Tag: Office of Police Accountability

Harrell Shakes Up Top Staff, Police Accountability Office Clears Officers Accused of Extortion

NewPhoto of Deputy Mayor Greg Wong
Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Greg Wong

1. Last week, Mayor Bruce Harrell informed his cabinet that he had replaced Deputy Mayor for external relations Kendee Yamaguchi, the former executive director for Snohomish County, with Department of Neighborhoods director Greg Wong, a former Pacifica Law Group attorney who took over at DON in February. PubliCola broke the news of Yamaguchi’s departure, and Wong’s promotion, on Twitter Monday morning.

The mayor’s office did not respond to a question about the reason for Yamaguchi’s departure, and an email sent to her city of Seattle address bounced back with a message containing Wong’s contact information.

A press release set to go out today said simply, “Kendee Yamaguchi served an instrumental role during our transition to office and in our early efforts to establish sincere and enduring relationships with stakeholders, organizations, and local leaders,” said Mayor Harrell. “We are grateful for her service and wish her all the best in her future endeavors.”

Wong, who lives in southeast Seattle, was the head of the Schools First campaign for the Seattle school levy elections in 2013 and 2016. According to the mayor’s office, he will focus on economic development, community relations, and arts and culture.

2. The Office of Police Accountability declined to sustain, or uphold, any of ten separate allegations in a 2017 case in which two police officers accused another officer of running a “mini-mafia” to prevent new companies from entering the market for off-duty work. The two officers were the founders of called Cops for Hire, since rebranded as Blucadia, that also connects businesses with off-duty officers.

The OPA complaint, which attracted significant attention at the time, accused officers working for Seattle’s Finest, a security company started by a retired SPD officer, of colluding to increase the pay of off-duty officers by intimidating and extorting the companies that contract with the firm, including the owners of Columbia Tower downtown. The OPA wrapped up its investigation in October 2018 but did not release the summary of its findings until last week.

The investigation found that the officer expressed his frustration by commenting that he would put a person who worked at the company in a “carotid choke hold.” A separate, related case described an interview with the FBI in which the officer said he was “just joking around and was trying to get a rise out of his audience.”

Police officers can make thousands of dollars in additional income by taking off-duty jobs in security or directing traffic through companies like Seattle’s Finest and Seattle Security, which is affiliated with the Seattle Police Officers Guild.  In some cases, police are paid for a certain number of hours even if they work less—four hours, for example, for two hours’ actual work.

According to the investigation, the officer with Seattle’s Finest, identified by the Seattle Times as MacGregor Gordon, said one of the company’s bargaining tactics was to name a high price for their services, and then—if a building owner balked—withhold their work as parking garage flaggers and force the owners to bear the consequences until they finally gave up and paid the price Seattle’s Finest demanded.

Investigators said they were “hindered” in investigating the claims of extortion because the business owners “refused to discuss the matter unless OPA could guarantee full confidentiality

The investigation also found that Gordon expressed his “frustration with garage management’s attempts to modify his contract” by commenting that he would put a person who worked at the company in a “carotid choke hold.” A separate, related case described an interview with the FBI in which Gordon said he was “just joking around and was trying to get a rise out of his audience” with his inflammatory comments

Former police chief Kathleen O’Toole referred the case to the FBI, which decided not to prosecute. We have a call out to OPA for information about why it waited until now to release the summary of its investigation.

Report on Police Oversight Office Recommends Changing Process for Reviewing Misconduct Decisions

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

By Erica C. Barnett

An external report commissioned by the Seattle Office of the Inspector General (OIG) after an investigator was caught approving, or certifying, investigations into police misconduct without proper review found multiple issues that led to poor oversight and communications within the office. But the report also concluded that most of the issues have been addressed since the incidents that prompted the review.

“Nobody likes to get a bad report card,” Inspector General Lisa Judge told PubliCola. “I believe that audits and reports like this that highlight areas for improvement and change make people and organizations better. This is the work that OIG does, so if I believe in it to help other organizations be better, I have to believe in it for myself and my organization.”

