Investigation clears Bend police corporal of alleged ties to extremism
Bend police records released this month offer a glimpse into how the city’s law enforcement leaders investigated, and ultimately cleared, a fellow officer accused of ties to far-right extremism.
Cpl. Josh Spano faced 10 alleged policy violations, all deemed unfounded. Still, the investigation has led to proposed changes in the department around social media. Some of the allegations against Spano stemmed from personal items and social media posts featuring imagery associated with the anti-government, militia movement. Police supervisors decided those references were coincidental to Spano’s military background.
The seed of the complaint was a keychain the corporal carried on duty, which he has since stopped using, according to investigation reports. The keychain showed a Greek phrase: “Molon Labe.” The rough translation is “Come and Take Them.” It’s a popular phrase in military history and culture, the gun rights movement and among some anti-government groups.
The keychain had tacit approval by a supervisor.
“Unfortunately, I did not take more care in this situation with researching what the phrase signified and appropriately apply the uniform policy to the situation,” Capt. Nick Parker wrote in his report.
“Molon Labe” is also tattooed on Spano’s leg, accompanying the Statue of Liberty holding a pistol and silencer. He posted a picture of this online in 2013, captioning it: “Love my country, hate my government.”
A 2017 Instagram post made by Spano also showed a collection of fabric patches and a bright red notebook. One patch includes the Roman numeral “III,” a symbol popularized by militia groups. The notebook cover reads: “People to Kill.”
Spano reportedly brought the book to an internal affairs interview in June.
“There was not a list of names of people to kill in the book,” wrote Bend PD’s investigator, Lt. Juli-Ann McConkey.
Spano logged his target practice in the book.
“He opened the book and it had various dates, times, wind direction, wind speed, density, altitude, humidity, grain of bullet, and several other things regarding his shooting for the particular day,” according to McConkey.
As for the Roman numerals, Spano said he was unaware of a link to militia culture until recently. He told McConkey he got the patch from the owner of the company that makes it, Kryptek, and that they met at police training in Nevada. Kryptek is a clothing brand that markets outdoor gear with a military aesthetic. At the time, Spano worked for the Medford Police Department and was a member of its SWAT team.
“The owner of Kryptek also wanted to get in contact with the Medford SWAT team to see if they could have a business deal for jackets,” McConkey noted.
Kryptek merchandise is frequently branded by three percenter militias, according to Mark Pitcavage, an expert on extremism for the Anti-Defamation League, who pointed to several examples online, including one from a Washington state militia.
When McConkey reached out to Kryptek, a representative reportedly told her the numerals stand for the “three major technologies that go into making the Kryptek camo pattern design.”
McConkey consulted an unidentified member of federal law enforcement, who “could not confirm any of the patches were associated with any extremist group,” her report states. A city spokesperson said the conversation was conducted under condition of confidentiality. In her report, McConkey does not document speaking to any extremism researchers.
In recent years members of various Three Percent militias have violently targeted political opponents on the left, Muslims and immigrants, according to the ADL. Four self-described members from California have been charged with conspiracy in the Jan. 6 breach at the U.S. Capitol, the Washington Post reported. In Central Oregon, a local chapter adopts a highway between Redmond and Prineville, according to signage on state Highway 126. Last summer in Bend, a man with the logo on his truck pointed a handgun at racial justice demonstrators. Bend Police Department’s handling of the incident sparked months of controversy, fueling a rift between police leaders and the county’s head prosecutor.
Spano declined to comment on the investigation. His duties as a police supervisor include mentoring, and acting as a sergeant when needed, according to the investigation reports. He is an Army combat veteran, who’s been a sworn officer in Oregon since 2008. Spano was hired by Bend in 2015, and promoted to corporal in 2019. Employment records show he’s consistently earned commendations from superiors, including McConkey.
Her internal affairs report was reviewed by a captain and the chief of police. The City of Bend’s human resources director Rob DuValle “provided advice and input on this investigation and was present for interviews.”
The allegations against Spano originated with an activist group known for criticizing local police, the Central Oregon Peacekeepers. On May 1, Spano cited one of its members, Michael Satcher, for criminal trespassing near a homeless encampment. Afterward, the group disseminated images of Spano’s personal items and social media posts.
Satcher, like Spano, is a disabled combat veteran. Satcher has said he became an activist in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Bend officials have said Satcher harasses them. In March, the city filed a lawsuit against him over an expansive public records request, and the civil case is scheduled for trial in December.
Over the last year, law enforcement officers have sought eight criminal charges against Satcher, county records show. The District Attorney’s office has declined to pursue any of these, at times emphatically. In a memo to the police chief last month, Deschutes DA John Hummel accused the officers of targeting activists seeking police reforms.
Prior to the Spano investigation, Chief Krantz wrote to the entire Bend City Council, defending the corporal and blaming the activist.
“Deflection is often the only defense left when people have no defense for their actions,” Krantz wrote in the May 3 email.
McConkey was assigned to investigate Spano the next day, per her report. During the investigation, she asked Spano about the anti-government statement on his photo of the tattoo.
“The significance to him of Lady Liberty holding the gun in his tattoo is defending the country against the oppression of another country, a new age take on the old thought of the Statue of Liberty and why France gave her to the United States,” McConkey wrote. “Corporal Spano realizes he is employed by the government and he does not hate his government and he does love his country, as he is a veteran who fought for his country.”
McConkey’s 41-page report mentions the word veteran 66 times. Police Chief Mike Krantz reviewed her work.
“None of the information discovered during this investigation would lead a reasonable person to believe that Corporal Spano is tied to any extremist, racist, or anti-government groups,” Krantz concluded in his findings. “There is no information present in Corporal Spano’s personnel file or any information discovered during this investigation in which a reasonable person could conclude that Corporal Spano conducts himself at work in any manner other than commendable.”
Still, the investigation is poised to spur policy changes within the Bend Police Department. Krantz recommended a review of several department policies, including one governing employee speech and social media use, which has not been updated since 2015.
This year, the Oregon Legislature passed a law requiring law enforcement agencies to set standards for employee speech and expression. HB 2936 takes effect next year.
Spano resigned from Bend PD this month. He’s been offered a job with the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, according to city and county officials.
In the midst of the city’s investigation, A GoFundMe purporting to “Buy CPL Spano a beer!! MOLAN LABE!! [ sic]” raised about $1,700.
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