Category: Uncategorized

Durkan Takes Credit for Funding She Vetoed, Police Chief Says Few Changes Needed to Comply with State Reforms, and More

Seattle interim police chief Adrian Diaz

1. Mayor Jenny Durkan issued a press release on Wednesday touting her own success, along with that of her Human Services Department in handing out more than $10 million in grants, over 18 months, to 33 community-based groups and nonprofit organizations that work on upstream violence prevention and intervention strategies.

“Together, these investments strengthen community organization’s ability to address institutionalized inequities that result in BIPOC communities being underserved and unsafe,” Durkan’s press release said. 

What Durkan’s statement failed to mention is that her office spent much of the last year fighting not to spend this money. The city council first directed the mayor’s office to spend the $10 million last September, when they adopted a midyear budget amendment allocating $10 million “solely for community-led efforts to scale up organizations to increase public safety through technical support, capacity building, and expansion of capacity.”

At the time, the council hoped to get funds out the door quickly to respond to public demands for investments in alternatives to police that emerged during citywide protests throughout the summer.

Durkan vetoed the council’s adopted budget, specifically citing the $10 million expenditure, which the council’s budget paid for using an interfund loan, as a reason for rejecting the budget. The council narrowly overturned her veto, earmarking the funds for community organizations. The money was supposed to be spent this year.

When Durkan still failed to spend the money the council allocated—telling the council she planned to do her own request for proposals—the council acted again, amending Durkan’s 2021 budget to take the $10 million out of Durkan’s Equitable Communities fund (which the mayor established as an executive-branch parallel to the council-led participatory budgeting process) and allocating it to the same purpose as before.

This week’s announcement, which comes in the waning months of Durkan’s term, is a step toward finally getting the long-delayed funding out the door.

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2. In a Thursday afternoon blog post, Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz outlined his department’s plans to comply with a pair of new state laws that place limits on police tactics and equipment, restrict when officers can use force, and require officers who witness out-of-policy uses of force to their supervisors.

Overall, Diaz wrote, he believes SPD is already complying with most of the new restrictions and requirements are already included SPD policy or local law, so the new statewide standards for pursuits, for example, won’t spur any changes in Seattle. Diaz added that the department would continue using 40mm “less lethal” projectile launchers, which police used on protesters last year, calling the launchers “an established tool that has allowed marked success in bringing about positive outcomes in dangerous situations.”

The new policies will prohibit police statewide from using force unless they have probable cause to make an arrest or they are responding to an “imminent threat” to themselves or another person; require police departments to empty their arsenals of “military equipment,” including some high-caliber weapons; and prohibit vehicle pursuits unless police believe they are chasing a suspect in a violent crime.

Diaz said the new rules will spur changes to how officers handle so-called “Terry stops,” or stops made without probable cause for an arrest. “If officers cannot articulate … a basis for a use of physical force with an uncooperative or resistant subject,” he wrote, “officers will be expected to disengage.” PubliCola has reached out to SPD’s legal department for details about the current bar for using force during Terry stops.

In addition, Diaz wrote, SPD will do away with its high-caliber rifles and shotguns. While some departments around the state have also claimed that the law requires them to turn over their high-caliber rubber bullet launchers, Diaz contended that he has “increasing confidence that it was not the intent of the legislature” to force departments to abandon weapons that can be used as less-lethal alternatives to guns during some crisis responses.

According to a department source, SPD expects that Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson may issue guidelines on whether departments can keep their high-caliber rubber bullet launchers before Sunday.

3. Erstwhile Human Services Department Interim Director Helen Powell has taken a job as deputy director of the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority, a story PubliCola broke on Twitter Wednesday afternoon. Current HSD deputy director Tanya Kim will take over for the rest of the year, Howell said in an email to staff.Howell, the former executive director of the Seattle-based nonprofit Building Changes, was in the position for about seven months. Durkan appointed Howell last December to replace the previous interim HSD director, Jason Johnson, whose name the mayor withdrew from nomination when it became clear the city council would not confirm Johnson for a permanent appointment.

Howell’s departure comes at a shaky time for the department, which has not had a permanent director since early 2018, when Ed Murray appointee Catherine Lester left shortly after Durkan took office.

4. Earlier this week, PubliCola pushed our primary-election endorsements of Lorena González for mayor and Brianna Thomas for City Council Position 9. (If you’re wondering how to vote in Position 8, we encourage you to vote for past PubliCola Pick Teresa Mosqueda.)

Keep an eye out later this year for our general election endorsements, which will also cover the races for Seattle City Attorney, King County Executive, and potentially the Compassion Seattle and Sawant recall elections, depending on whether those proposals make it onto the November ballot!

Continue reading “Durkan Takes Credit for Funding She Vetoed, Police Chief Says Few Changes Needed to Comply with State Reforms, and More”

Protest Review Report Recommends Letting Cops Show Solidarity, Moving Away from “Crowd Control”

A protester talks with a Seattle police officer on May 31, 2020 (Flickr: Derek Simeone; reproduced under a Creative Commons license).

By Paul Kiefer

On Thursday morning, Seattle’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), one of the city’s three police-accountability bodies, released the first round of recommendations for changing how the Seattle Police Department responds to protests. The OIG made its recommendations after a year-long review of SPD’s response to last summer’s protests by a panel of community representatives, including current and former members of the Community Police Commission, and SPD staff, including some who played key roles in the department’s protest response.

With the help of OIG staff and outside facilitators, the panel reviewed a series of widely criticized police actions during the first three days of protests in late May and early June of 2020—a period that accounted for two-thirds of SPD’s uses of force and arrests during the protests—and assembled recommendations that could help the department avoid similar missteps in the future.

