By Paul Kiefer
Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz announced in a blog post on Friday that he has fired officers Alexander Everett and Caitlin Rochelle for violating department policy and federal law by trespassing on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2020 while insurrectionists stormed the legislative chambers inside.
Using video evidence provided by the FBI, investigators from Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA) were able to place Everett and Rochelle at the steps of the Capitol as rioters clashed with police nearby. Though Everett and Rochelle told investigators they didn’t know they were trespassing in a restricted area, neither the OPA nor Diaz were convinced; in his letter on Friday, Diaz wrote that “it is beyond absurd to suggest that they did not know they were in an area where they should not be, amidst what was already a violent, criminal riot.”
But Everett and Rochelle—a married couple—were only two of the six Seattle Police Department officers who traveled to Washington, DC to attend former President Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol. OPA investigators were able to place three of the officers elsewhere in the city during the attack. Though the fourth officer told investigators that he was not present for the attack, neither the OPA nor the FBI could corroborate his claim; investigators didn’t rule out the possibility that he trespassed on federal property.
Though Diaz chose not to discipline the other four officers who attended the rally, some members of the city council and Seattle’s Community Police Commission argued being present for the rally constituted grounds for firing all six. “I don’t understand how we can derive any other decision other than they were there to spur what those people did to storm the Capitol,” CPC Executive Director Brandy Grant said during a commission meeting in January.
Alison Holcomb, an attorney with the ACLU of Washington, expressed similar sentiments in an email to PubliCola last month, writing that “although officers have First Amendment rights, they can be disciplined for personal conduct that undermines their employer’s effectiveness in fulfilling its duties to the public… Police officers who engage in activities which in context are shown to promote white supremacy, voter suppression and violent overthrow of the government harm public trust and could very well be subject to discipline by police departments.”
But OPA Director Andrew Myerberg has maintained that the other officers’ presence at the rally constituted protected speech, and that any disciplinary actions against the other officers would be plainly illegal. “There are a lot of people out there, including in city government, who would disagree,” he said, “but given the officers’ First Amendment rights, we can’t discipline the officers for being present for a political rally.”
In his letter on Friday, Diaz also offered an apology to the police departments who responded to the attack on the Capitol. “The participation of these two officers in that crowd is a stain on our department,” he wrote, “and on the men and women who work every day to protect our community, serve those in need, and do so with compassion and dignity. ”