Clyde Ray Spencer, a former motorcycle patrolman, was secured a $9 million damage award from a federal jury after spending nearly two decades in jail on a fabricated case. The jury found that two of his colleagues at the police department fabricated evidence and possibly coached witnesses to convict him of sexually abusing his two children. Retired Clark County Police police Sgt. Michael Davidson and retired Detective Sharon Krause have been accused of the most serious violations in the case.
Spencer entered an Alford plea in 1985 where he maintained his innocence but admitted that the prosecution could convince a jury of his guilt. The plea got him little benefit: received two life sentences plus 14 years. He says that he entered the plea after learning that his defense lawyer had come little investigation into this case and was not planning to call witnesses in his defense.
After about ten years behind bars, Spencer found an attorney who did investigate and confirmed, with the help of a private investigator, that prosecutors had withheld evidence that his wife was having an affair with the supervisor of the detective handling child sex abuse cases. There was also withheld evidence of alleged witness coaching and a video showing that his then-5-year-old daughter denied sexual abuse before being put through re-enactments with two dolls. News reports describe some of the allegations:
Clark County Det. Sharon Krause, he also discovered, had held unorthodox meetings with the Spencer children, interviewing them in unrecorded sessions in her Sacramento hotel room and buying them gifts and candy. She told the children their father was “sick” and that they could help heal him by accusing him of the sexual crimes. He learned that Spencer’s son, who at first denied any abuse, had changed his story under months of questioning, coming up with a fantastic tale: Not only his father but a group of police officers had abused him. Henderson, suspicious about the night Spencer’s second wife Shirley brought her son to his motel room, wondered if that was a setup. He found his answer: Shirley was having an affair with Vancouver Police Sgt. Mike Davidson—the supervising detective on her husband’s case.
His kids later recanted their testimony, even though they grew up being told by their mother that they could not recall the abuse because they were blocking the memory. She was later included in the group alleged to have conspired to fabricate the case. Shirley Spencer’s alleged affair with Clark County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Michael Davidson was cited in prior rulings in the case. In Spencer v. Peters, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 148368, the court detailed Davidson’s involvement:
In October 1984, Davidson assigned Krause to investigate the Spencer case. Dkt. 168-3 at 19.
During the investigation of Mr. Spencer, Davidson’s role as a supervisor included activities such as reviewing the progress of the case, which meant, in part, reviewing the progress the assigned detective was making, reviewing for any problems, and reviewing the case to determine what follow-up needed to be done. Dkt. 168-3 at 18 (November 5, 2012 Deposition of Davidson). Davidson’s role also included having face-to-face meetings with the assigned detectives to review their progress. Id. Additionally, as a part of Davidson’s supervisorial duties he would review the assigned detective’s written reports. Id.
In the Spencer case, Davidson admits that he would have reviewed Krause’s written reports. Id. at 19 and 25. He communicated with the prosecutor’s office regarding the case, including having conversations with Peters. Id. at 22. Although Davidson recalls being involved in portions of the investigation, he has testified that he does not recall what directions or suggestions he gave to Krause. Id. at 27-28.
. . .
Although it is disputed as to what the nature of their relationship was and when it began, Davidson and Shirley Spencer became involved, and Krause became aware of his involvement with Shirley. On March 15, 1985, while Mr. Spencer was in custody at the Clark County jail, a quitclaim deed for the house Shirley and Mr. Spencer lived in was signed by Mr. Spencer and notarized. Dkt. 168-15 at 34-37. Mr. Spencer maintains that his signature on the deed was forged. Id. at 33. In May 1985, Shirley moved out of the house she and Mr. Spencer had shared together. Dkt. 168-1 at 23. Shirley and Davidson have testified that they moved in together in the fall of 1985.
For her part, Detective Sharon Krause was accused of using deliberately, grossly misquoted or misrepresented statements of abuse by the alleged victims; and using coercive interview techniques to manipulate the alleged child victims into making false allegations of abuse against Mr. Spencer. The allegations are familiar from other cases where detectives or experts are accused of putting words or images in the minds of alleged victims: the daughter later testified that “Krause was making the quoted statements and Kathryn would agree with either some or all of them, rather than Kathryn herself providing the graphic details of the alleged abuse and Krause simply quoting her.” The son also accused Krause of the same manipulation. Krause insisted that, even if true, she was entitled to immunity. Spencer v. Peters, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 119022. We recently discussed such common immunity claims by police and prosecutors after abuse is raised.
Prosecutors were later found to have withheld critical evidence including a report questioning the legal basis for a prosecution:
King County Prosecutor, Rebecca Roe (“Roe”). The purpose of Roe’s review was to provide an opinion concerning whether criminal charges of child rape should be filed against Mr. Spencer. The Spencer file was sent to King County for review in part because Mr. Spencer was then employed as a police officer with the Vancouver, Washington Police Department, which is located in Clark County.
The file Roe reviewed contained the reports by Sacramento law enforcement officers and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office reports concerning allegations of sexual abuse made by Kathryn to Shirley. Id. at 3. Also included in the file were narrative reports prepared by Krause, which documented her interviews with Kathryn on October 16 and 18, 1984, as well as the August 30, 1984 report which included the narrative written by Shirley after Kathryn disclosed the allegations of abuse to her. Id. at 3-4. On November 27, 1984, Roe concluded that the case was not “filable” due to problems with what Kathryn had said, may not be willing to say, or may not be competent to testify to at trial. Id. For example, inconsistencies in Kathryn’s statements, her reluctance to talk about abuse, and Kathryn’s statements about rubbing Shirley in combination with other statements created questions of “fact v. fantasy,” which Roe indicated was “built in reasonable doubt,” all factored into Roe’s recommendation. Id. at 1-3. While Roe opined that the case was “unwinnable,” she also stated “I believe the child was clearly abused and probably by the defendant….” Id. at 3.
As we have seen in so many cases, there has been no reference to any disciplinary action taken against the prosecutors in this case for such abuses in withholding evidence or other alleged violations. I am also curious how this supervisor could live with this person and not have a single officer raise the obvious ethical concern with the department.
Spencer’s sentence was commuted in 2005 but remained a convicted sex offender.