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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Spokane police officer receives suspended sentence for reckless driving; charge reduced from felony

UPDATED: Tue., Oct. 12, 2021

James and Lois Collins’ car after it was hit by Office Michael Brunner. Brunner pleaded guilty to misdemeanor reckless driving in September.  (Claim for Damages filed with the City of Spokane)
James and Lois Collins’ car after it was hit by Office Michael Brunner. Brunner pleaded guilty to misdemeanor reckless driving in September. (Claim for Damages filed with the City of Spokane)

A Spokane police officer who crashed his patrol car into a passenger car while driving twice the speed limit in front of MultiCare Deaconess Hospital, injuring two people, will not have to spend time in jail.

Officer Michael J. Brunner, 28, pleaded guilty to reckless driving last month in exchange for the reduction of the charge from felony vehicular assault.

District Judge Aimee Maurer sentenced him Monday to a 364-day suspended jail term for the crime. Brunner will be on unmonitored probation for one year.

Because he was not convicted of a felony, Brunner will return to his job as a police officer on paid administrative leave, pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation. And he will receive more than a year of back pay totaling at least $56,000 – the entry level base pay for officers. He had been placed on layoff status since July 2020.

A Washington State Patrol investigation into the crash determined Brunner was driving 65 mph in a 30 mph zone seconds before he T-boned a white Honda CR-V at the intersection of Lincoln Street and Fifth Avenue on March 25, 2020.

Brunner was not responding to an emergency; rather, he was driving back to the police department as his shift ended.

Just before the crash, Officer Brandon Roy was following Brunner’s patrol car, while Brunner tailed a car driven by Tamara Hedin. Brunner’s patrol car was within 5 or 6 feet of Hedin’s bumper.

Roy messaged Brunner on his computer, saying, “the lady in front of you sucks.”

Brunner replied, “I know,” before speeding around Hedin, who was changing lanes to pull into her job at Multicare Deaconess Hospital.

That’s when Brunner accelerated into the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Lincoln Street, and crashed into the white Honda driven by James Collins, 67, who was with his wife, Lois Collins.

According to WSP, Brunner’s vehicle was traveling 65 mph three seconds before the crash and 31.7 mph at the time of impact.

James Collins suffered a broken collarbone and ribs, along with bleeding in one of his retinas. The crash left Lois Collins with a cut on her head that required staples.

Shortly after the crash, the Spokane Police Department issued a news release that did not mention Brunner’s actions or the Collins’ injuries. It said, in part, that Brunner was “unable to bring his vehicle to a stop before colliding with the driver’s side of the civilian vehicle.”

Spokane Police also ticketed James Collins.

Later, a law firm hired by the Collinses alleged the Spokane Police Department was trying to cover up Brunner’s fault for the crash by ticketing innocent civilians.

“Contrary to the press release issued by the City of Spokane Police Department, in an apparent attempt to cover up Officer Brunner’s actions, Officers initially ticketed Mr. Collins for the collision rather than begin a criminal investigation into Officer Brunner,” according to a news release last year by Crary, Clark and Domanico Law.

The ticket for failure to yield was dismissed following the WSP investigation.

Roy was reprimanded for computer misuse following an internal affairs investigation by the police department.

James Collins filed a claim for damages totaling just over $16,000 against the city of Spokane in May. The damages would cover the cost of the Collins’ 2014 Honda CR-V, according to the claim.

The Collins’ attorney could not be reached for comment Tuesday regarding the sentencing.

The police department denied allegations of a cover-up, citing the department’s request for the state patrol to investigate.

Brunner, through his attorney Todd Maybrown, declined to provide a statement or report to WSP investigators, according to court documents. Maybrown did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

With the criminal charges settled, the police department has initiated an internal investigation, said Julie Humphreys, a department spokesperson.

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