- Phil Tyler, who sits on the Spokane County Human Rights Task Force, brought together local male leaders for a video (screenshot above) titled "We Will Rise," urging men to speak out about sexual harassment and assault.
It was Phil Tyler who recruited the Spokane mayor, police chief, fire captain and county sheriff to join him in a black-and-white video, "We Will Rise," calling for men to stand up for women who've been sexually assaulted or harassed.
"As men," Tyler says in the video, "we must not stay silent."
And it was Tyler, former president of the Spokane NAACP, who stood up again at a Time's Up forum last month, calling for leaders in the community to be held accountable.
"I'm here tonight as a husband, as a father, as a son and, more importantly, as a man," Tyler said. He recounts how he felt when he heard his loved ones' experience with assault. "I felt as powerless and hurt as the survivors did, and I couldn't do anything about it."
These comments come as Tyler weighs a run for Spokane City Council. Yet Tyler's application for a vacant City Council seat two years ago sparked a fervent objection from a former loved one.
"He has a violent history which I know about firsthand. I lived with domestic violence from him starting in 1986 as his 18-year-old wife," Chloe Senger wrote in a 2016 email to Council President Ben Stuckart, recently obtained through a public-records request. "We divorced in 1990. I felt, at the time, it was useless to report the abuse because he was an Air Force police officer."
Senger is not the only woman who's accused Tyler of abuse. Tyler's two other ex-wives — Darci Tyler and then Katrina Tyler — also alleged domestic violence in court records.
The records — spanning three decades of messy divorce filings, parenting-plan battles and restraining and protection orders — are crammed with ugly allegations, involving shoving, choking, hair pulling, bruises, broken glass, broken plaster and death threats. Each woman was initially reluctant to speak with the Inlander, but each eventually drew a similar picture of their ex-husband: a controlling, ill-tempered bully who was verbally and physically abusive.
In a phone interview on Monday, however, Tyler, an Air Force veteran and former Spokane County Jail corrections officer, laughed at what he considered absurd accusations. He admits his words could sometimes be considered verbally abusive, but denies every allegation of physical abuse.
Instead, in both his Inlander interview and a subsequent Facebook post, he claims persecution, arguing that these accusations are resurfacing now because of his success in the community. Even after stepping down from the NAACP last year, Tyler has remained in the public eye. When his son committed suicide in November, he spoke out about it publicly to push for solutions. He spent last weekend on a "congressional civil rights pilgrimage" to Alabama with Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
"It's funny. I came off this pilgrimage where I spoke about how Dr. King, at the time of one of his heightened journeys, was being defamed with allegations of being a 'philandering husband' ... and I come back to Spokane to this call from you," he says over the phone to the Inlander. "Where everyone is, again, reaching out and defaming Phil."
Chloe Senger, Phil Tyler's first wife, lives in a small house with a big dog, near the Monroe Street hill that becomes littered with campaign signs during election season.
"I don't want to see his name in campaign signs all over the hillside," Chloe says, pointing out the window. "I feel like honorable people should be in office."
Even back when she was a teenager, she says she knew what Tyler was capable of. In 1985, she was at her house when he slammed her friend into a wall.
"He came right at me — he bashed me into the wall," Chloe's former friend, Deanna Harvey, says today. Harvey says her head hit the wall so hard it knocked a crown off her tooth and broke the plaster, exposing the wood behind it.
Juvenile court records show Tyler was arrested, found guilty of assault and sentenced to two months of community supervision. But back then, Chloe and her mother both rose to Tyler's defense.
"I was so stupid. You know how you are when you're 16. 'Oh, he's my boyfriend, I love him,'" Chloe says. "I defended him. ... Red flag!"
Still, she married him and regretted it. It was miserable. She says she made a mistake when they were assembling a lawnmower and so he kneed her in the tailbone. She says she could barely move for three months. Another time, she says, he got mad and hit her with a window screen, leaving behind a big purple-yellow welt on her leg.
"I never told anybody at the time. I don't know if that's common or what," Chloe says.
She says she didn't even tell her mom about what happened until 2014. But in old court records, Chloe asked for a temporary restraining order when she filed for divorce, writing that Tyler would often yell at her, grab her and push her.
She writes that when she moved out, "he called and started acting crazy, threatening to kill me."
"As a result of my husband's past behavior, I take very seriously his threats to harm me," Chloe wrote.
