1. The Washington State Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Wednesday that the court will not consider former Seattle police officer Adley Shepherd’s appeal of an earlier Court of Appeals decision that upheld his termination from the Seattle Police Department in 2016. The ruling ends a protracted legal battle with the city of Seattle that has loomed over the past half-decade of police accountability reform efforts in the city.
Former Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole fired Shepherd for punching a woman while she was handcuffed in the back of a patrol car during a late-night arrest in June 2014. Shepherd and his union, the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG), appealed her decision to an arbitrator, who sided with Shepherd, directing SPD to re-hire him and offer back pay.
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes stood by Shepherd’s firing, asking the King County Superior Court to vacate the arbitrator’s decision—a rare challenge to the authority of arbitrators in police disciplinary cases, whose decisions are typically final. The city prevailed in both superior Court and the Court of Appeals, setting the stage for a longer-term struggle with the city’s police unions to limit arbitrators’ power to overturn disciplinary decisions made by police department leaders.
2. In an unusual move, the executive committee of the Sound Transit board decided to delay approving a one-year contract extension for agency CEO Peter Rogoff Thursday. The committee went into closed executive session for more than an hour before coming back into public session and bumping Rogoff’s contract renewal from the agenda. Rogoff makes a base salary of around $380,000 a year.
Sound Transit has spent the past 17 months debating the best way to cut costs in response to budget shortfalls and higher-than-anticipated cost estimates for key components of Sound Transit 3, the regional light rail and bus system expansion voters approved in 2016. After a number of tense public meetings, which included Rogoff, the board ultimately adopted a compromise plan spearheaded by King County Council member Claudia Balducci that would accelerate projects in order of priority if more funds become available in the future.
Because the discussion happened in executive session, no one is talking about what the committee discussed. Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick, speaking on behalf of board chair (and a University Place council member ) Kent Keel, said, “following the committee’s discussion in executive session today, the full Sound Transit Board will continue discussion of the contract at its September meeting,” on September 23.
“Chair Keel emphasized his responsibility to honor the confidentiality that always surrounds the contract review process prior to when the Board discusses its action in open session, and that nothing further can be shared at this time,” Patrick said.
3. Mark Mullens, the only police officer on Seattle’s Community Police Commission, was unusually vocal during a question-and-answer with Office of Police Accountability (OPA) Director Andrew Myerberg during Wednesday’s commission meeting. Myerberg came to the meeting to address the OPA’s investigation into the fatal shooting of 57-year-old Terry Caver by Seattle police officer Christopher Gregorio last May. After the OPA concluded that Gregorio failed to de-escalate during his confrontation with Caver, Interim Seattle Police Chief suspended Gregorio for 20 days and transferred him out of the department’s K9 unit—a rare outcome for police shootings in Seattle, which typically end without discipline.
“No amount of discipline can bring someone back, and I know a 20-day suspension doesn’t feel like a big deal, but being removed from K9 is devastating for an officer,” Mullens said. “When that discipline was handed down, it sent ripples through the department. It made officers shiver. A lot of us hadn’t given a second thought to whether [Gregorio] violated policy, but this made officers very aware.”
Other commissioners, as well as CPC Director Brandy Grant, questioned why the OPA hadn’t recommended firing Gregorio—the same question Caver’s family raised after Gregorio’s suspension. “It seems like maybe if [Gregorio] had de-escalated properly then the shooting wouldn’t have been necessary,” commissioner Alina Santillan said.
Mullens also questioned Myerberg’s recommendation that SPD rework its trainings for responding to people carrying knives, saying he doubted that any tactical improvements are possible to reduce the use of deadly force when police respond to people carrying knives.
“In the academy, we’re taught that knives are the most deadly weapon we can face,” he said, because a knife can easily go through an officer’s bulletproof vest. “A lot of people think we’re trained to disarm people with knives. We are not.” Recent legislation limiting SPD’s arsenal of less-lethal weapons only restricts officers’ tactical options further, he added. “We’re running out of things to protect ourselves on the street from knives,” he said. (The ordinance doesn’t prohibit patrol from carrying launchers for foam-tipped projectiles, which are sometimes used to disarm people with knives without using live ammunition).
Myerberg responded that Gregorio’s most crucial misstep—exacerbating his confrontation with Caver by chasing him down a sidewalk—was partially the product of bad decision-making and partly the result of inadequate training for responding to people carrying knives. “The muscle memory is not there,” he said. “Officers may get one training a year, if that, and it happens in a sterile training annex, and then they’re expected to take that training to the street.”
The Caver case will heavily inform the outcome of the OPA’s investigation into the fatal shooting of 44-year-old Derek Hayden by SPD officers in February. Hayden, like Caver, was carrying a knife and experiencing a mental health crisis when officers shot and killed him on Alaskan Way; the OPA is investigating the officers are under investigation for failing to de-escalate.