Whitecaps

Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Name:
Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.


Friday, January 27, 2006

Cracks?

The Friday, January 27, 2006, issue of the Coeur d'Alene Press ran a story headlined Court cases falling through the cracks - Sheriff's office cites lack of communication with Kootenai County prosecutors.

In his online weblog, Huckleberries Online, The Spokesman-Review associate editor and columnist Dave Oliveria asks the question, "How do you read the tea leaves to determine who's at fault here?"

That's a very good question to ask.

Though I think the entire criminal justice system in Kootenai County is in need of outside independent examination, this story smells like a plant with some ulterior motive. It appears that the Coeur d'Alene Press was spoon-fed some information structured to make the sheriff's department look better than it is and to make the prosecutor's office look worse than it is.

Who initiated this story in the Press and why? Who selected the "...23 cases that the sheriff's department turned over to the prosecutor's office" the Press asked about? Why were those 23 cases selected?

One strong possibility is that two members of the sheriff's command staff need a little more positive public exposure to improve their own chances for political advancement in Kootenai County. But this story doesn't automatically improve the image of those sheriff's department supervisors. To objectively evaluate the validity of the sheriff's department complaints about the prosecutor's office, it would be very important to also evaluate the quality of the cases sent by the sheriff's office to the prosecutor. If the cases are well-prepared and with few loose ends, then they should be handled promptly. After all, the prosecutor's office has no reason to sit on "slam-dunk" cases, particularly ones so well-prepared that a guilty plea is likely. On the other hand, if the sheriff's department supervisors are allowing poorly investigated or incomplete cases to be sent out, cases that may "needs work" as the Press story said, then those supervisors should expect delays while the prosecutors do the work the sheriff's supervisors failed to do.

The story includes vague comments attributed to unnamed persons at both the Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls Police Departments. Notably absent were any comments from the Idaho State Police (ISP) about cases it has submitted to the prosecutor. Why? Perhaps the ISP is effectively communicating with the prosecutor's office and resolving filing issues before they become problems. Another possibility is that the ISP troopers and investigators prepare their cases more thoroughly and effectively than Kootenai County's deputies and investigators and that ISP supervisors do not allow sloppy investigations to waste the prosecutor's time. In other words, maybe the ISP is doing its job better than the sheriff's office. I suspect that if the ISP were dissatisfied with the prosecutor's office handling of its cases, the problem would be resolved quickly, professionally, and quietly.

Along the same lines, the Press failed to enumerate the number of felony cases that were plea bargained down to a lesser charge and the reasons why plea bargaining was done by the Prosecutor. Why does that matter? If a case has been poorly prepared by investigators, if it's a wobbler, the prosecutors may try to salvage it by accepting a plea bargain. Sometimes half a loaf is better than no loaf.

The article quoted Douglas as saying, "Felonies are up 50 percent in the last four years." In the next paragraph, the Press says, "However, documents provided to The Press by Douglas show a 17 percent decrease in total cases last year. In 2004, his department received 6,229 cases. In 2005, that fell to 5,336." The "however" apparently intended by the Press to dispute or discredit Douglas's earlier figure, might have been more effective if the Press had differentiated between felonies and misdemeanors in the cases it cited.

The Press story's last paragraph reinforces my own opinion that the fault lies at least as much in the sheriff's office as in the prosecutor's office. A competent law enforcement administrator does not need a local newspaper to tell him to keep records about prosecutorial declinations or expirations of statute of limitations. The sheriff should have been keeping these records long before now.

Finally, if the sheriff's office is so outraged because, "...the Prosecuting Attorney's Office has failed to respond to repeated queeries about the status of cases for years, often leaving law enforcement officers and victims in the dark," as Captain Ben Wolfinger huffed, why was this information not revealed long before the last re-election of Prosecuting Attorney Bill Douglas?

No, this story is not about dereliction in the prosecutor's office as much as it is about political ambition and positioning in Kootenai County.

5 Comments:

Blogger stebbijo said...

"Though I think the entire criminal justice system in Kootenai County is in need of outside independent examination, ..."

Good one Bill - Bonner County needs looked at too.

I read the article as well and it was very vague.

2:13 AM, January 28, 2006  
Anonymous I Know said...

Right on, Bill. This was a cheap, unprofessional shot by a sheriff's Captain who has way too much time on his hands. Wolfinger's job is " PR Officer." My law enforcment friends tell me they are embarrassed by Wolfinger's cheap shot and that he is toally out of touch. They also tell me that the prosecutor had to spank Wolfinger when he was giving his daily press conferences on Duncan, and that he was jeopardizing the ability for a fair trial here. Rocky's has got to be totally embarrassed, and I'm told was out of town during Wofinger's cheap, political shot.
This is also a case of irresponsible journalism.
I'm glad Bill Douglas took the high road rather than pointing the finger back where it belonged.

5:38 PM, January 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill please stay on the corruption that is going on in Kootenai County. We do need to have the Justice department come in and take a look at what is happening.Like the law suite's filed by former Jet Court employee's against Bill Douglas and the county. The Lizzy Goodwin case. What happened at CASA and the FBI's investigation. I think the the Duncan case should be moved to another County and taken out of the hands of Bill Douglas. When the national media finds out all the dirt that has been going on in Kootenai County it will make the Judge in Vermont look like a saint.

8:46 PM, January 31, 2006  
Blogger Russ Reese said...

RE: "...I think the entire criminal justice system in Kootenai County is in need of outside independent examination"

Is there any sort of grassroots effort underway in that regard? If not - any suggestions on how to initiate an investigation?

11:12 PM, July 22, 2006  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...

Russ Reese,

One of the subcommittees to the 2006 Jail Expansion Committee was going to recommend the formation of a citizens commission to look at Kootenai County's entire criminal justice system and make suggestions. I haven't seen the final Jail Expansion Committee report, so I don't know if that was included as a recommendation.

Government agencies are highly resistant to outside review or audit. The Spokane Police Department is about to have one imposed on it, because the public finally began to vocally and eloquently question a lot of practices that had been tolerated by the public until now. Had it not been for The Spokesman-Review's diligent and clear reporting, the public wouldn't have known just how incapable the command staff of the Spokane Police Department was. We in Kootenai County will never see that kind of reporting from The Coeur d'Alene Press, and I'm not sure the Review has the Idaho resources to dig as deeply into Kootenai County as it has into Spokane city and county. Good, consistent, accurate news reporting is essential before any grassroots effort will take hold.

7:57 AM, July 23, 2006  

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