The proposals range from basic tactical changes, like prohibiting officers from leaving their weapons in unattended vehicles during protests, to more unique suggestions, like loosening the department’s policies on neutrality to allow officers to express solidarity with protesters.

In general, the panel recommended moving SPD away from a “crowd control” approach, emphasizing that the department’s role should be to facilitate protests, not direct or manage them.

“We all agreed transparency is of high importance to everybody. But in some situations, it’s important for police to be able to plan a response to something—people lighting a fire in an alley, for example—without flagging what they’re doing in real time.”—OIG director Lisa Judge

Inspector General Lisa Judge, who heads up the OIG, said some of the tactical recommendations—directing officers to minimize unnecessary arrests at protests, for example—are “no-brainers.” But at least one could be controversial. Responding to officers’ concerns about communication failures during the first few days of protests, the panel suggested that SPD could consider replacing radio communication with an encrypted messaging system, such as WhatsApp, during protests.

John Hollway, a consultant from the University of Pennsylvania Law School who helped design and facilitate the OIG’s review, said the change to encrypted messaging would give officers a reliable and better-organized channel for communications that can easily be shared with other law enforcement agencies providing backup during large-scale protests. Radio communications rely on a single channel that can only be used by one officer at a time—an obvious challenge for the department during frenetic protests. But shifting to an encrypted messaging system could also allow SPD to operate less transparently during and after protests. Messages sent using apps like Whatsapp are private and can be set to disappear, making them unlikely to show up in response to records requests. And unlike Whatsapp conversations, members of the public can easily tune in to SPD’s radio frequencies.

“There’s a tension here between transparency and tactics,” Judge said. “We all agreed transparency is of high importance to everybody. But in some situations, it’s important for police to be able to plan a response to something—people lighting a fire in an alley, for example—without flagging what they’re doing in real time.” Though the panel’s recommendation doesn’t specifically suggest that SPD keep a record of its encrypted communications, Hollway said that ideally, the department should determine how to communicate discretely while archiving officers’ messages so that oversight agencies could review them as needed after-the-fact.

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The panel used the report to question Mayor Jenny Durkan’s decision to impose a citywide curfew starting on May 30, advising future mayors to exhaust other communication options before declaring a curfew. “If you’ve got 100 cops and 5,000 people who are very angry at policing in government and institutions, you are setting your police officers up for failure if you choose that as your strategy,” said Judge. “Even the police panelists said that they felt frustrated that the curfew pressured them to make arrests instead of focusing on more serious priorities.”

The panel’s recommendations for cultural change, Judge said, were about reframing the role of police at protests not as crowd control but protest facilitation. “The notion that [police] can command or manage a crowd is outdated, and it’s just not consistent with constitutional principles,” Judge said. “This report clearly states that they need to shift to an approach that’s about facilitating a protest, not directing it.”

As part of the shift in SPD’s approach to protests, the panel recommended that the department assemble a team of “dialogue officers.” This unit, based on a model launched in Sweden during large-scale protests in 2001, would act as a conduit for sharing information between protesters and police. “The whole point would be to have the dialogue officers spend the entire year building relationships with community members so that, when a protest happens, they pass information back and forth between the crowd and police.” Continue reading “Protest Review Report Recommends Letting Cops Show Solidarity, Moving Away from “Crowd Control””

PubliCola Picks: Brianna Thomas for Seattle City Council Position 9

There are two candidates in this race who could fill progressive city council president Lorena González’ shoes— Brianna Thomas and Nikkita Oliver. There’s also a third candidate, Sara Nelson, who’s promoting a Silent-Majority agenda that makes us shudder. We’ll be voting for the highly qualified Thomas, and against Nelson. We encourage voters to send Thomas to the general election, where we expect reactionary forces will propel Nelson.

Thomas, a longtime aide to González who’s well-versed in the mechanics of City Hall, knows how to draft, negotiate, and pass legislation—critical institutional skills on a council where seven seats will be up for grabs in two years. She worked behind the scenes on 2017’s widely lauded police accountability ordinance, helped draft a law regulating the city’s use of surveillance technology, and worked closely with González on the secure scheduling law, which provides hourly workers with more predictability and a right to rest between shifts. As a former field director for the Washington Housing Alliance Action Fund and tireless lead organizer for SeaTac’s historic, first-in-the-nation $15 minimum wage law, we’re not surprised González tapped Thomas as her chief of staff to run a progressive agenda through city hall.

Thomas’ familiarity with legislative sausage-making can make her more cautious than some advocates might prefer. Her plan to redesign the Seattle Police Department, for example, is long-term and methodical, showing patience that’s unlikely to satisfy activists who wanted the council to slash SPD’s budget by half last year. And her campaign pitch can veer into jargon—like when she answered a question about density by talking about her plan to maximize returns from the city’s Multifamily Housing Tax Exemption (MFTE) program, which exempts developers from property taxes for 12 years if they provide some affordable housing units for the same period. Her deep science is okay with us—we love a wonk, especially one as motivated and hard-boiled as Thomas.

Her idealistic commitment to good governance and city workers who “come to work every day for the city of Seattle because they do want to solve problems for their communities” (as she put it during a recent forum) is backed up by the yeoman’s dedication to service she has exhibited during seven years as a stalwart council staffer.

Thomas’ reverence for public service is unmistakable—and unusual. Her idealistic commitment to good governance and city workers who “come to work every day for the city of Seattle because they want to solve problems for their communities” (as she put it during a recent forum) is backed up by the yeoman’s dedication to service she’s exhibited during seven years as a stalwart council staffer.