The OIG—a city office established by Seattle’s 2017 police accountability ordinance—is one of three entities charged with overseeing police accountability in Seattle; the others are the Community Police Commission and the Office of Police Accountability, an independent office inside the Seattle Police Department.

When someone files a complaint alleging police misconduct, the OPA reviews the complaint and decides, based on interviews and evidence, whether the complaint is valid and if it merits discipline; the police chief is in charge of deciding whether and how to discipline an officer. The OIG’s role in this process is to oversee the OPA and make sure their decisions are fair and valid.

The report, conducted by Los Angeles-based OIR Group, makes two substantive recommendations, along with nine recommendations that deal with management practices, employee wellness, and communications between the OIG and OPA.

According to the report, OIG moved Finnell out of what was then a two-person investigations unit in response to the complaint, “but no formal action was taken to investigate or address the allegations. Most significantly, there was no formal ‘course correction’ with the identified employee to ensure that Office expectations would be met for any future case reviews.”

First, it recommends that the office return to its previous practice of investigating reports the OPA closes without investigation by designating them as “Contact Log”—a determination that indicates that no officer was involved in an incident or that OPA doesn’t have enough information to investigate—individually, rather than doing quarterly audits of a sample of cases. This year, the OIG began reviewing individual contact log determinations after the fact, and will begin doing these reviews in real time next month. On Monday, city council public safety committee chair Lisa Herbold praised this new policy in her committee.

In 2021, the OIG’s annual report said that the office agreed with OPA’s “contact log” determinations 81 percent of the time, although that average reflected a dramatic drop, to 49 percent, after it switched to doing quarterly samples instead of individual reviews midyear. Many of the cases that were classified this way involved allegations of “serious misconduct,” including charges of bias and use of force during widespread protests against police brutality in 2020. The OIG made no judgment about whether the complaints themselves were valid or would have led to discipline.

Second, it recommends that OIG should have the authority to weigh in on OPA’s decisions before they go to SPD and to  what kind of discipline is appropriate for cops who violate policy or the law. “[I]nvolving the OIG in this process and requiring regular reporting on what it is finding would result in a level of transparency regarding this aspect of SPD’s accountability system that currently does not exist,” the report says.

The report itself came out of a series of complaints involving an investigator who was signing off on cases without reviewing them thoroughly. In 2020, an OIG investigator raised unspecified issues about another investigator, Anthony Finnell, and he was reassigned to another function that did not involve reviewing OPA investigations.

According to the report, after Finnell moved out of investigations, “no formal action was taken to investigate or address the allegations.  Most significantly, there was no formal ‘course correction’ with the identified employee to ensure that Office expectations would be met for any future case reviews.”

Later, apparently without Judge’s knowledge, Finnell was moved back to the investigations unit and started certifying cases was certifying OPA cases—determining that they were “thorough, timely, and objective,” as required by the 2017 ordinance—without looking at all the evidence.which eventually prompted a review of the unit that revealed a “broader problem” with investigations.

The South Seattle Emerald reported on Finnell’s certification of cases without reviewing evidence, and the fact that he continued to work in the investigations unit, last year.

Those issues surfaced in 2020 and 2021, but they were not the first time investigators had been discovered improperly certifying cases. In fact, another former employee who has since become an outspoken critic of OIG’s practices was fired by OIG in 2019 after certifying cases without fully reviewing evidence and changing dates to meet certification deadlines, multiple sources say.

“The buck does stop with me when it comes to the credibility of OIG,” Judge told PubliCola. “To the extent somebody working in my office wasn’t carrying out their duties in a way that fosters trust, [that] is not acceptable, so that’s why it was important to me to have an external person looking at this.”

The report refers repeatedly to “personality” clashes within the office between investigators who had very different approaches to the OPA and its work, ranging from adversarial to accommodating, and tremendous burnout and pressure to issue judgment on the OPA’s decisions in cases filed during the 2020 protests. “Within the office, tension among the Investigations team was palpable, with members hardly speaking to each other and accusations about one member’s work ethic and integrity being raised with management,” according to the report.

