lawsuit seeking at least $350,000 from the city of Coeur d’Alene.

Really?  In which court has this “lawsuit” been filed?

We ask, because in contrast to the Press’s “close enough for Coeur d’Alene” version of facts, The Spokesman-Review is reporting in its story headlined Owner files $350,000 claim in police shooting of dog Arfee that Arfee’s owner Craig Jones has filed a claim, not a lawsuit.  There is a difference.  Here is a copy of the Notice of Claim filed with the City.  If the City denies or otherwise disputes Mr. Jones’ claim and if they cannot reach an agreeable settlement, then a lawsuit may be filed.

The Spokesman-Review article reported that if and when a lawsuit is filed against the City, it will likely be in federal court.  A check of PACER reveals no federal lawsuit filing by Mr. Jones, but that would be a smart move by Mr. Jones.  Our guess, however, is that the City and Mr. Jones will reach a claim settlement acceptable to both.  It will be fascinating to see if and how the Coeur d’Alene Press reports it.

October 15, 2014

The “Split-Second Decision” Defense

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , — Bill @ 7:42 am

WrongWayWhen a law enforcement officer is involved in a shooting, some citizens will leap to the officer’s defense even before the incident has been objectively and completely investigated and the relevant facts reported.

In their uninformed zeal to publicly and loudly declare their “support” for law enforcement, those citizens will go on autopilot and invoke the sometimes-valid “split-second decision” defense.  The citizens will magnanimously proclaim, “Well, we have to cut law enforcement officers some slack, because after all, we expect them to make split-second, life-and-death decisions.  Sometimes they will make a mistake.”

Unquestionably there are times when the “split-second decision” to use lethal force is unavoidable, times when it is the only decision reasonably available to law enforcement officers.

However, chief executive law enforcement officers must have both the political courage and the leadership skills to ensure that the “split-second decision” defense is not abused, that it does not become the universal excuse.  It must never become an acceptable rationalization for encouraging or requiring their officers to take actions which may save time but are more likely to place the officers in situations requiring split-second decisions.  (more…)

September 16, 2014

Idaho Statesman Op-Ed Missed the Mark

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , , — Bill @ 12:04 pm

Missed the MarkThis morning’s Idaho Statesman opinion piece was entitled Our View:  Police, dog owners must share responsibility.  The unnamed writer was commenting, collectively, on three recent shootings of pet dogs by Idaho law enforcement officers.

The op-ed writer mentioned Coeur d’Alene, so we presume he was including the Arfee killing by a Coeur d’Alene police officer.  If so, the writer might want to reread the officer’s account of the shooting.  According to the officer, Arfee appeared suddenly in the partially open van window just inches from the officer’s face.  In what sounds to us to be a “startle” reaction, the officer fired his already-unholstered weapon once and killed Arfee.

The op-ed writer’s first premise was that in most and maybe every instance, there should be enough time for an officer to carefully assess a dog’s various behaviors and then set a non-lethal course of action. His second premise is that an unattended but lawfully and safely contained dog will always obey commands from a police officer or an animal control officer.

We address the op-ed writer’s second premise first.  It’s absurd.

The first premise is very desirable, but it will require the police to do more than just learn dog behaviors.  They will need to adjust their approach to various situations so that “startle” reactions are less likely to result in gunfire.  In the Arfee killing, we wonder:  Why had the officer unholstered his weapon?  If his overall assessment of the situation required (in his mind)  unholstering his weapon, might there have been actions he and his trainee partner and additional officers could have taken first to preclude the perceived necessity of unholstering his weapon and thereby being at risk of a “startle” shooting?

We admit it:  We are second-guessing.  Then again, we have little choice.  The first guesses — the ones that result in training, policy, and procedures — needed to have been taken by the Idaho Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, the Coeur d’Alene Chief of Police, and the Coeur d’Alene Police Department training officer.  Apparently, they weren’t.

OpenCdA wishes that when there are serious incidents like the ones mentioned in today’s op-ed, the Idaho Statesman and the rest of Idaho’s (alleged) news media would focus as much on the failures of command and leadership in Idaho’s law enforcement agencies and the Idaho Peace Officers Standards and Training Council as they focus on the behavior of the individual officer who pulled the trigger.

September 15, 2014

We Shouldn’t Be Surprised…

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , , — Bill @ 12:33 pm

WrongWayThe conduct by Coeur d’Alene police officers that led to the Barnhouse federal lawsuit against the police and the Arfee killing by the police shouldn’t really surprise us.

When police departments seek to waive relevant entrance, retention,  training, and integrity standards, it is inevitable that some unsuitable applicants will be hired and retained.  And when those requests for waivers are rather routinely granted by the state’s law enforcement certification agency, it should not surprise readers to know that cities and counties are more than happy to pump out the waiver requests if it will enable them to reduce hiring and retention costs.

It happens in Idaho.  (more…)

September 10, 2014

Federal Lawsuit Names CdA Police Officers

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , — Bill @ 8:58 am

Investigations-FactsThis morning’s Coeur d’Alene Press reports (see article headlined Suit alleges excessive force, violation of rights) that Athol resident Mark Barnhouse has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Coeur d’Alene Police Department officers Johann Schmitz, Mark Knapp, Jonathan Hernas, and then Acting Chief Ron Clark.  The suit also seeks the Federal District Court’s permission to amend the complaint to add specifically named defendants as their identities become known to the plaintiff.