Nikkita Oliver, the other progressive choice in this race, has an impressive history of community activism and a deep understanding of local issues. As an organizer, Oliver helped lead efforts to stop King County from building a new youth jail, and has advocated for defunding the police and investing in community-based alternatives; the organization they lead, Creative Justice, offers arts programming as an alternative to jail for young people. We’ve been impressed by Oliver’s commitment to addressing the root causes of violence, replacing a broken criminal-justice system with intervention and prevention programs that address those root causes, and ending exclusionary zoning rules that have excluded BIPOC communities from access to opportunity. Continue reading “PubliCola Picks: Brianna Thomas for Seattle City Council Position 9”

PubliCola Picks: Lorena González for Mayor

In this critical, post-COVID election year, Seattle needs a mayor who understands the job, has a plan to translate their progressive values into policy, and can jump into the job with both feet on day 1. City Council president Lorena González will come to the mayor’s office with a well-defined agenda, a solid track record, and a set of achievable plans for addressing the city’s thorniest issues..

González has set a standard for not just talking a good game—but getting things done. In her two terms as a council member, she has pushed for—and passed—protections for hourly workers, such as the secure scheduling bill; established a permanent legal defense fund for immigrants facing deportation; and passed a number of underreported but important election reforms, including a ban on some corporate contributions, new transparency requirements, and restrictions on indirect lobbying, in which lobbyists seek to influence the public without revealing who’s paying them. She has also been a pragmatic and savvy advocate for police accountability, spearheading a police accountability ordinance in 2017 that advocates hailed as a groundbreaking step for reform.

And, in a lone dissent that got little coverage at the time but telegraphed her understanding of the challenges inherent to a “regional approach to homelessness,” she voted against a plan for the new regional homelessness authority that handed significant power over to suburban jurisdictions that pay nothing to support the authority, but wield outsize influence over its policies.

A lot has happened since 2018, including a nationwide movement to hold bad cops accountable and demilitarize and defund police departments across the country. González recently told PubliCola that if she was voting on the same contract today, “I’d vote very different[ly].”

González noted before her prescient vote that “politics have already taken hold in this structure.” She was right. We’re already seeing the ramifications today, with suburban cities adopting anti-homeless policies and insisting on their own, locally unique “sub-regional” plans. The former co-chair of the city’s Progressive Revenue Task Force is also right about how to tackle homelessness in the future; she’s committed to adopting new progressive revenues to fund the billions of dollars the city will need to truly address homelessness instead of passing a ballot initiative that she has called an “unfunded mandate” designed to cement the “status quo.”

González has caught some flak from the left for voting, along with seven of her eight council colleagues, to approve a 2018 police contract that nullified some elements a historic 2017 police accountability ordinance. But activists who want to castigate her for this vote should consider a bit of context. At the time, the police union had been without a new contract since 2014, after members rejected a negotiated contract in 2016. Meanwhile, Mayor Jenny Durkan was working overtime to convince the public and the council that police would quit en masse if they didn’t get the raises promised in the contract. Most council members, including dogged police accountability advocate, council member Lisa Herbold, agreed that the new contract, though inadequate, was an improvement on the existing 2014 contract, keeping parts of the accountability law intact and preserving a law requiring cops to wear body cameras on duty.

Finally, a lot has happened since 2018, including a nationwide movement to hold bad cops accountable and demilitarize and defund police departments across the country. González—a former civil rights attorney who secured a $150,000 settlement for a Latino man who sued the city after a Seattle police officer threatened to “beat the fucking Mexican piss out of” him—has expressed support for this core agenda. She recently told PubliCola that if she was voting on the same contract today, “I’d vote very different[ly].”

González has a real vision for Seattle’s recovery—one that doesn’t rely on clichés or empty promises (how exactly will philanthropic giving fund the $450 million to $1 billion the region needs to spend every year to address homelessness, Bruce?) For starters, she wants to make it easier for renters to stay in their homes, providing rental assistance as well as caps on move-in costs that can add thousands of dollars to the price of an apartment. Continue reading “PubliCola Picks: Lorena González for Mayor”

PubliCola Questions: Colleen Echohawk

As PubliCola prepares to endorse candidates in the August 3 mayoral and council primary elections, we reached out to the leading candidates for mayor and City Council Position 9 with questions about homelessness, housing, police accountability, and economic recovery.

Their answers to these questions, which we’ll be sharing over the next several days, will help inform our endorsements, coming out next week. Endorsements will be based on each candidate’s record of action, public statements, interviews with PubliCola and other media outlets, and responses at the many candidate forums that have taken place over the summer.

Colleen Echohawk has said she decided to run for mayor to address the “humanitarian crisis” of homelessness. As director of the Chief Seattle Club, a nonprofit organization that works to address and prevent homelessness among Seattle’s Native community, she has tried to navigate between advocating for Native people living outdoors while working within systems that often fail people experiencing homelessness. After Mayor Jenny Durkan’s election in 2017, for example, Echohawk served on Durkan’s transition team and received a mayoral appointment to the Community Police Commission, one of the city’s three police-accountability bodies; she also served for many years as a board member for the Downtown Seattle Association, which has proposed a charter amendment that would require the city to redirect existing funds to pay for 2,000 new shelter beds. After initially supporting the amendment, Echohawk came out against it, saying it isn’t “grounded in the lived experience of people who’ve been experiencing homelessness.”

