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Appellate judge lambasts rampant racial bigotry in Spokane case

May 23, 2023 – Chief Judge George B. Fearing of the Court of Appeals Division III criticized colleagues, called out police racism and denounced prejudiced prosecutors in an opinion released in State v. Vaile, a 2019 case about a Black man who allegedly kissed a white woman without consent at a restaurant in Spokane County.

Vaile was not charged with a crime for the kiss. Instead, Vaile faced two charges of felony assault and a charge for resisting arrest. Vaile was acquitted on the assault charges, but the jury found him guilty of resisting arrest. WAP attorney Lila J. Silverstein represented Vaile on his appeal.

The appellate judges agreed in the opinion that the trial judge improperly excluded evidence, specifically audio from a cellphone recording of Vaile’s arrest that seemed to indicate he was cooperating. All judges agreed that they must reverse the conviction for resisting arrest. However, Fearing dissented from his colleagues, expressing the necessity of seeing the color bias and prejudice suffered by Vaile alongside the evidentiary issues, and calling for direct dismissal of the charge based on race-based government misconduct. “Racial bigotry permeates the case beginning with [the] call to 911 and ending with the State attorney’s summation to the jury,” Fearing writes. He further calls out his colleagues on what he writes as “the refusal to expose and remedy endemic racist bias” that occured in the case.

Indeed, as Judge Fearing examined, many racist tropes were at play in this case, from the white woman calling the police about an “angry Black man”, to the extreme and violent response from the police involving 6-8 cop cars at the scene, the charges of resisting arrest slapped on, and racial innuendos from the Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell whose wife freely used slurs and declared herself a “proud white nationalist.

This Seattle Times article goes into further detail regarding the case and Fearing’s dissent, and is well worth a read.