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Clark County settles Spencer’s wrongful conviction suit for $6M

The county will pay $5.25 million; county's former insurer to cover the rest

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
Published: December 19, 2017, 11:34am

Clark County and the Washington Counties Risk Pool will pay out $6 million to former Vancouver police Officer Clyde Ray Spencer, who was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for nearly 20 years for sexual abuse.

Spencer, who now lives in California, said Tuesday morning that the settlement announcement was news to him.

“This has been going on now for months. Every time they set a date, nothing comes of it so it’s kind of a surprise to me,” he said in a phone interview.

His claim has been pending for about six years.

In February 2014, a jury had awarded Spencer $9 million following a civil trial in U.S. District Court in Tacoma. But months later, Judge Benjamin H. Settle threw out the jury’s verdict.

It was reinstated in May by a three-judge panel for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after finding that Spencer had provided direct evidence that former Clark County sheriff’s Detective Sharon Krause fabricated evidence in his criminal case. Krause’s supervisor, sheriff’s Sgt. Mike Davidson, who had an affair with Spencer’s wife, had also been found liable in his supervisory capacity.

However, Krause and Davidson’s lawyers planned to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision, leading the parties to negotiate the settlement.

“In the overall scheme of things, it’s not as big of a settlement as you may think, when you consider 20 years behind bars and then another three years of parole. If I had remained with the Vancouver Police Department for those years, I would have made that amount,” Spencer said. “To be very honest with you, I think Clark County got off easy. But it’s nice it’s going to be settled.”

Spencer was convicted in 1985 of sexually abusing his two children and a stepson, and was sentenced to two life terms plus 14 years. He was a motorcycle officer with the Vancouver Police Department at the time of his arrest.

His sentence was commuted in 2004, and the convictions were later vacated and the charges dismissed.

‘Good faith effort’

Clark County will pay Spencer $5.25 million, and the rest will be covered by the Washington Counties Risk Pool — a coalition of Washington counties that purchase insurance as a group to cut costs, according to a press release. The county is no longer insured through the risk pool.

Although the county was dismissed from the wrongful conviction suit in November 2012, Spencer had sought an order requiring the county to pay the verdict and $3 million in attorneys’ fees and costs, the press release states.

As a result of the settlement, the suit is dismissed.

When asked to comment on the settlement after Tuesday’s meeting, Clark County council Chair Marc Boldt deferred to Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Chris Horne.

Horne said in a phone interview that the case continues to have “substantial disagreement between the parties,” but the settlement was in the best interest of all.

“This was a negotiated settlement where there was risk on a number of sides, and the mediation resolved all of the claims,” he said.

The parties reached a tentative agreement in October, he said, but because of the complexity of the case, it took time to put everything together.

He said the county paid attorneys’ fees for Krause and Davidson’s lawyers.

Efforts to reach Krause’s attorney, Guy M. Bogdanovich of Law, Lyman, Daniel, Kamerrer & Bogdanovich in Olympia, were unsuccessful Tuesday afternoon. Davidson’s attorney, Jeffrey Freimund of Freimund Jackson & Tardif in Olympia, declined to comment.

“People are going to look at this and say, ‘Jeez, the guy got $6 million.’ But there were hundreds of thousands of dollars put out just to resolve this criminally,” Spencer said.

And Spencer’s high-profile attorney, Kathleen Zellner of Chicago, will receive a large chunk of the settlement, he said.

“We went to arbitration, but in our opinion, the only ones willing to consider anything was the county. Nobody really came there with any intention of arbitrating in a realistic manner,” he said.

All he and his attorney were asking for was to receive the jury’s verdict, he said.

Zellner said while she can understand why Spencer might feel he deserves more than $6 million, “the sad reality is most people (in wrongful conviction cases) get nothing.”

“I think there was a good faith effort here,” she said. “Yeah, it’s not a perfect result, but given what happens to most exonerees, it’s a good result.”

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She said the county did not have insurance coverage for wrongful convictions back in 1985 and that they could have taken the case to the Supreme Court and may have won, leaving Spencer with only one option: to go after Krause and Davidson. Getting just compensation from them would have been unlikely.

“It’s a long, complex journey for someone who was wrongfully convicted and later exonerated,” Zellner said, later adding, “The county actually did the right thing. They provided coverage when there wasn’t coverage.”

Spencer said there is no question that corruption occurred in his criminal case, and he wants the U.S. Department of Justice to step in and investigate.

As it stands, Spencer says he was terminated from the Vancouver Police Department without cause. He and his attorney are evaluating possible next steps, he said, but have not yet determined if they can or will pursue a wrongful termination suit.

Metro Team Editor John Hill and reporter Jake Thomas contributed to this report.

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