Today, Tyler denies all the allegations. Despite the court record, he says he doesn't even recall the assault against Deanna Harvey. Besides, that was a long time ago.
"When I was a teenager, I was a teenager," he says. "I'm 50 years old now."
But Chloe says that Tyler needs to reckon with and admit what she says happened.
"You still can't erase history," Chloe says.
It was 2000, in the midst of ugly divorce and custody proceedings, that Darci Tyler, Phil Tyler's second wife, sought to put her experience to paper.
"I am recording all I remember so as to show a pattern of violence with Phil toward me," she wrote in a lengthy declaration under oath titled "Journal of events regarding Phil."
She recounts eight years of incidents, altercations and parenting conflicts. Darci declined to be quoted when the Inlander spoke with her, but said she stood by everything she said in the court record. And there's a lot.
They met in September of 1991, she writes. It was the same month, according to criminal records, that Tyler bashed down the door of an ex-girlfriend's apartment, when she was not home, to take back his stuff. (The charges were later dropped after he paid for the damage.)
A few months later, Darci wrote, Tyler grabbed her by her hair, slammed her into the dresser and pushed her down into the closet as she tried to leave. Darci claims Tyler put his foot on her stomach and told her he was going to "give her an abortion the old-fashioned way."
Her parents write in court records that they came to pick her up — only to be greeted by Tyler calling her "dirty names" and saying she should be taken to get an abortion.
Darci later miscarried. (In denying this account, Tyler says he doesn't personally support abortion.)
Still, she married him. But the fights didn't stop, she alleges in records. In one confrontation, she writes, he ran her off the road near Fairchild Air Force Base, dragged her out of the car by her hair, broke her key to her car and left her stranded. In another, at a nightclub at Fairchild, he allegedly slammed her into a pinball machine, before getting into a big brawl, she writes. Military officers took him into custody.
A fight a few days later, she says, ended with Tyler sitting on top of her, choking her and a neighbor calling the cops. Police records from 1992 say he was arrested on domestic violence and resisting arrest charges.
But she says it didn't end the abuse. Darci writes in court records that a friend picked the glass out of her hair after Tyler slammed her head into a family photo.
She writes that he tried to slam her head into a cement wall, that Tyler threatened to "do an O.J." on her and that he told her he could kill her right there and no one would find her body until morning. The next morning, Darci writes, he put flowers and balloons in her car while she was at work, and wrote "I love Darci Tyler" on her workplace window in lipstick.
Finally, after an allegedly violent confrontation outside a Subway in 1998, Darci made a request for a protective order.
In his response at the time, Tyler accused Darci of lying.
"I feel it is Darci's intention to damage my name/reputation by making libeling statements," Tyler wrote. "I haven't and do not plan to harm Darci."
Today, he says the same thing. He acknowledges the brawl at Fairchild, saying the fight earned him an Article 15 black mark on his military record, denying him a full honorable discharge. And yes, he says, he was found guilty of resisting arrest. (The domestic violence charge was dropped, but records don't explain why.) As for Darci's other allegations, he scoffs and denies them.
But back in 1998, the court concluded that domestic violence had occurred, barred Tyler from coming near Darci's residence for a year except while picking up their son and ordered the two to mediation.
Her parents, Richard and Jan Moseanko, declared during the case that they'd witnessed seven years of abuse inflicted against their daughter.
"He desires to control every situation in her life and when he cannot succeed in doing this, he erupts using verbal abuse first, then physical abuse," they wrote.
"It's been long years of abuse, and it needs to stop," says Katrina Tyler, Phil Tyler's third wife. "I don't want to see anybody else go through the pain."
During the domestic-violence protection order case with Darci, Katrina fervently defended Tyler.
Now, however, Katrina wraps her fingers around her platinum-blonde locks to show how her ex-husband would allegedly grip her hair to drag her. It sometimes caused clumps of her hair to fall out, she says.
"He snaps. When he snaps, he loses it," she says. "If you could see the look on his face, and his eyes — it's almost like he's not even there."
The police were called twice — at least once by Tyler — during their heated arguments, but Katrina never told the police about the alleged assaults or threats.
"I just didn't feel the police were going to do anything," she wrote. After all, as a corrections officer, he was law enforcement. They knew him.
And she says that when she threatened to call the police on one occasion, he told her, "'I know how to hurt you without leaving marks.'" (Tyler denies this.)
