The Chief and Chud
More than a Cozy Alliance
As detailed in the December 2022 report from the Office of Police Ombudsman, there has been a longstanding cozy relationship between Chief Meidle and Chud Wendle. In the latter half of 2021 this relationship crossed the line from collaboration on law enforcement issues into underhanded politics. At the urging of Mr. Wendle, the Chief went to considerable lengths to review and facilitate the release of body worn camera (BWC) footage whose only plausible use to Mr. Wendle was to instigate a political smear of a sitting member of the City Council.
The story begins with a murder committed in Brown’s Addition in mid August of 2020. Police officers canvassing the neighborhood for relevant information stopped at a nearby mental health group home to inquire about obtaining recordings from a security camera pointed at the street, material that might possibly have captured evidence relevant to the murder. The body worn camera (BWC) footage of one of the officers captures the face-to-face interaction with the manager of the group home, but the officer’s conversation with the business owner was conducted through the manager’s cell phone. As a result, on the BWC footage the business owner’s voice in inaudible. Only the officer’s side of the conversation is captured. The details are available starting at the bottom of page 13 of the Office of Policed Ombudsman’s report.
The business owner, entirely within her rights, asked for a warrant before releasing the security camera footage. She wanted time to explore legal issues to be sure to protect the rights of the residents in the group home. According to the OPO report (page 5), “Three days later, the lead detective returned with a search warrant and the Complainant provided the security camera footage without issue.”
Here the plot thickens. The business owner is Spokane City Council Member (CM) Betsy Wilkerson. Apparently based on a tip from a former City Hall staffer (and political aspirant), Chud Wendle first reached out to Chief Meidl about the BWC footage of the encounter at the group home in August of 2021, a whole year after the murder—and three months before the November City Council elections. By that time the murder case was nearing closure—but it appears that Chud’s interest in the footage had nothing to do with the crime—only with the possibility of using it to smear CM Wilkerson. It apparently didn’t matter that CM Wilkerson’s voice was not heard on the recording—only the grumbling of the officers about what they perceived as non-cooperation because she requested an official warrant.
The whole issue might have ended there, but it seems that’s not what Chud had in mind.
The footage was released to Wendle [following Meidl’s review, facilitation, and a subsequent second formal Public Records Request by Mr. Wendle] in October 2021, and 10 days later it was the subject of a report on the Jason Rantz conservative radio show in Seattle – where it was spun as the tale of an anti-police African American politician refusing to help solve a murder. Rantz was on Fox News shortly thereafter, telling the same story.
That quote comes from an excellent article by Shawn Vestal published in the Spokesman on March 8 based on the Office of Police Ombudsman’s report published last December.
Chud Wendle is a businessman, local Republican firebrand, author of a group email often assailing the City Council, and former husband of City Council President aspirant Cindy Wendle. That Chief Meidl spent time reviewing the body worn camera (BWC) footage at the behest of Mr. Wendle and facilitated its early release is a sordid act of partisan politics that goes far beyond a salutary relationship between a Chief of Police and a representative of the business community.
This evening, March 27, there will be testimony presented at the City Council meeting demanding of the City Council and Mayor Woodward, as a result of this incident (and the pattern it points out), that Chief Meidl be compelled to resign. The Spokane Community Against Racism (SCAR) is spearheading the effort. The demand letter from SCAR is here.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. The Office of Police Ombudsman’s (OPO’s) report is not easy reading, but it is an essential window on these goings on. The investigation of this incident by the OPO was undertaken at the request of CM Betsy Wilkerson (referred to as the “Complainant” in the report) after the appearance of the story on Fox News. Also useful in reading the OPO report:
SPD Employee C is Chief Meidl
The Community Member is Chud Wendle.
It is no secret that the Spokane Police under Chief Meidl oppose independent oversight of the Department. The Office of Police Ombudsman arose in the aftermath of the death of Otto Zehm at the hand of the Spokane Police. This current OPO report clearly demonstrates that independent investigation is still hampered by its lack of authority to compel testimony.
P.P.S. Another article on this controversy, one that I find somewhat less to the point than Shawn Vestal’s Spokesman piece, appeared in The Inlander on March 10.
P.P.P.S. Council Member Betsy Wilkerson currently represents District 2 (South Hill plus) at the Council. She recently announced as a candidate for City Council President this fall after current Council President Breean Beggs said he would not run for a second four year term. Council President is a city-wide contest, appealing to voters of all three City Districts. Don’t be surprised if Meidl’s and Wendle’s smear campaign based on the body cam footage of the chatter between two police officers appears in attack ads or fundraising literature by those who oppose Wilkerson’s candidacy. Judge the video for yourself on the webpage of Rantz’ right wing Seattle talk radio show. To my viewing, the released BWC footage is a breach of privacy as well as nothing but hearsay.