The centerpiece of Echohawk’s agenda is a 22-point plan to reduce homelessness by, among other actions, hiring 100 outreach workers with lived experience of homelessness and ending the 72-hour parking rule that allows the city to impound vehicles, including cars and RVs where people are living, if they stay in one place for more than three days.

Here’s what Echohawk had to say in response to the eight questions PubliCola posed to every mayoral candidate.

Assuming Charter Amendment 29 becomes law in Seattle, what city programs would you cut or deprioritize in order to dedicate 12 percent of the city’s general-fund budget to human services, and how would you go about adding 2,000 new shelter or housing spots by the end of next year?

First, I would not cut programs. We would prioritize funding from the JumpStart tax to fund additional shelter as well as a capital campaign I will initiate as soon as the election results are certified. I just want to also emphasize that bringing people living outside inside is not just a matter of finding shelter or housing spots. I will also immediately begin hiring 100 outreach workers needed to do the outreach work necessary to work with our homeless relatives while securing additional housing, which will require an “all of the above approach” meaning: tiny homes, hoteling, pallet homes, safe lots for RV camping, modular housing, etc.

“Activation is also critically important in our neighborhood business districts for recovery and revitalization which is why as mayor I will invest in artists and cultural activity, and in particular in BIPOC artists and previously underinvested and marginalized cultural communities, to lay the foundation for a more equitable and inclusive creative recovery.”

I have years of experience of working with the homeless provider network, the Office of Housing, builders of low-income housing as well as the leaders in the Regional Homelessness Authority. I will work with these leaders to identify the real estate that is necessary to get emergency housing up and running in 14 months. Here is my plan to bring the roughly 5,000 people living outside inside in the first 15 months.

Local elected officials and candidates have often emphasized the need to revitalize downtown Seattle as the primary focus of post-COVID recovery. What is one specific action you would take in Seattle’s non-downtown neighborhoods to promote economic recovery and neighborhood vitality?

Every neighborhood in Seattle is unique, including downtown Seattle. The City of Seattle can play a key role in supporting the recovery of our diverse neighborhoods, but needs to look to the expertise already in place to help lead neighborhood appropriate efforts. Just as I am committed to listening to community and lifting up the expertise of those closest to our biggest problems and challenges, I am committed to the leadership of those organizations charged with the care and trajectory of our most valuable assets.

As Mayor I will encourage investments in programs that are led by the neighborhoods they serve with the city providing for events and programs. I will also seek to significantly expand the impact of Small Business support efforts currently housed in the Office of Economic Development. This will include increasing capacity for Small Business Advocates and empowering lead staff in the areas of business development and construction impacts to take action to address issues quickly and respond with the agility Seattle’s dynamic economy demands.

Multiple neighborhoods in Seattle don’t currently benefit from the strong, dedicated organizations like the DSA. With Downtown Seattle as a standard bearer, I will seek to forge partnerships between downtown and our most underrepresented neighborhoods to build strength in organizational and neighborhood governance. This could take the form of new [business improvement districts], new neighborhood associations or new Public/Private stewardship of vital assets like the Pike Place Market [public development authority] and [Community Roots] Housing.

Activation is also critically important in our neighborhood business districts for recovery and revitalization which is why as mayor I will invest in artists and cultural activity, and in particular in BIPOC artists and previously underinvested and marginalized cultural communities, to lay the foundation for a more equitable and inclusive creative recovery. In Seattle I have seen our arts and cultural communities taking this year’s existential issues head-on. The centering of BIPOC creatives in the programming and leadership of many Seattle arts organizations this year has been a welcome, if long overdue, shift.

“Much like how the Great Seattle Fire of 1889 demonstrated why a public water supply should not be left up to private industries who exist to make a profit, internet access and online connectivity should be no different.”

The degree to which arts and cultural organizations have invested in the economic survival of their staff and artists this year has been inspiring. Brand-new modes of distanced, safe arts presentation were invented almost immediately and refined into a new form overnight. In the arts, as in all things, we need to take with us the best of what we’ve built in this past year, these tools we’ve used to transcend the solitude and distance, as we reimagine our new Seattle.

And finally, I will work with the City Council to create a new utility on municipal broadband. An estimated 250 public employees will be needed to run and manage this utility, creating positive jobs for the City. Much like how the Great Seattle Fire of 1889 demonstrated why a public water supply should not be left up to private industries who exist to make a profit, internet access and online connectivity should be no different. Just like how electric power, water, drainage & wastewater, and garbage utilities are created, run, and used by the residents of Seattle, broadband can and should be a basic public utility.

More than 750 cities across the country have already invested in municipal broadband services. It is time Seattle does too. Stable and reliable broadband offered and significantly lower prices than current for profit providers will be a significant help to small businesses across the city.

There is general consensus around the need to replace some functions of the police department with non-policing alternatives, such as civilian crisis responders. What gaps in Seattle’s non-police public safety network can be filled on the shortest timeline, and which are the most pressing priorities?

We must devote resources that actually address the need for public safety across our City. Innovative programs like the Fire Department’s Mobile Integrated Mental Health response unit Health One pilot program and the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) [now known as Let Everyone Advance with Dignity] take public health approaches to violence prevention by strengthening evidence-based strategies at the local level.

An armed response is almost never required for mental health crises. I want to go one step further than the City’s current crisis response team by creating a 24/7 mobile team of community paramedics and trained crisis workers. The gaps in Seattle’s non-police public safety network will be addressed by our plan for a crisis response team. Mental health response has been inadequate for years in Seattle but post-pandemic it is reaching a breaking point. An Echohawk administration will prioritize funding for mental health and work with our local experts and community leaders to find real solutions that meet the needs of the community. Continue reading “PubliCola Questions: Colleen Echohawk”

UW Students Push to Disband University’s Police Department

The University of Washington Police Department headquarters (Source: University of Washington Police Department Facebook page)

By Paul Kiefer

A coalition of faculty and students at the University of Washington used the public comment session before a meeting of the university’s Board of Regents on Wednesday to call for disbanding the Seattle campus’ police department in response to allegations of widespread anti-Black racism among department officers.

