A downtown building owner is upset that an Air Force survival school student suspected of breaking into apartments, frightening a sleeping tenant and stealing a knife during a September night of roof-running will not face serious criminal charges.
Police caught Airman Jason Turkovich on the roof of the building on West Main Avenue that houses apartments and the antique shop Roost. They were called after a woman awoke to find a stranger standing in her bedroom staring at her.
Instead of arresting Turkovich for burglary, police cited him for the lesser charge of trespassing and sent him back to Fairchild Air Force Base.
Building owner John Waite said the airman should not receive special treatment.
"It doesn't seem fair," he said. "In my mind being in the military doesn't give you a pass."
A body camera worn by Officer Jeremy Howe recorded Turkovich saying nothing more than "Article 31," an apparent reference to a section of U.S. military code requiring crime suspects be advised of their rights under military law.
Body Camera Video from The Spokesman-Review on Vimeo.
Throughout the video officers can be heard saying that Turkovich had been inside the building and referring to the crime as burglary. Waite told officers that the knife they found in Turkovich's back pocket was stolen from inside the building.
"He can take a stab at defending himself for burglary," said an officer.
"Works for me," replied another officer.
As they confirm that Turkovich is an airman, the discussion among police officers about how to handle the crime begins to change.
"I don't think we're doing burg on this one," said one of the officers. "I think (a police sergeant) is trying to smooth over the (unintelligible) so he doesn't get kicked out of the military and get stuck in Spokane for the rest of his life."
A short time later, another police officer questions the burglary suspicions: "It sounds like we may have had a burg inside?" he said.
"We do," said Officer Howe, "but because of what he's actually out here doing, we're pretty confident there was no intent to commit a crime inside."
A bit later a contingent from Fairchild Air Force Base arrived at the crime scene to take Turkovich back to the base rather than have police book him into jail.
Police spokesman Cpl. Jordan Ferguson said officers commonly use their discretion in determining what criminal charges to recommend to prosecutors.
"We encounter numerous felony crimes that we will either charge down, or, depending on the situation, not even charge," he said.
Ferguson said that the police sergeant made the decision to lower the suggested charge to avoid clogging up the court system unnecessarily and because he knew that Turkovich would likely face stern discipline from the Air Force.
"He realized the airman would likely suffer more consequences through the military," Ferguson said. "He figured it was the most efficient use of resources available."
Waite criticized the officer's discretion.
"I think it's a poor choice on their part," he said. "The fact that he tried to break in again with a knife is serious."
Turkovich arrived in Spokane to attend survival school at Fairchild and is assigned to Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.
Kirtland public affairs officer Kendahl Johnson said Tuesday the Air Force would not determine discipline until the case has been adjudicated by Spokane's civilian court system.
"He's going to face discipline, but it's still in process," Johnson said.
In the police video officers can be heard discussing whether or not Turkovich was participating in one of the survival school's escape and evade exercises. But within days of Turkovich's arrest Capt. David Liapis, chief of Fairchild's public affairs office, said the incident was not related to any military training. He said it was his understanding that Turkovich was "roof running."
Roof running, considered a form of Parkour or free running, involves people running from rooftop to rooftop, often doing flips and other acrobatics as they go.
The woman who spotted Turkovich in her doorway, Audrey Connor, said she's disappointed that police gave Turkovich a break. Connor, who works for The Spokesman-Review, said Turkovich gained access to the roof, broke into the building, and hid while her roommate looked for him. He then tried to break inside the apartment again.
"That's not just being drunk and making a goof," she said. "I just feel like he's going to get away with this and something else will happen in the future."