Legal wrangling continues over Spencer award

Judge hasn't ruled on post-trial motions

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Attorneys continue to argue whether Clark County should have to pay $9 million to former Vancouver police officer Clyde Ray Spencer, who spent nearly 20 years in prison after being targeted by two employees of the Clark County Sheriff's Office.

Spencer, who lives in the Los Angeles area, was wrongfully convicted of sexually abusing his two children and a stepson.

On Feb. 3, a jury in U.S. District Court in Tacoma handed down the $9 million verdict following a 14-day trial. In awarding Spencer $9 million, the jury determined that former Clark County Sheriff's Office Detective Sharon Krause violated Spencer's constitutional rights to due process by fabricating police reports.

Jurors also found former CCSO Sgt. Mike Davidson, Krause's supervisor who had an affair with Spencer's wife, liable in his supervisor capacity.

Clark County spent nearly $500,000 to defend Krause and Davidson, but won't pay the verdict on their behalf, saying they acted beyond their official duties.

The county didn't carry liability insurance when Spencer was convicted, so no carrier will cover any verdict or fees the county has to pay.

The Board of Clark County Commissioners voted Feb. 13 to deny indemnification. As described in letters sent to Krause and Davidson, the commissioners "decided that, based on the jury verdict, your conduct did not fall within the scope of your county employment and was not conduct that could be considered to be in good faith."

In the latest court filing, Spencer's attorney, Kathleen Zellner of Chicago, argued "official duty" has been defined by state lawmakers as being one and the same as "scope of employment."

She argues that Krause was assigned to investigate the Spencer case and Davidson was assigned to supervise the investigation.

"The liability of Krause and Davidson stems from their investigation and supervision of the Spencer case on behalf of the CCSO," she wrote.

"It is beyond dispute that they were acting to an 'appreciable extent' to serve their employer, the CCSO."

In her May 21 filing, Zellner asks U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle to direct the county to pay the $9 million award, plus post-judgment interest (accruing at the rate of about $2,700 a day) and $1.7 million in legal fees.

Clark County Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Chris Horne filed a notice Friday saying the county will respond this week.

Previously, attorneys for Krause and Davidson have argued there was insufficient evidence to show they knew or should have known Spencer was innocent. Olympia attorneys Guy Bogdanovich and Jeffrey Freimund have asked Settle to either enter a judgment in favor of Krause and Davidson or order a new trial.

Settle has yet to rule on any of the post-trial motions.

In 1985, Spencer entered an Alford plea, acknowledging a jury could find him guilty. He has since said that at the time of his plea he was suffering from depression and was told by his attorney that he didn't have a defense.

In five times before a parole board, Spencer refused to admit guilt even though that meant staying in prison.

Gov. Gary Locke commuted his sentence in 2004, citing numerous flaws in the investigation. Spencer's convictions were subsequently thrown out, and the charges were dismissed.