Court docs: SPD officer charged with vehicular assault drove 65 mph in 25 mph zone before crash

Michael brunner
Credit: SPD

SPOKANE, Wash. — A Spokane Police officer has been charged with two counts of vehicular assault in a crash that injured two people.

On March 25, the Washington State Patrol responded to a serious-injury crash at the intersection of Lincoln Street and Fifth Avenue. Officer Michael Brunner was on duty, driving north on Lincoln. Behind him was Officer Roy.

According to court documents, the officers were heading to the department at the end of their shift. Brunner was driving behind a witness to the crash and Roy was behind Brunner.

The witness told police that she saw two officers behind her with no lights on. She said she tried to move so they could pass, but the officers didn’t.

When Lincoln Street converted to two lanes, the driver said the officer behind her swerved, revved his engine and went around her. According to the driver, the officer passed her and turned on his lights.

At a stop sign at Fifth Avenue was James Collins. He was going from east to west. The witness going north on Lincoln said she saw a white car [Collins] go into the intersection, but didn’t know if it fully stopped at a stop sign. She told troopers that she thought the car would make it through the intersection, but said it was slow.

The witness did not believe Brunner was going the speed limit, which was 25 mph.

When Brunner went down the road, he allegedly ran into Collins, who then hit a parked car. He suffered a clavicle and rib fracture, as well as a right renal hematoma. His passenger had a cut to their head and needed staples.

Officer Roy, who was behind Brunner, gave his statement to WSP.

He said he was following Brunner to the department and said he noticed the car in front of Brunner “seemed to be going slow,” documents state.

Roy sent a message to Brunner through the computer, according to documents. He said, “the lady in front of you sucks.” and Brunner replied, “I know,” according to documents.

Officer Roy said he thought the driver in front of Brunner may have been going below the speed limit. He said he didn’t know how fast they were going, but “felt it was slow.” He then stated that he thought Brunner “was going 50 mph or more.”

“Roy stated when Brunner passed, he got on it and went,” documents stated.

When Roy and Brunner talked about the crash, court documents stated that Brunner told the other officer that “he thought he was going about 50 mph or so.”

After the crash, troopers got data from Brunner’s car and determined he was going 65 mph three seconds before the crash.

Collins and his passenger told troopers that they remembered seeing a car coming, but that “it was a ways off.” They also didn’t see any lights or sirens.

Another witness said Collins did come to a full stop at the stop sign. The witness also stated that Collins started to go, “then somewhat hesitated,” documents stated. They also said that the intersection is “a bad intersection” and that “collisions happen there all the time.”

Washington State Patrol completed the investigation and sent it to the prosecutor’s office with a recommendation of vehicular assault. Prosecutors charged Brunner with two counts of vehicular assault. He was placed on administrative leave the day after the accident.

Collins’ lawyers issued the following statement on Thursday:

“The Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office chose to charge Officer Brunner with two counts of Vehicular Assault, RCW 46.61.522. More specifically, the Spokane County Prosecutor’s office charged him under the prong of the vehicular assault statute which alleges that he drove in disregard for safety of others, instead of charging him under the section which alleges that he drove in a reckless manner. That choice is not only inappropriate given the circumstances of the Officer driving twice the posted speed limit, but will also result in lower consequences and a lower amount of jail time for this felonious act. This is especially concerning given the fact that the Legislature has already made clear that driving in excess of the posted speed limit is prima facie evidence of the driving in a reckless manner. RCW 46.61.465.

“Officer Brunner’s actions are wrong. The Prosecutor’s charging decision is wrong. The City of Spokane’s cover-up and attempt to sweep this under the rug is even worse. After the changes made by the Spokane Police Department after the Otto Zehm case, and under Chief Meidl’s leadership, to have the Spokane Police Department try to cover up an officers’ criminal actions is wrong. The citizens of Spokane deserve better. Especially at a time in our country where the overzealous actions of police have drawn national attention, to have not only the police department but the prosecutor’s office applying a different set of rules to officers than to the average citizen is indefensible.” 

Brunner is expected to appear in court on July 15.