The allegations sent shock waves through the school last month when all five of the department’s Black rank-and-file officers filed a lawsuit against the university, detailing years of egregious harassment by coworkers and supervisors alike. One officer described an incident in which a supervisor beat him with a switch and commented, “You people should be used to being hit with these.”

The lawsuit, first covered by the New York Times, prompted a year-old coalition of faculty and student activists called Decriminalize UW to rework their demands for changes to the university’s police department. Megan Ybarra, a professor of geography and a member of the coalition, said Decriminalize UW spent much of the past year advocating for the university to reduce the department’s $8 million budget and disarm its officers.

“The lawsuit just highlighted a longstanding culture of racism and abuse within the department—not just against its own officers, but against students, campus workers and people passing through campus—that was getting swept under the rug,” she said. “So it became clear that, for the safety of our students and people on campus in general, we needed to push to have the department disbanded.”

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We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different: We’re funded entirely by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

Kiana, a member of the Black Student Union who asked PubliCola to use only her first name, argued that the university’s police department is redundant because the Seattle Police Department has jurisdiction over the campus. “We essentially get two levels of policing,” she said, “and keeping a second police department is both a bad use of money and, as we’ve experienced, a way to make Black, Indigenous and unhoused people on campus feel less safe.”

According to the department’s public crime data, its officers spend a substantial portion of their time taking reports about bike thefts and responding to drinking-related calls. Chandan Reddy, a professor of gender studies and a member of Decriminalize UW, suggested that the university could replace those functions with an online reporting system for minor thefts and unarmed staff members to escort drunk students across campus safely.

The coalition’s demands parallel wider calls in the Seattle area and across the country for local governments and institutions to create non-police responses to mental health crises and other emergencies; the Seattle Fire Department, for instance, began scaling up its crisis response program—called Health One—earlier this year.

Aside from the allegations detailed in the lawsuit, Reddy also noted that a controversial contract with the union representing most of the department’s officers adds fuel to Decriminalize UW’s calls to disband the agency. That contract, which took effect at the beginning of July, loosened the rules allowing officers to clear parts of their disciplinary records and provided officers a 72-hour window before reporting serious uses of force. Continue reading “UW Students Push to Disband University’s Police Department”

Investigation Implicates Two Officers in January 6 Riots, Tests Limits of Investigators’ Subpoena Power

Image by blinkofaneye on Flickr; Creative Commons license.

By Paul Kiefer

In findings released on Thursday afternoon, Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability ruled that two of the six officers who attended former President Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6 violated department policy and federal law by trespassing on the grounds of the U.S. capitol while insurgents stormed the legislative chambers inside. The officers will now face Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz, who will decide how to discipline the pair for their breach of policy; their supervisors have recommended that Diaz fire both officers.

The case dealt a blow to SPD’s already suffering public image, but it also gave the OPA an opportunity to test the limits of its investigative power over members of Seattle’s largest police union: the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG). An ongoing dispute between SPOG, the OPA and Interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz has re-ignited an internal struggle over the OPA’s ability to subpoena information from the department’s rank-and-file officers; the dispute could lay the groundwork for the OPA to finally secure subpoena power during the city’s upcoming contract negotiations with SPOG.

The OPA investigators set out to determine whether any of the six officers known to have attended the January 6 rally broke federal law and SPD policy by taking part in the attack on the Capitol building; at the outset of the investigation, Diaz announced that he would fire any officer who “participated directly in assaulting the Capitol.”

But some members of the city council and Seattle’s Community Police Commission argued that simply attending the “Stop the Steal” rally gave Diaz grounds to fire the officers. “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,” said CPC Executive Director Brandy Grant during a commission meeting in January. Officer Mark Mullens, the sole SPD officer on the commission, also questioned the six officers’ ability to continue working for the department, adding that he and other Black officers felt particularly unsettled by their participation in the rally.

However, OPA Director Andrew Myerberg said he could not find any legal justification for treating the officers’ attendance at the rally alone as a policy violation. “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 practice, we’re very limited in how we can obtain information and documents from officers, but we’ve been told repeatedly that we don’t need subpoena power because we can just order officers to turn over records. And obviously, given the union’s objections to the order we issued, that’s not really the case.”—OPA Director Andrew Myerberg

To track the movements of the six officers, OPA investigators relied on a variety of sources, including hotel records and live-streamed footage from the attack. The office also turned over pictures of each officer, and their phone numbers, to the FBI, which was conducting a search for any rioters who entered the Capitol building during the course of the attack.

Ultimately, the OPA could only determine there whereabouts five of the officers during the riot. The sixth officer denies that he trespassed on Capitol grounds, though neither the OPA nor the FBI could corroborate his claim; he will not face discipline, though investigator’s didn’t rule out the possibility that he trespassed on federal property.

Investigators confirmed that three of the officers left the rally before the crowd began its march towards the capitol building. A source with background knowledge on the case told PubliCola on Wednesday that two of those officers spent part of the day with former SPD officer Adley Shepherd, whose 2016 termination for punching a woman during an arrest devolved into a protracted legal battle that ended in April when a Washington State Court of Appeals judge upheld Shepherd’s firing. 

