Spokane Lieutenant Reaches $2.4 Million Settlement with State Police

A Spokane, Washington fire lieutenant who was falsely accused of child pornography offenses, has reached a $2.4 million settlement with the Washington State Patrol.

The case made headlines in 2008 when state police investigators connected the downloading of child pornography to Nichole Chism’s credit card. Assuming a woman would not be involved in child pornography, police arrested her husband, Lieutenant Todd Chism, and executed a search warrant for his home and computers.

Unbeknownst to the police, Nichole’s credit card had been stolen and her identify used by the actual perpetrators. The arrest left Lt. Chism publically humiliated and ridiculed, suspended from work, and alienated from those who knew him.

Chism’s attorney, Bob Dunn, said “The real travesty of what they did is they invented a bunch of stuff in the search warrants that pornography was actually purchased. … When the WSP decided to arrest Todd … (they) assumed the male would be the one who would purchase the porn even if it was in Nicole’s name. Based on what the WSP did, that purchase on a bank card statement is enough to implicate you of a felony.”

While state police initially denied any wrongdoing, they have since openly acknowledged that mistakes were made during the course of the investigation. Nevertheless, they vigorously defended themselves in court when Chism sued for $10 million. In fact, the settlement was only on the table following a ruling last year by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, that the false statements made by investigators constituted “intentional and reckless conduct” that violated Chism’s civil rights.

Regarding the settlement, Chism told reporters “My opinion is they defrauded the taxpayers of $2.4 million because they knew in the first week that they had made a huge mistake. Rather than doing the right thing, they chose to do everything they could to not take responsibility.”

The settlement is unrelated to a second $10 million lawsuit Chism filed against the state police following an altercation outside his home in 2010. Despite being tasered 7 times and badly beaten, he was charged with felony assault. Chism was found not guilty by a Stevens County jury last year. More on that story.

More on the settlement.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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