Editor's Note: Former Columbian staff writer Ken Olsen also contributed to this story.
Clyde Ray Spencer was awarded $9 million Monday by a federal jury that unanimously agreed a detective from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office violated Spencer’s constitutional right to due process by fabricating the evidence that put him behind bars for two decades for sexually abusing his two children and a stepson.
The $9 million award is the highest in Washington in a civil rights case, said Kathleen Zellner, Spencer’s attorney.
“Justice was served — even though it took 30 years,” Zellner said. “We were able to prove they framed him. We’ve proven the evidence was fabricated. And, after 30 years, that’s remarkable. Justice is alive and well in Washington.”
For Spencer, 66, and his family, the verdict brought incredible relief.
“It’s a good feeling that the criminal justice system finally got it right,” Spencer said moments after he heard the jury’s decision. “My name is finally cleared, and those who are responsible are going to have to face the ridicule I did.”
Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik, who took office in January 2011, called the verdict “extremely troubling” on Monday.
“We need to look specifically at the facts of this, and the findings that the jury made,” Golik said. He said prosecutors will be researching other cases investigated by Sharon Krause. If they find cases similar to Spencer’s, they have a duty to notify defendants’ attorneys of the Spencer verdict.
Krause’s supervisor, Sgt. Mike Davidson, was also found liable by the jury. Krause and Davidson are both retired, but the county paid for their legal counsel.
Clark County Risk Manager Mark Wilsdon said he, Administrator Mark McCauley and county commissioners will have a conference call with Krause’s and Davidson’s attorneys on Wednesday in an executive session, which is closed to the public.
The county could appeal the verdict or argue it shouldn’t have to pay the award because Krause, by fabricating evidence, was acting outside the scope of her duties, Wilsdon said. They’ll also discuss asking Spencer to consider a smaller settlement in exchange for not appealing the verdict.
Last year, the county paid $5.25 million apiece to two men who spent 17 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of rape. The county took out a loan to pay the settlement after its insurance claim was rejected because the county didn’t have insurance in 1993, when the men were convicted.
Likewise, Wilsdon said insurance won’t cover any money paid in the Spencer case.
The jury heard testimony from 25 witnesses over 13 days in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, including Spencer’s son and daughter, Matt Spencer and Katie Spencer Tetz.
They each spent a grueling day and a half on the witness stand refuting the graphic sexual abuse allegations that Krause fabricated as part of investigative reports that sent Spencer to prison.
They also endured Guy Bogdanovich and Jeffrey Freimund, attorneys for Krause and Davidson, respectively, trying to blame them for Spencer’s wrongful conviction.
“That has to be the toughest part for me,” Tetz said. “To get up there on the witness stand and re-live it. To listen to (the defense) bash your family. And to have them keep putting the blame on me, trying to paint me as this sexualized, manipulative 5-year-old child,” the latter a result, Krause tried to suggest, of abuse by her father.
Matt Spencer and Tetz, who both live in Sacramento, are grateful to the jury.
“They will never know how much this means to our family,” Tetz said. But monetary damages were never the point. For Tetz and her family this is as much about what was lost.
Matt Spencer, who was 9 when he first told Krause his father hadn’t abused him, welcomed the verdict with a few reservations.
“Honestly, I feel he deserved more. But you couldn’t give the man enough to spend 20 years in prison,” Matt Spencer said. “At least we got a jury who took the time to listen.”
Jurors also heard from Matt Hansen, who maintains that he was abused by his stepfather, and jurors learned about evidence that went missing. That included medical exams that showed Spencer’s daughter and stepson had not been physically abused.
There also was a video of former deputy prosecutor James Peters interviewing Tetz that disappeared almost as soon as it was made. It turned up in Krause’s garage in 2009. She testified that she didn’t remember the video being taped, or how it ended up in her garage. That video would have hurt the state’s case, Spencer’s attorneys argued.
On the witness stand, Krause was unable to explain why there were two separate evidence indexes created in the case — one that included the medical exams and one that didn’t. She testified that she didn’t recall preparing the indexes, but she didn’t dispute that it was her work.
Jurors also heard that Davidson had an affair with Spencer’s wife, a relationship Davidson maintained didn’t begin until after Spencer went to prison and the couple divorced.
Krause testified that she became interested in police work during her seven years as a hotel clerk after getting to know Portland police officers who came to the hotel bar. She worked as a records clerk and a dispatcher for the Vancouver Police Department before joining the Clark County Sheriff’s Department in 1975. After three years as a patrol deputy, she became a detective and was soon investigating child sex abuse — a job there was no training for at the time, she testified.
Krause spent the duration of her career investigating sex abuse cases and retired in 1995. She lives in Arizona, while Davidson lives in central Oregon.
The four-man, four-woman jury deliberated approximately 13 hours over three days before answering five questions.
Question No. 1: “Was plaintiff’s Constitutional right to due process of law violated by being subjected to criminal charges on false evidence deliberately fabricated by defendant Krause when she knew or should have known plaintiff was innocent of the crimes he was ultimately charged with?”
Other questions dealt with Davidson’s liability, whether or not Davidson and Krause conspired to deprive Spencer of his rights (that answer was “no”) and if Krause’s fabricated reports were the “moving force” behind Spencer going to prison. Because the answer to that question was “yes,” the final question was how much money Spencer should receive. Spencer’s attorney suggested last week during closing arguments that $1 million a year would be fair, but jurors, without explanation on the verdict form, settled on $9 million.
Jurors were from Pierce, Cowlitz, Thurston and Clallam counties, according to court documents.
Asking for special prosecutor
In 1985, Spencer, a motorcycle officer with the Vancouver Police Department, entered an Alford plea. That’s treated as a guilty plea but allows the defendant to acknowledge a jury could find him guilty while maintaining innocence. He was sentenced to two life sentences plus 14 years and could have been released before Gov. Gary Locke commuted his sentence in 2004 — but refused to tell a parole board, on five occasions, that he was guilty.
Locke, citing numerous flaws in the investigation, commuted Spencer’s sentence in December 2004 and ordered his release.
Spencer’s convictions were subsequently thrown out, and the charges were dismissed.
Spencer said Monday he’s pleased that his wife, Norma, who worked two jobs for decades in order to fund his appeals, is finally getting a break.
“She is just an amazing woman,” he said. “She did all of this because of that love we first had so long ago.”
The couple, who live in the Los Angeles area, first met in Guam in 1968 when he was an Air Force air traffic controller and she was a civilian nurse in a U.S. Naval Hospital during the Vietnam War. They went their separate ways after that deployment. Spencer wrote to her after he was sent to prison to tell her he still loved her and that he was not guilty of molesting his children and stepson. She married him in 1987 and waited 20 years — until his sentence was commuted and he completed parole – to share a home with him.
“I’m so delighted for him,” said Norma Spencer, whose 70th birthday is today. “The hardest thing about the last 30 years has been watching Ray have to suffer under this label of child molester/child rapist. He won’t have to live under that stigma anymore.”
Spencer and his family will ask the state Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor to pursue a criminal corruption investigation now that they have proven the evidence was fabricated. Going forward, Tetz hopes to start a foundation to support wrongfully convicted adults and their children.
“I think this happens far more often than people realize,” Tetz said. “It just destroys families.”