In the spring, the FBI provided the OPA with a video showing the remaining two officers standing near the steps of the Capitol as rioters climbed walls nearby. Based on records obtained by PubliCola, the two officers were Alexander Everett and Caitlin Rochelle, a married couple. (The officers’ names were first publicized by researchers with the investigative outfit Divest SPD).

In interviews with investigators, both officers insisted that they were unaware that they were trespassing in a restricted area; they also maintained that they didn’t see rioters clash with Capitol police officers on or near the Capitol steps. The OPA investigators weren’t convinced by the officers’ claims; in the office’s report on the investigation, Myerberg wrote that the “video [provided by the FBI]… serves to undermine the officers’ assertions that they did not have notice they were trespassing. Not only were there signs posted in that area, but there were ongoing violent acts, the use of less-lethal tools by law enforcement officers, and multiple other signs that being in that location was inappropriate and impermissible.”

Because the pair violated federal law, Myerberg sustained the misconduct allegations against them. “The OPA has consistently found that ignorance of the law is not a defense,” he wrote in his report. Unlike the other officers who attended the rally, SPD placed Everett and Rochelle on administrative leave; they have not returned to work.

“They didn’t just lie to investigators,” said Myerberg. “They were standing by as rioters attacked their fellow police officers and stormed the halls of congress.” Though the OPA found that both officers violated SPD policy and federal law, Myerberg told PubliCola that the two are unlikely to face federal charges. “From what I’ve heard from the Capitol police, anyone who was in the immediate vicinity of the Capitol Building was trespassing and should be prosecuted,” he said, “but because of their limited time and resources, they’re focusing on people who actually entered the building.”

Instead, Diaz is now responsible for deciding how to discipline the officers. The department’s Discipline Committee—including the officers’ direct supervisors and Myerberg himself—has already recommended that Diaz fire both officers, but the chief won’t make a decision until the two can plead their case during a disciplinary hearing in August. Everett and Rochelle may also face additional investigations for dishonesty.

Continue reading “Investigation Implicates Two Officers in January 6 Riots, Tests Limits of Investigators’ Subpoena Power”

Lawsuit Against SPD Highlights OPA Concerns with Police K-9s; Inslee Extends Eviction Moratorium

1. A woman who was attacked by a Seattle Police Department dog during a training exercise in January 2020 filed a lawsuit against the city last week. While the attack was accidental, the incident is the latest in a string of missteps by SPD’s K-9 units that have put the risks of using police dogs on display—including a 2018 incident involving the same officer implicated in the new lawsuit.

On a soggy Thursday last January, Valerie Heffernan spent her break under an umbrella in a nondescript Tukwila parking lot. Earlier in the day, SPD officers had set up a training course for K-9 dogs that ran through the same parking lot—unbeknownst to Heffernan.

Around a corner from where she sat, Officer Anthony Ducre led a police dog named Jedi along the track on a long lead, losing sight of the dog when it rounded a corner. There, Jedi found Heffernan and, acting on training, immediately attacked her. When medics arrived, they brought Heffernan to Valley Medical Center to treat a serious bite wound in her thigh.

Ducre’s record as a K-9 officer has raised eyebrows among Seattle’s police oversight in the past and had already prompted changes to the department’s police dog policies.

In 2018, Ducre tried to stop a pair who he suspected of stealing a car. The duo were walking up a driveway—away from Ducre—when he stepped out of his cruiser and ordered them to turn around, threatening to release his dog if they didn’t obey. When the two didn’t respond, Ducre shouted at them to drop to the ground.

By the time they complied seconds later, it was too late: Ducre set his dog loose, and it immediately attacked them as they lay on the pavement.

OPA DirectorMyerberg also took the opportunity to recommend two changes to SPD’s policies on the use of police dogs.

In a subsequent interview with Office of Police Accountability (OPA) investigators, Ducre falsely claimed the pair had attempted to “escape” arrest and posed a threat to (nonexistent) bystanders; he also claimed that he had tried to de-escalate the encounter by standing behind the door of his patrol vehicle. In a ruling released in 2019, OPA Director Andrew Myerberg determined that Ducre had, in fact, spent almost the entire 13-second interaction running towards the pair while shouting commands and threatening to release a police dog—the opposite of de-escalation.

Myerberg also questioned whether Ducre had probable cause to conduct the stop in the first place, given the shaky evidence linking the two individuals to the car theft; regardless, Myerberg noted that, according to federal case law, unleashed police dogs are only appropriate weapons when pursuing armed suspects linked to a violent crime—not suspected car thieves.

Ducre received a two-day suspension for failing to de-escalate and using force inappropriately. Myerberg also took the opportunity to recommend changes to SPD’s policies on the use of police dogs: among others, that “a fleeing subject does not, by itself, provide a justification to use a canine.”

But while investigating the first incident, Ducre’s sparked yet another OPA investigation after he released a police dog to attack another car theft suspect, who was hiding in a bush.

In that investigation, Ducre claimed that using his dog against a hidden suspect—who, he argued, could have been armed—was consistent with his training. Myerberg agreed, concluding that the K-9 unit’s commanders were to blame for training officers to use police dogs inappropriately, so Ducre could not be held responsible.

“It appears to OPA that the K-9 unit’s chain of command consistently falls back on the defense that their officers’ actions were consistent with the training provided to the unit,” he wrote. “However, if the unit is providing training that is inconsistent with law or that is resulting in out of policy uses of force, this is a significant problem.”

While SPD later adjusted its K-9 policies, a 2020 audit by Seattle’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that the department’s policy revisions included notable flaws, including ambiguity about whether officers can use police dogs at protests.

