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County releases Hahn records

5-28-2005 Washington:

Investigative records relating to a sheriff deputy's suicide in 1981 – previously claimed to be "shredded" – were made public on Friday by Spokane County Sheriff Mark Sterk and county attorney James Emacio.

The 49 pages of sheriff's office records, first requested in January 2003 by The Spokesman-Review, detail allegations of child sexual abuse by Deputy David Hahn, who killed himself in 1981. The documents shed some light on the way sheriff's officials handled the investigation of Hahn, who was a decorated Vietnam War veteran and Boy Scout leader.

The newly released documents show Hahn was under investigation for molesting two boys just days prior to committing suicide with his service revolver. It was the third investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against Hahn. Two months earlier, Sheriff's Inspector Terry Snedden had closed another inquiry into the deputy.

Previous reports in Hahn's file included complaints from the mother of Robert and Brett Galliher, who are among four men now suing Spokane County for alleged abuse by Hahn. In addition to the allegations against Hahn, Robert Galliher also accuses Spokane Mayor Jim West of sexually abusing him during the late 1970s and early 1980s, when West was also a sheriff's deputy and Boy Scout leader.

The documents released Friday do not identify West.

Included in the papers is a report Inspector Snedden wrote on June 5, 1981, about Hahn.

"In my opinion," Snedden said, "there is not sufficient evidence to indicate that Deputy Hahn did anything improper."

In an apparent reference to the mother of Robert and Brett Galliher, Snedden said she "isn't able to control herself or her family (and is) making accusations against an officer with a fine record."

"Unless further evidence of this comes to light, there will be no further investigation," wrote Snedden, who was the No. 3 commander under then-Sheriff Larry Erickson.

But by mid-August 1981, the investigation was re-opened for a third time when new molestation charges surfaced against Hahn.

The deputy was accused of sexually molesting two more boys, 10 and 13, whom he'd met just three weeks earlier and admitted taking to his South Hill apartment.

Hahn took the boys separately into his darkened bedroom, offering them massages, according to the documents.

"Then he started putting oil stuff on me and massaging my back, right up by my butt," the 13-year-old boy said in a statement that was among the released documents.

"What was the name of the oil? Do you remember?" sheriff's Detective Danny O'Dell asked the boy in 1981.

"Desert Flower," the child responded.

"After he massaged you on your butt, then what did he do?" the investigator continued.

"He took his hand and went down inside my crack," the boy responded.

The apartment identified in the documents as belonging to Hahn is the same apartment where Robert Galliher alleged in an interview with The Spokesman-Review and in a sworn deposition that he was sodomized by Hahn and West.

West has denounced the abuse allegations as "flat lies."

Galliher told the newspaper that the final time he was molested in the apartment was on Aug. 28, 1981, moments before Hahn took his own life.

City police detectives who investigated Hahn's suicide concluded the deputy was alone at the time, apparently based on the fact his apartment door was locked when two senior sheriff's officials, Jack Morris and Norm Nickerson, checked on his welfare.

When Morris and Nickerson found Hahn dead, they turned the investigation over to detectives, who concluded, after an autopsy, that the death was a suicide.

The newspaper in 2003 asked the combined city-county Records Division for all documents related to Hahn's suicide. When only the brief report about his suicide was produced, Sheriff Sterk was asked about any related internal affairs files or detectives' reports related to complaints about Hahn in the late 1970s or early 1980s.

Sterk said those files were "shredded" as part of a routine housecleaning after Hahn's death. Sterk is a Republican who, before becoming sheriff, served in the state Legislature with West.

On Friday, Sterk said he is a friend of West's and supported his campaign for mayor, but "is disappointed" about recent revelations centering on abuse of public trust.

The release of the records came 24 days after publication of a series of reports about West in The Spokesman-Review.

Sterk and Emacio, the county's chief civil attorney, pointed at each other when asked for an official explanation for why the documents were suddenly produced Friday – 16 months after they were first requested and three weeks after the FBI began a preliminary inquiry into misconduct by West.

Later in the day, when pressed for an explanation, Sterk said the records were discovered April 21 in a cardboard box in a storage closet in the sheriff's portion of the Public Safety Building.

"These records weren't overlooked at the time," Sterk said. "We just didn't know they existed."

Several names are redacted in the documents released Friday; they generally appear to be those of victims or their family members.

"Mr. West's name is not mentioned in those documents," Emacio said.

The newspaper is considering whether to seek financial penalties against Spokane County for the delay in turning over the documents.

Duane Swinton, the newspaper's attorney, said the purpose of the state Open Records Act "is to provide for prompt and thorough responses" to the public's requests to examine public records.

"It would appear that the response here was neither prompt nor thorough," Swinton said. "We're exploring whether to seek a daily penalty against the county for failure to timely respond."

Steven A. Smith, editor of the newspaper, said the 16-month delay raises questions.

"We've been told for several months that this file no longer existed," Smith said. "Its sudden appearance at this time raises questions about the integrity of the initial sheriff's department investigation into Deputy Hahn.

"Further, it leads us to ask what additional records may yet surface and what those records may tell us about a scandal that, in our view, officials have been doing everything in their power to cover up." ..more.. by Bill Morlin / Staff writer

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