Wrongfully convicted former VPD officer files lawsuit against Clark County

He served nearly 20 years in prison

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: June 8, 2011, 7:58 PM

 

A former Vancouver police officer wrongfully convicted of sexually abusing his children in the 1980s has filed a federal lawsuit against Clark County, alleging false imprisonment and malicious prosecution among a host of other allegations.

Through his Seattle attorneys, Clyde Ray Spencer, 63, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tacoma on June 2, seeking unspecified damages to be determined at trial.

Spencer’s lawsuit is the latest in the former officer’s long quest to clear his name.

In 1985, he pleaded no contest — which is considered the same as a guilty plea — to sexually abusing his son, daughter and stepson. He was sentenced to two life terms, plus 14 years. His conviction was commuted by Gov. Gary Locke in 2004, then vacated by the Court of Appeals in 2009. Charges were officially dismissed in September. He served nearly 20 years in prison.

Spencer’s case was the subject of a 2005 series, “Reversal of Fortune,” in The Columbian and has drawn nationwide media attention, including from the TV show, “20/20.”

The 68-page civil complaint lists several inconsistencies with the police investigation. Those inconsistencies led to Spencer’s eventual exoneration. His two adult children now say the abuse never happened. Other discrepancies included the withholding of medical exams that showed no evidence of abuse and information that the supervising detective was having an affair with Spencer’s wife.

The suit names Deputy Prosecutor James Peters, Clark County sheriff’s Detective Sharon Krause and sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Davidson as defendants. The three no longer work for the county.

When reached by telephone Monday, Clark County Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Bronson Potter said he has yet to see the lawsuit, as it has not been served yet, and declined comment.

In the suit, attorneys Davis Wright Tremaine and Kathleen Zellner contend that Spencer, now of the Seattle area, was deprived of his right to due process and civil liberties, suffered emotional trauma over the stigma of the charges, and lost his family and job over the ordeal.

His children, Matthew Spencer and Kathryn Tetz, who live in Sacramento, Calif., and are now in their 30s, are also named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. They allege the malicious prosecution and false imprisonment deprived them of having a relationship with their father.

“Matthew Spencer was not only physically deprived of a relationship with his father, but he was led to believe his father was a terrible person who had abused him and committed heinous crimes against him,” the lawsuit states.

In a July 2009 hearing that eventually led to their father’s exoneration, Matthew Spencer testified how, at age 9, he was repeatedly questioned by a sheriff’s detective. The son said he was so hounded by the detective that he said his father abused him just so the detective would leave him alone.

Matthew Spencer and Tetz said that their mother, who divorced Spencer before he was charged, told them as children that they had been blocking out the memory of the abuse.

They said they realized as adults the abuse never happened, and they came forward because it was the right thing to do.

The lawsuit also lambasts a press release issued by the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office in September 2010 defending Spencer’s original conviction. Spencer’s attorneys took issue with several details in the press release, including a line in which Spencer was described as having “sound mind,” when he really was on strong medications for depression.

“What should have been a date of celebration for Mr. Spencer and a day of atonement for defendants became another nightmare for Mr. Spencer as defendants forced their press release into the hands of anyone they could on the courthouse lawn,” according to the lawsuit.

In total, the lawsuit lists 13 claims for relief. They are: two counts each of malicious prosecution and loss of consortium. The other claims are due process violations, hiding of exculpatory evidence, conspiracy to violate civil rights, failure to intervene, false arrest, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, conspiracy and defamation.