But Heffernan’s lawsuit points to additional problems in the training program for the police dogs themselves. According to the OIG audit, SPD doesn’t have a reliable, secure off-leash training area for police dogs; instead, handlers use ad hoc agreements with property owners to find places to train dogs.

Since 2015, the OPA has investigated 10 allegations of excessive force by K-9 officers involving dog bites, six of which led to discipline, re-training, or policy revision.

2. Governor Jay Inslee has extended the state’s eviction moratorium, originally set to expire at the end of this month, to September 30, giving tenants more time to get back on their feet following the pandemic and allowing counties to get eviction protections in place.

The governor’s extension prohibits landlords from evicting a tenant for rent that went unpaid between February 29, 2020 and July 31, 2021. Under the extension, landlords will not be allowed to evict tenants until a rental assistance program and an eviction resolution program is in place.

“We’re putting a bridge into place until these funds are actually available and until protections are actually up and running.”—Governor Jay Inslee

Starting August 1, renters will need to start paying their full rents again unless they have previously negotiated a payment plan with their landlord or are in the process of getting rental assistance. Landlords will be able to evict tenants for non-payment beginning August 1, but will first need to offer a repayment plan.

To prevent a wave of evictions and a sharp increase in homelessness, the legislature passed several housing bills over the last session to ease Washington out of the original moratorium, including providing rental assistance to landlords and tenants and guarantying legal representation to a tenant in eviction court (SB 5160).

“We’re putting a bridge into place until these funds are actually available and until protections are actually up and running,” Inslee said at a press conference on Thursday.

The governor’s decision comes after President Biden announced he would be extending the federal eviction moratorium another 30-days and after the city of Seattle declared it would extend its eviction moratorium to September 30.

Over the course of the pandemic, tenants have accrued more than $1.1 billion in rent debt. The state has not outlined plans to cancel rent debt, only to distribute rental assistance. So if a tenant is unable to go back to paying their full rent on top of paying back their rent debt, they may end up evicted as soon as their county gets rental assistance and begins resolution programs. Roughly 220,000 Washington households predict they won’t be able to make rent his month, according to Census data.

Eviction Moratorium Set to Expire at End of Month, Putting Tenants Statewide at Risk

By Leo Brine

As the state begins to lift its pandemic restrictions, housing advocates worry that one restriction is ending prematurely.

Washington’s eviction moratorium, which Governor Jay Inslee established at the start of the pandemic, is set to expire on June 30. The bill established a right to counsel for tenants facing eviction—the first law in the nation to do so—but included a Republican amendment establishing the expiration date.

Now, as counties begin begin distributing rent assistance, advocates worry about a vicious cycle in which tenants get evicted because their assistance didn’t arrive on time, and can’t hire attorneys to defend them because legal assistance programs aren’t up and running yet. Advocates are asking Inslee to extend the moratorium so the state can hire and train lawyers, set up mediation programs and properly distribute rent assistance to tenants and landlords.

If the moratorium is lifted, it will disproportionately impact people of color and people with disabilities. Census data shows that 34 percent of Latino/Hispanic households and 16 percent of Black households are behind on rent in Washington.

To prevent hundreds of thousands of people from losing their homes after the moratorium ends, the legislature passed a trio of eviction prevention bills this session. One established a list of 16 “just cause” reasons landlords can give in order to evict a tenant (HB 1236); another will fund state rental assistance programs (HB 1277); and one allows landlords to apply for rental assistance funds and provides a right to counsel for indigent tenants facing eviction, similar to public defenders in criminal cases (SB 5160).

When the House voted on the last bill, they also included an amendment by Rep. Michelle Caldier (R-26, Port Orchard) stipulating that the eviction moratorium is up at the end  of this month. When Inslee signed the bill, he left in Caldier’s amendment, signaling he agreed with setting a hard deadline.

The Washington Low Income Housing Alliance is now lobbying Inslee to extend the moratorium so the state can get all its eviction protection programs in place. “All we need is time,” Michele Thomas,W LIHA’s Advocacy and Policy Director, said. The protections the state put in place this year are great, she added, but “if the governor does not extend the moratorium, a lot of the work will be for not.”

Thomas said Inslee should end the moratorium on a county-by-county basis, depending on how prepared each county is to handle eviction cases, similar to how the state has lifted COVID restrictions.

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Democrats have also called on the governor to extend the moratorium. On Wednesday, June 17, Rep. Jamila Taylor (D-30, Federal Way), the chair of the House Democrats’ Black Caucus, sent a letter to the governor asking him to extend the moratorium.

Taylor also wants to see the moratorium lifted in counties who are adequately prepared to dispense rent assistance and provide legal representation to tenants, “so that no families are homeless,” she said in a statement. “We’re at the two-yard line. Now is not the time for us to leave families without this crucial safety net.”

If the moratorium is lifted, it will disproportionately impact people of color and people with disabilities. Census data shows that 34 percent of Latino/Hispanic households and 16 percent of Black households are behind on rent in Washington. Taylor said that by allowing the moratorium to expire, Washington would be taking a major step back in improving equity—something the Democratic legislature touted as a priority for the 2021 session.

King County Housing Justice Project Manager Edmund Witter told PubliCola that despite Caldier’s amendment, Gov. Inslee could extend the moratorium. (King County’s Housing Justice Project, which provide legal counsel to tenants, is one of several such groups across the state.) All the amendment did was say the current iteration of the moratorium must end on June 30; it did not limit the governor’s to extend the moratorium in response to the pandemic emergency, Witter said.

