By Erica C. Barnett
The Seattle Police Department lieutenant who headed up the Navigation Team has retired in lieu of termination after an investigation concluded she not only had the trash pickup contractor for the team, Cascadia, drive to her home in West Seattle and haul away her personal trash but attempted to cover up her misuse of the team by lying, deleting text messages, and directing staff to conceal their actions.
PubliCola was first to report on the actions of the lieutenant, Sina Ebinger, in February 2020.
The Navigation Team was a group of police and Human Services Department outreach workers who removed encampments and offered shelter beds to their displaced residents. The Parks Department took over the job of encampment cleanups—the removal and disposal or storage of tents, trash, and personal property—earlier this year.
Sili Kalepo, a field coordinator for the Navigation Team, reportedly directed Cascadia to drive out of their way to haul off a pile of bulky trash, including furniture, from Ebinger’s home in West Seattle in February 2020. Text messages PubliCola obtained through a public disclosure request show that Kalepo texted Ebinger immediately after we contacted Kalepo to ask about the incident. (Ebinger’s response: “Dam!!”) Neither Kalepo nor Ebinger ever responded to our requests for comment.
“As a senior SPD supervisor, [Ebinger] knew or should have known that she was not allowed to access City services intended to clean up homeless encampments.”
The Office of Police Accountability, which investigates allegations of police misconduct, confirmed details of our reporting in its case file on the investigation, which includes additional information about the scope of Ebinger’s attempts to conceal her misconduct.
The OPA and a separate, subsequent investigation sustained (upheld) findings that Ebinger was dishonest, acted unprofessionally, and used her authority for personal gain; another charge, that she intentionally deleted communications about the incident to conceal her culpability, was ruled inconclusive because it wasn’t clear that she knew deleting emails and texts violated the state Public Records Act.
“OPA interviewed [t]he Cascadia employee who conducted the pickup,” the OPA case file says. “He said he was dispatched by the HSD supervisor specifically to conduct this pickup. He confirmed that he had no other jobs or pickups in West Seattle that day.”
After the city launched its investigation—and, as the case file notes, after PubliCola requested cell phone photos of the trash pickup—Ebinger apparently deleted her entire text and Internet history along with her phone log.
“I want to go on record by pointing out this is not an issue with lack of training but with a lack of character and integrity,” one witness to the incident wrote.
However, PubliCola obtained copies of the text messages Kalepo sent directing the Navigation Team to go out of its way to pick up Ebinger’s trash. “Can u all grab this?” Kalepo said. “Litter pick. No photos needed.” A “litter pick” is the city’s term for trash removal at encampments.
The incident did not go unnoticed. In addition to PubliCola’s reporting, a different Navigation Team field coordinator emailed HSD’s human resources director to complain about what he considered a “blatant misuse of power and misuse of tax payers money.”
“These texts clearly show that Sili was doing something that he knew was wrong,” the field coordinator wrote. “We document every litter pick and removal we do and take pictures of everything at all times. Him saying ‘no photos needed’ is a huge red flag for me and shows he was trying to hide this trash pickup.”
“I want to go on record by pointing out this is not an issue with lack of training but with a lack of character and integrity,” the field coordinator wrote.
According to the case file, Ebinger told investigators several different versions of her story—claiming at one point that she had called Seattle Public Utilities to pick up her trash but they had been unresponsive, for example, and later claiming that she had heard through “word of mouth” that SPU’s website was “down for maintenance.”
And, when a police sergeant called her one day after she had the trash removed to ask “about an out of the ordinary pickup that may have occurred at an SPD employee’s residence the day before,” she appears to have tried to throw them off the trail, suggesting that it may have been a pickup in the North Precinct, far away from her own Southwest Precinct home.
“[M]ultiple witnesses told OPA that [Ebinger] initially explained her actions by stating her belief that, when she requested the pickup, HSD/Cascadia personnel were already in the area of her residence making other pickups,” the case file says. “However, this was conclusively not the case. [Ebinger] denied that she made this statement; however, she had no explanation for why numerous other witnesses recalled the opposite.”
“As a senior SPD supervisor, [Ebinger] knew or should have known that she was not allowed to access City services intended to clean up homeless encampments,” OPA’s report concludes. “She further knew or should have known that, by requesting such a pickup of her personal items, she was accruing a personal benefit. Moreover, even had she done so, the failure of SPU to respond to her would not have justified her use of City resources for personal gain.”