Ombudsman's report faults Boise police, supervisor

Probe finds that the suspect was treated in a 'disrespectful' manner.

sberg@idahostatesman.comJuly 10, 2013 

  • MURPHY'S LAST DAY

    Tuesday was Boise Community Ombudsman Pierce Murphy's last day on the job. The Seattle City Council hired him in June to take over as director of the Office of Professional Accountability, investigating complaints against Seattle police officers - the job he's held in Boise since 1999.

The supervisor's treatment of the suspect was only the first problem Boise Community Ombudsman Pierce Murphy found in the report he released Tuesday.

The incident exposed a breakdown of the Boise Police Department's oversight process, Murphy concluded.

The supervisor's superiors and the Office of Internal Affairs either didn't listen to an audio recording of the supervisor's interaction with the suspect, or they "found no problem with the disrespectful and uncivil manner in which (the supervisor) behaved," Murphy wrote.

In fact, the incident in question came to light not because of an outside complaint, but through Murphy's routine audit of probes by the Office of Internal Affairs.

"This is not the first time in the last two years that the Office of the Community Ombudsman, in the process of auditing a completed (Boise Police Department) internal investigation that has been reviewed and approved at all levels without comment, has found audio-recorded conversations and reports containing material that call into question the objectivity and thoroughness of the investigation," Murphy wrote.

"Each time we have found such evidence, we have reported it to BPD and received assurances that the problem has been addressed."

THE INCIDENT

The late morning of April 22, Boise police officers responded to reports that a man was "sleeping/passed out on the steps of a church" on the 4800 block of West Franklin Road, according to an email from police spokeswoman Lynn Hightower. The man had been cited earlier in the day for violating open container laws, Hightower said.

Murphy's reports do not use individuals' names. The police department declined to release officers' names, citing an exemption from disclosure laws due to personnel matters.

Officers woke the man and cited him again for possession of an open container of alcohol, according to Hightower. He repeatedly threw the citation on the ground, leading to a littering charge and a trip to jail on both misdemeanor charges.

"There was never evidence found that the officer used force," Hightower said.

On his way to the jail, however, the suspect told the officer transporting him that another officer caused an injury to his nose, according to Murphy's report. The transporting officer told his supervisor, who went to the jail and interviewed the suspect.

COMBATIVE INTERVIEW

"From the beginning of his contact with (the suspect), (the supervisor) made it clear by his statements and questions that he did not believe (the suspect's) allegations," Murphy wrote in his report.

According to Murphy, the suspect accused an officer of hitting him with a nightstick. The supervisor told the suspect he'd "be charged with a felony for filing a false police report."

The supervisor also called the officer accused of hitting the suspect "the most harmless Boise police officer out of the 300 we have," according to the report.

"We're done," the supervisor said, according to Murphy's report on the recording. "We're not listening to you. Not listening to you. Go to jail."

Murphy found the supervisor's treatment of the suspect violated the police department's policy, which states that officers "shall treat all other persons in a civil and respectful manner."

On Tuesday, Police Chief Mike Masterson agreed with Murphy.

"The interaction with (the suspect) by the supervisor did not meet the standards we expect and that we train for," he said in an email. "This is why the audit process is in place. I appreciate (Murphy's) office reviewing these reports, and although discrepancies are found in a very small percentage, it reinforces the value of these audits."

Hightower said the police department is reviewing its processes for investigating complaints. Supervisors have received "additional direction on conducting investigations and department expectations of those investigations," she said.

The supervisor's threat of a charge for a false report didn't go anywhere. Prosecutors determined there wasn't enough evidence to support such a charge because the suspect was so intoxicated when he accused the officer of hitting him.

Sven Berg: 377-6275

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