`Paper Sees ‘Disconnect’ in Use of Force Protocols by Spokane Police


The Spokesman-Review cites this example of a “disconnect” that has led to scrutiny of the Spokane Police Department's use-of-force training: Although the state's top police trainer concluded that the fatal 2006 confrontation with unarmed janitor Otto Zehm was indefensible, the department's own instructors and the city's legal advisers have insisted that Spokane police officers were justified and handled the encounter appropriately. A special panel – including a former U.S. attorney, a retired state Supreme Court chief justice and others – is set to investigate the department's use-of-force training and practices next month in a review that will extend beyond the Zehm case.

With sharp disagreement over when police use of force is warranted, community leaders say that it's a necessary examination. “There's a high risk of an officer, who is following the training as I heard it described on the stand, violating the constitutional rights of subjects, detainees and others, while believing that they're doing only what they're trained to do,” said Jeffry Finer, a civil-rights attorney who represents Zehm's family. “If I take them at their word, it appeared to me that the training concepts are so easily distorted that it would not provide good guidance to an officer in the field.” Interim Spokane police Chief Scott Stephens said he believes the city's officers are trained properly, though he supports internal and external reviews of the department's use of force.

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