By Paul Kiefer
The former Seattle police officer who condemned city leadership for abandoning the Seattle Police Department in a CBS news segment on Wednesday left SPD with a record of harassment and violent outbursts, one of which drew condemnation—but not criminal charges—from City Attorney Pete Holmes in 2013. In his appearance, Powell blamed the Seattle City Council for the exodus of 260 officers from SPD in the past year and a half, and claimed city leaders “didn’t allow [officers] to intervene” to prevent violence during last summer’s protests. Powell’s union, the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, arranged the interview; SPD’s public relations team did not have a hand in arranging or approving the interview.
Officer Clayton Powell, who worked for SPD for 27 years and is currently in the process of leaving the department, raised concerns from staff at Washington’s training academy in 1992 while preparing to join the department. In internal memos, instructors observed that Powell was prone to using force in mock response scenarios; Powell failed the academy’s field tests three times before SPD finally hired him, and instructors warned that he could create a liability for the department.
Powell’s temper remained a problem in the following decades. In 2000, Powell’s ex-wife filed a complaint with SPD’s internal affairs alleging that Powell routinely stalked and harassed her, including by leaving threatening voicemails on her answering machine. Department investigators treated the complaint as a minor domestic dispute and referred it to Powell’s supervisor, who didn’t discipline him. The SPD captain who referred the complaint to Powell’s supervisor later apologized to his ex-wife, telling her that his unit hadn’t properly investigated her complaint. Two years later, a Pierce County judge granted Powell’s ex-wife restraining order against her ex-husband, who she described as having a “problem controlling his anger.”
In 2012, the Office of Police Accountability opened an investigation into Powell after his fellow officers complained to their supervisor that he escalated tensions at the scene of a drive-by pellet gun shooting in South Seattle by shoving a man and apparently challenging him to a fight. The office also reviewed footage from later that day of Powell pulling a detainee’s hair and taunting him in a holding cell at the South Precinct. The department referred Powell to the Seattle City Attorney’s Office to be charged with misdemeanor assault.
Though City Attorney Pete Holmes ultimately declined to charge Powell, he described the officer’s actions as “extremely troublesome” and cited a report from an independent attorney who reviewed the case and determined that Powell “should be evaluated regarding his fitness to continue in police service.”
In his appearance on CBS, Powell said that while he understood why demonstrators criticize police departments, the solution to patterns of police misconduct is, “if anything, more funding.” The CBS reporter then erroneously claimed that another $5 million in cuts to SPD’s budget are still up for consideration by the Seattle City Council; recent disagreements between council members and the federal monitoring team that supervises reforms to SPD have all but ensured that cuts of that size will not be possible in 2021.