Clyde Ray Spencer, a former Washington police officer spent 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He was convicted and sentenced to two life terms plus 14 years in 1985 for false charges that he sexually abused his children: Kate Spencer Tetz, then 5, Matt Spencer, then 9, and Matt Hansen, then 5. His sentence was commuted in 2004 and his conviction was thrown out after that. A federal jury awarded him $9 million, earlier this month, after finding that two Clark Co., WA sheriff’s detectives fabricated the evidence against him, violating his constitutional right to due process.
“This case is so incredibly simple,” attorney Kathleen Zellner, an Illinois lawyer and member of the National Trial Lawyers, told the civil jury during opening statements, “It has to do with the deliberate fabrication of evidence” by former sheriff’s detective Sharon Krause and her boss, former detective sergeant Michael Davidson.
Spencer asserted at the civil trial that the false evidence was the moving force that caused him to enter an “Alford” or no contest plea to the charges against him. The plea is treated as a guilty plea for sentencing purposes, but the defendant maintains their innocence while acknowledging that the jury would probably find them guilty. While in prison, Spencer continued to maintain his innocence. After 13 days of testimony from 25 witnesses, several key factors led to the civil verdict in favor of Spencer:
- Spencer’s wife, who reported the abuse to police, was having a secret affair with Sgt. Davidson, who led the investigation into Spencer.
- Spencer’s children, Matt and Katie, testified that they were never abused.
- Spencer’s stepson, Matt Hansen, maintained that he was abused, however, his testimony was incentivized. He had several convictions for burglary and forgery. In exchange for his testimony implicating Spencer, he received a reduced sentence.
- The two detectives concealed medical exams that showed that the children were not abused.
- The two detectives fabricated polygraph results to look like Spencer failed and was thus lying.
- Deputy prosecutor James Peters made a video showing that he “coaxed” Spencer’s daughter to say her father abused her. The video was withheld until 2009 when it was found hidden in Det. Krause’s garage.
- Det. Krause held meetings with Spencer’s children interviewing them in unrecorded sessions without a proper psychologist present. She bought them candy and gifts to coerce their help. She told them their father was sick and he could only be healed if they accused him of sex abuse.
- Det. Krause was motivated by an advancement of career and after she started working on child sex abuse cases, the conviction rate increased 800%. She was a hotel clerk when she met officers at a hotel bar who told her to join the Clark Co. Sheriff’s Dept. She became a detective in child sex abuse cases without proper training.
“Justice was served, even though it took 30 years,” Zellner said. “We were able to prove they framed him. We’ve proven the evidence was fabricated. And, after 30 years, that’s remarkable. Justice is alive and well in Washington.”