However, the governor’s emergency powers run out on June 30, when the official state of emergency ends, creating a hard deadline for Inslee to make a decision. Inslee spokeswoman Tara Lee said the governor’s office has not decided yet whether to extend the moratorium.

If the moratorium does end on June 30, Witter is concerned that Washington’s courts will be overwhelmed with eviction cases. “There’s just no plan,” for how courts will deal with cases, Witter said.

“If a tenant doesn’t know whether or not they’re going to get rental assistance, how are they going to know what terms are reasonable to a repayment plan that they’re going to sign onto?How would they know whether or not what they’re signing onto is something they can afford?”—Michele Thomas, Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance

Ideally, eviction cases could be resolved without getting courts involved at all. SB 5160 establishes Eviction Resolution Programs (ERPs) in six counties (Clark, King, Pierce, Thurston, Snohomish and Spokane), using dispute resolution centers to settle landlord-tenant disputes. These programs work by having landlords, tenants, and their lawyers meet with an eviction resolution specialist to reach an agreement to prevent eviction, such as a more forgiving rent repayment plan.

Rep. Nicole Macri (D-43, Seattle) worked on the eviction protection bills during the session. She said many of the tenant protections the legislature passed this year included emergency clauses that put them into effect immediately, including mandatory repayment plans and the just cause eviction bill. (The latter still allows landlords to evict tenants for failing to pay their rent, but requires them to offer tenants a repayment plan 14 days before serving them an eviction notice.)

However, she’s still worried that when the moratorium ends, there won’t be enough attorneys ready to represent tenants in eviction cases and courts won’t have the tools to settle disputes without going to trial.

“We need to make sure that we set up the mediation support for landlords and tenants [and that] we hire those attorneys. A lot of that is not authorized until the state budget goes into effect July 1,” Macri said. Continue reading “Eviction Moratorium Set to Expire at End of Month, Putting Tenants Statewide at Risk”

Can the the Seattle Police Department Consent Decree Be Fixed?

Dr. Antonio Oftelie speaks to the Seattle Community Police Commission in May 2021.

By Paul Kiefer

On Tuesday, the Seattle City Council rejected a proposal to cut $2.83 million from the Seattle Police Department’s budget, bringing an end to a months-long debate and raising questions about whether federal oversight is the right path toward reforming the department.

For almost a decade, SPD has been under federal oversight through an agreement with the US Department of Justice called a consent decree. The consent decree, which Seattle entered in 2012, was supposed to ensure that SPD corrected a pattern of using unjustified force and racially biased policing, among other reforms.

But after nearly a decade, a growing contingent within city government and activist circles are questioning whether the consent decree is capable of changing SPD for the better.

Earlier this week, Councilmember Lisa Herbold was unable to pass legislation cutting millions from SPD’s budget thanks in large part to opposition from SPD and the court-appointed monitor tasked with tracking reforms, Dr. Antonio Oftelie. Herbold initially prosed cutting $5.4 million from the police budget to offset SPD overspending in 2020, and to channel resources to next year’s participatory budgeting program. 

When the plan finally fizzled on Tuesday, many who support additional cuts to the department’s budget blamed Oftelie and the consent decree. “We are seeing the consent decree being wielded as an obstacle to community demands to divest from policing and invest in community safety,” said Angélica Cházaro, a University of Washington professor and organizer with the activist group Decriminalize Seattle, “when in reality the surest way to address issues of racial profiling, use of force, and other violations of constitutional rights by cops is to reduce police power and contact and ensure that communities have what they need to be safe, survive, and thrive.”

“Seattle, as a city, has never come forward to the monitoring team to offer a new solution to a problem. My sense is that if the city could design some alternative response solutions and had plans to show how those were real solutions, then the court and DOJ would be amenable to that.”—federal monitor Antonio Oftelie

Herbold has occasionally joined those critics. During a public safety committee hearing on May 25, for example, she commented that she “often feels hampered by the consent decree because it requires us to get court approval before making any changes.”

Oftelie, however, argues that dismissing the consent decree as an obstacle overlooks its unused potential. At its most basic level, Oftelie told PubliCola, the agreement establishes “a floor” for new policies, better training, and more “constitutional” policing. “Everything can be built on that floor. If Seattle wants to be innovative and transformative, there’s room,” he said. Those reforms could include the creation of a larger-scale civilian unit to respond to mental health crises, or stricter regulation of police officers’ off-duty work.

And while the consent decree outlines a way to add new language to agreement that reflect newer priorities for reform, Oftelie says that Seattle hasn’t taken advantage of that provision.

“Seattle, as a city, has never come forward to the monitoring team to offer a new solution to a problem,” he said. “Some parties in Seattle say, ‘we can’t do something because the consent decree won’t allow it. Or they’ll say, ‘we want the consent decree to do something that it’s not doing at the moment.’ My sense is that if the city could design some alternative response solutions and had plans to show how those were real solutions, then the court and DOJ would be amenable to that.”

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We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

In order to propose a revision to the consent decree, the mayor and the council would need to agree about the goals and details of the change. Some simpler changes, like replacing out-of-date and ineffective technology used to flag officers who are more likely to use excessive force, would only require the city to identify better software; others, like adjusting the consent decree to require a large-scale civilian crisis response program, would require lengthier debates and pilot programs to produce a workable proposal for the court and DOJ.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office did not respond to PubliCola’s request for comment about whether her office would support any changes to the consent decree. Herbold, however, said that she is open to proposing changes to the consent decree—so long as the changes aren’t up to the council or the mayor’s office.

Continue reading “Can the the Seattle Police Department Consent Decree Be Fixed?”