The lawsuit was filed on April 1, 2014, and was based on an incident which occurred on February 17, 2013, in the City of Coeur d’Alene.  The PACER case number is 2:14-cv-00129-EJL-REB, captioned Mark R. Barnhouse, Plaintiff, v. Johann Schmitz, individually and in his official capacity as a police officer, Mark Knapp, individually and in his official capacity as a police officer, Jonathan. Hernas, individually and in his official capacity as a police officer, Ron H. Clark, City of Coeur d’Alene, a municipality incorporated in the State of Idaho, and John Doe(s) I-V, Defendants.  The case number link is to the initial complaint.

There are a couple of tantalizing tidbits in the complaint:

Defendant Mark Knapp was also responsible for the training, supervision, and control of defendant Johann Schmitz in the proper use of force.”  So, we wonder, was Mark Knapp a field training officer (FTO) and was Johann Schmitz a trainee at the time of this incident in 2013?

In furtherance of their attempts to justify their unlawful arrest, both Officers Schmitz and Knapp made false statements of fact in their police report…” which were itemized in the complaint.  The complaint then alleges “The Officers then decided to modify and correct their false statements only after reviewing Officer Schmitz’s body camera.”  So Schmitz was wearing a body camera and had evidently activated it.  What about Knapp?  Especially if he was an FTO, his body camera should also have been activated.  Was it?

OpenCdA is happy to see that Mr. Barnhouse engaged legal counsel and brought this action in federal court.

This incident preceded the Arfee killing by a Coeur d’Alene police officer, but there appear to be some common threads between that and the present lawsuit.  It will be interesting to see how the City of Coeur d’Alene and its new police chief handle both cases.

OpenCdA is curious to know if any of the officers involved in Barnhouse and Arfee received their pre-service training in the North Idaho College’s POST certification program rather than at the POST academy in Meridian?

The public will be watching.

September 9, 2014

Arfee Observations

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , , , — Bill @ 8:24 am

Investigations-FactsOn the morning of Friday, September 5, 2014, the City of Coeur d’Alene posted some of the documents from the police department’s report on the shooting of Arfee, a black Labrador mix, by a Coeur d’Alene police officer on July 9.  The online compilation was captioned Craig Jones Case Documents.  For simplicity, we’ll simply refer to that compilation as “the Arfee report.”

Starting on July 11, OpenCdA has put up several posts about the shooting death of Arfee by the Coeur d’Alene Police Department officer.   In general, the Arfee report had nothing to significantly change the opinions we expressed in those posts.

We do have a few observations now that we’ve been able to read the Arfee report.  (more…)

August 27, 2014

From Arfee to Brady

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , — Bill @ 11:31 am

Investigations-FactsOn July 9, 2014, a Coeur d’Alene police officer shot Arfee, a pet dog, inside its owner’s parked van .  Arfee’s owner had reportedly parked in the adjoining parking lot while he was patronizing Java on Sherman coffee shop.

In the late 1950’s the state of Maryland convicted John Brady of first degree murder .  His conviction was overturned by the US Supreme Court in 1963 because the prosecutor had withheld the existence of potentially exculpatory evidence from Brady. (see Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963))

Because of the Coeur d’Alene Police Department’s misleading press release announcing the officer-involved shooting of Arfee on July 9, it will be interesting to see if the 1963 Brady decision and later decisions expanding it may play a role in the Arfee shooting outcome in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho in 2014. (more…)

August 15, 2014

In Dribs and Drabs…

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , , — Bill @ 10:22 am

Investigations-FactsAnd from today’s Coeur d’Alene Press story headlined No recording of Arfee shooting, we learn that the Coeur d’Alene police officer who shot and killed Arfee the dog inside a lawfully parked van on July 9 had not activated his body-worn camera when he handled a suspicious vehicle call in downtown Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

The skewspaper article said, “Coeur d’Alene Police Sgt. Christie Wood confirmed that the camera worn by the officer was not recording at the time. […] ‘I really can’t (comment) because that would go right to the heart of the personnel matter,’ Wood said.”

So contrary to the earlier and repeated assurances from Mayor Steve Widmyer and acting Police Chief Ron Clark that the results of the investigation would be released only after review by the City and by an impartial third party, we now have the police department’s public information officer giving out information from inside the investigation. (more…)

August 13, 2014

Investigation? Or Public Relations?

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , — Bill @ 2:40 pm

Investigations-FactsToday’s Coeur d’Alene Press skewspaper story concerning the Arfee saga is headlined Arfee inquiry nearly done.

The article included two photos, both claiming to show Coeur d’Alene Police Department Lieutenant Turner making measurements on Craig Jones’ van in which his dog, Arfee, was shot by a Coeur d’Alene Police Department officer.

OpenCdA urges our readers to  read today’s newspaper article and carefully examine the photos.

From our perspective, the article and photos raises the question:  Is the City of Coeur d’Alene diligently investigating the Arfee shooting or is it engaging in theatrical public relations?  (more…)

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