PORT ANGELES — A man who spat on a tribal police officer while being arrested at a convenience store was sentenced Thursday to three years in prison.
A Clallam County Superior Court jury on Nov. 23 found Edward James Steiner, 55, guilty of harassment-bodily injury and third-degree assault of then-La Push Police Officer Brent Kempster at the Lonesome Creek Store in La Push.
In sentencing Steiner to 38 months, Clallam County Superior Court Judge Brent Basden said the Port Angeles resident has a concerning criminal history, including aggressive behavior toward law enforcement personnel.
Steiner was convicted of second-degree arson in Nevada in 2003. His four convictions for harassment, attempted harassment, assault and disarming of officers include attempted second-degree assault in 2015 in Colorado for spitting at an officer, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matthew Roberson said, calling Steiner “an experienced criminal.”
“While this didn’t result in physical injury, the apprehension and concern was high for Officer Kempster, given that this happened in the context of a global pandemic and the context of a reservation just reopening at the time,” Roberson said.
Steiner’s plea to Basden for leniency did not include an expression of remorse.
Steiner accused Kempster of assault and said if witnesses had told the truth, “I wouldn’t be here.”
He said three members of his family died by suicide, two family members recently died, and his mother, who lives out of state, needs his help.
“Your honor, I’ve had a hard life,” Steiner said, adding he has been homeless for most of it and has mental health issues.
Basden said there may be “somewhat mitigating factors” in the case, including the effect of alcohol on Steiner at the time and the fact the assault was not physical in terms of hitting with fists or an object.
“On the other hand, the court does take seriously assault on a law enforcement officer,” he said, adding that Steiner was found guilty of a felony assault.
Basden said Kempster had made significant efforts to deescalate the confrontation and help Steiner return to his campsite.
“Those were rebuffed by Mr. Steiner, who subjected the officer, based on testimony, to all levels of verbal abuse,” Basden said.
“Then to make matters worse, for Mr. Steiner to accuse the officer of being the assaultive one with no evidence that would suggest that would be the case is equally troubling,” he added.
“Prior convictions and incarcerations haven’t caused a change to occur, so now you’re incarcerated again, and it’s more time because of what you’ve done in the past.”
A drunken Steiner, described in court documents as a transient Port Angeles resident, was arrested at the store on the Quileute Tribe’s reservation shortly after 5 p.m. Aug. 22, following the confrontation with Kempster, according to court documents.
After Kempster told him he could not drink in public and asked him where he was camping, Steiner called Kempster a homophobic slur, said he did not like “[homophobic slur] cops,” and repeatedly threatened Kempster with bodily harm, Kempster said, according to a supplemental probable cause statement.
After Steiner left the store and sat on a log by the front entrance, Kempster stood to Steiner’s right and tried to confirm his identity, according to the statement, written by Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Earls and Roberson’s sentencing memo.
“At that time, Steiner turned his body toward me, looked up and [spat] on my face and right arm,” Kempster said in the report.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Brian Knutson told Earls that what had occurred was a non-Native incident and that Steiner would have to be held at the Clallam County jail. Steiner was driven there after a doctor at Forks Community Hospital issued a “fit for jail” determination.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].