"He has a bad temper and you will never know when it will rear its head," she wrote in a court filing during a divorce proceeding. She also accused him of dragging her by her hair in front of the kids and of rage aided by "high testosterone and anabolic steroids."
"I have not committed any domestic violence toward Katrina," Tyler wrote in his response. The "steroids," he says, were actually legal prohormones. No, he hadn't dragged her by her hair in front of her kids.
Today, he accuses Katrina of being a dishonest, "bitter alcoholic," angry over not getting more money in the divorce. He suggests she only uses the abuse allegations to deflect away from her drinking issues.
But she scoffs at Tyler's version of events. The Inlander spoke with three friends of Katrina's. They dismiss Tyler's characterization of his ex-wife as an alcoholic, and say they either witnessed Tyler's violence firsthand or heard about it shortly afterward. Lynn Aman, Katrina's former supervisor, for example, says she watched Tyler grab Katrina by her hair and slam her against her car in his driveway.
"I would try to talk to her about leaving him because he's toxic," Aman tells the Inlander.
Tyler denies these accounts, noting that Katrina's witnesses never called the police to report anything. And Tyler has a character witness of his own. Last year, he married his fourth wife, Meg Demand. Her experience with sexual harassment is why Tyler made that #MeToo video. She says she's seen how troubled the women accusing Tyler are, and argues her husband is the person who will come to a woman's defense — not hurt her.
"He's never pulled me by my hair," she says. "He's never threatened me."
'NOT THE GUY I KNOW'
Sitting at a table at Morty's Tap and Grille Sunday morning, Katrina dabs her tears with a wadded up Kleenex as she watches Tyler present himself as a champion of women in his "We Will Rise" video on a smartphone.
"It makes me sick to watch it," Katrina says. She pushes the phone away before the video's finished. "That look on his face. That's a mean look. That means you're in trouble." (Darci's description is almost identical.)
She says she wishes leaders in the video, like Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, would do a video about standing up against domestic violence.
In some ways, domestic violence has become part of the recent #MeToo movement. Last month, White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned due to domestic violence allegations from three different women. Still, at an Oscars ceremony Sunday flooded with #MeToo sentiment, Best Actor winner Gary Oldman received a standing ovation, despite allegations he beat his ex-wife with a telephone.
Even with the new emphasis on taking women's accounts seriously, Tyler's alleged victims worry that they won't be believed because of his charm.
"You're going to get booed by other people who think he is Mr. Wonderful," warns Harvey, the woman he assaulted three decades ago.
In 2016, Sheriff Knezovich wrote a letter strongly endorsing Tyler for the City Council slot. But back then, he says, he didn't know about the long list of domestic violence allegations.
After the Inlander met with Knezovich, the sheriff dug into police records. He was disturbed to find the 1992 domestic violence arrest — something he'd never been told about — on Tyler's record. Knezovich has fired deputies for domestic violence before.
"Today, Phil doesn't get hired [as a sheriff's deputy] because of this background," Knezovich says, motioning to the arrest records. "It's sad. We have somebody who has great potential, but has this in his background."
While Knezovich says Tyler could be controlling sometimes, he's never known him to lose his temper.
"If this is true — this is not the guy I know," Knezovich says.
For public officials, it's tricky to know what to do about such allegations. In 2016, Chloe emailed her warning about Tyler to Council President Stuckart, while her mom warned her own city councilman, Mike Fagan. Both Chloe and her mom left an online comment alleging abuse on a 2016 Spokesman-Review story about Tyler.
Chloe says she never heard back from Stuckart — though Stuckart insists he called her and was upset by what he heard. Nevertheless, while Tyler wasn't appointed to the council, neither Stuckart nor Fagan say the abuse allegations influenced their choice.
But contacted last week about the recently surfaced claims about Tyler, Stuckart wrestled with the tension between the seriousness of allegations from three different women and not letting a person's past dictate his future.
Tyler has steadfastly maintained his innocence for three decades.
"I am a gentleman who, in my past relationships, was quick to raise my voice but not my hand," he says. He'll apologize for harsh words against women, but says he won't apologize for things he didn't do. In the Facebook post on Tuesday, he proclaimed that his community advocacy would not be deterred by all the allegations.
But look at all the evidence, Katrina argues.
"Why would people be making this up? Over 30 years?" Katrina says. "All their stories are similar. And you're just going to flat-out say, 'No, none of this happened, and they're all liars?'"♦