Benton prosecutor: Listening to call 'good-faith mistake'

PASCO — An "honest mistake" was made when two Pasco police detectives listened to a recorded jailhouse phone call between a murder suspect and his defense attorney, a special prosecutor said Wednesday.

Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller acknowledged that it is a violation to listen to a conversation between an attorney and defendant, but he said there was no prejudice against Kurtis Robert Chapman.

"While the Pasco police officers made a mistake, the mistake was a good-faith mistake," Miller said. "... Our finding is this case should not be dismissed."

Chapman, 22, is charged with first-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter for allegedly strangling his ex-girlfriend and killing her unborn baby. His trial is set for Feb. 16.

Miller said Franklin County Prosecutor Steve Lowe "did an excellent job" of immediately removing himself and his office when he learned what happened. Pasco police administrators also reassigned the two detectives involved and issued a gag order on the incident. The copy of the recorded conversation also was destroyed.

Miller, who was appointed as the special prosecutor, reported his findings Wednesday to Judge Craig Matheson in Franklin County Superior Court. He provided the court a copy of the transcripts of the multiple interviews he conducted with Pasco police, Franklin County corrections officers and Lowe.

Defense attorney Matt Rutt and Matheson now will review the transcripts before Chapman returns to court Dec. 7 so Rutt can argue his side of the case. The interviews did not discuss details about what was said by Rutt or Chapman during the recorded phone conversation.

Rutt has filed a motion to dismiss the case against his client, calling the incident a "flagrant violation" of Chapman's Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights. Rutt also said the recorded phone conversation included a discussion about what experts might be called to testify and defense strategies.

Shenay Greenough, 19, was last seen May 8 and was reported missing by her mother. The teen reportedly sent text messages to a friend saying she was fighting with Chapman over their breakup.

Her body was found May 10 under the Pasco home of Chapman's father.

She was more than 30 weeks pregnant with a baby girl she had planned to name Kyana Shenay. Greenough also had a 2-year-old son, Ayden. Chapman is not the father of either child.

Chapman was arrested in Pendleton on May 11 and entered a plea to the charges on May 21. Later that day, Chapman made some calls from the Franklin County jail, including one to Rutt's cell phone.

According to the interview transcripts obtained by the Herald, Detective William Parramore said he got a call from Corrections Officer Scott Cram who said he overheard Chapman on the phone "make mention of deleting a name from a cell phone -- a possible accomplice."

Cram said he didn't know who Chapman was talking to or stop to listen to the conversation.

Parramore, who was the lead detective on the homicide case, said he went to the jail with Detective Cpl. Jeff Harpster to listen to the recorded phone calls because they were investigating whether someone had helped Chapman leave the area.

Parramore said he made copies of three calls Chapman made from the jail. The first call they found was the one to Rutt, but he didn't know he couldn't listen to the call.

The jail's phone system has an automated recording that announces the call is subject to monitoring or recording that is played when a phone call is connected and repeated periodically.

Miller noted that the jail has a program that allows defense attorneys to ask that calls to their phone be private and those calls won't be recorded. Rutt's office phone is on the list of numbers that aren't recorded, but his cell phone is not, so when Chapman called it, the conversation was recorded.

"I'm not saying Mr. Rutt did anything wrong, but it did contribute to an honest mistake by the Pasco police officers," Miller said.

Parramore said that as soon as Rutt answered, the automated message played and they knew the call was being recorded so he didn't consider whether there would be any potential issues from listening to a conversation that is protected by the attorney/client relationship.

"It didn't cross my mind. I didn't think about that," Parramore said. "I thought because it was at the jail, that it was being recorded, that it was OK to get information from."

Harpster said he was "actually quite surprised" that Chapman and Rutt were having the conversation on a recorded line.

Parramore also said that he and Harpster never discussed if it was inappropriate to listen to the conversation or whether they should stop.

"We thought we were OK to be there and listen to the conversation," he said.

Parramore went back to the Pasco police station to listen to the conversation again in the squad room and that's when it first came up that they likely shouldn't be listening to it, he said. Sgt. Mike Monroe overheard the recording and questioned if it was appropriate when he found out it was between a defendant and his attorney.

Parramore explained it was on a recorded line but Monroe reiterated his concern and told Parramore to call Lowe.

Lowe said Parramore called him and said something like, "I might have screwed up," and that he had listened to a conversation between Rutt and Chapman. Lowe immediately told him not to say anything about what he heard and to tell other officers at the station who may have heard the recording not to talk about it.

Lowe then informed Rutt about what happened and asked Miller to review the incident.

Miller questioned 10 other Pasco officers about what they may have heard and said those officers have all been removed from any connection with the case.

He said all evidence obtained from the recorded phone call should be suppressed but that the case should not be dismissed.