Many of these conflicts reportedly arose over whether to approach OPA with suspicion and confrontation—an approach that may turn up issues others miss but can foster ill will—or trust and accommodation, an approach that builds respectful working relationships but can lead to laxer oversight. At least four of the people who were involved in various iterations of this conflict, including Finnell, are no longer with the office.

Retired judge Anne Levinson, who served as the civilian auditor overseeing OPA before the OIG was established in 2018, said the report reveals the need for oversight agencies to continually examine their work and change their policies in response to new information and evolving expectations.

“Just as the oversight system works to ensure that police leadership regularly examine their policies, systems, and training when incidents, complaints, audits, or other indicators flag a need for improved practice, oversight officials too must adapt, examine, and improve,” Levinson said, pointing to recent legislation addressing complaints naming the police chief, the use of body-worn video, and reforms to the county’s inquest process. “I view this kind of report not as indication that the sky is falling, but rather as a good thing—OIG leadership recognized they could do better, and they asked for outside review and guidance.”

“In addition, with the appointment by the Mayor of the next OPA Director, the report is well-timed as the agencies can level-set and refine approaches to best follow through on these recommendations.”

In addition, Levinson noted, Mayor Bruce Harrell just appointed a new OPA director, Gino Betts, to replace former director Andrew Myerberg, who is now a public safety advisor to Harrell. “The report is well-timed, as the agencies can level-set and refine approaches to best follow through on these recommendations,” she said.

Most of the staff mentioned in the report are no longer with the OIG, and the investigations staff has grown from two investigators to three investigators plus a supervisor.

New Police Accountability Director Gino Betts Has His Work Cut Out for Him

By Erica C. Barnett

Mayor Bruce Harrell announced this week that he was appointing Chicago prosecutor Gino Betts as head of the Office of Police Accountability, which investigates allegations of police misconduct. Betts served as the Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney; before that, he was an attorney at Chicago’s OPA equivalent, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

During a public forum in June, Betts emphasized his support for transparency into the disciplinary process, including when officers are  lose their certification to work as police officers from the state Criminal Justice Training Commission. (The state legislature expanded the list of potential reasons for decertification earlier this year.)

“We shouldn’t have officers floating from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, looking for employment” after being decertified, Betts said, “and I think [the list of officers who have been decertified] should be expanded to a national database. If you were SPD and you were disciplined or terminated, you shouldn’t be able to go to Chicago and become an officer.”

Betts also expressed support for taking accountability measures off the table during collective bargaining with police unions. Officers’ most recent contract, for example, allows officers to appeal the police chief’s disciplinary decisions to an outside arbitrator, a process that has led to several high-profile reinstatements, including a parking enforcement officer who expressed support for lynching and a police officer who punched a handcuffed woman in the face.

“I think police [unions] have done a masterful job, not only here in Seattle but nationwide, of turning what has historically been a labor negotiation [that] would consist of salaries, benefits and vacation days, things of that nature, and making it into a legal shield against police accountability,” Betts said.

The OPA has been without a permanent director since January, when former director Andrew Myerberg became Harrell’s public safety director. The office faces a significant backlog and sustains (upholds) allegations against officers infrequently.

Last week, the office declined to sustain one complaint against an officer who fired a 40mm launcher at a man who was apparently having a mental health crisis; the officer shot the weapon, which uses “less-lethal” projectiles, at the man after he tossed something in the officer’s direction from inside his apartment.

The OPA also declined to sustain any allegations against an officer who worked nine hours of overtime during two days when he was suspended without pay for a separate incident; although the summary of the case notes that this same officer had previously claimed excessive overtime (turning in timesheets indicating he worked over 90 hours a week) at least 15 times, the OPA determined that the issue was a lack of “sufficient supervisory oversight,” not the officer’s actions.

On Twitter, DivestSPD identified this officer as Joel Nark, a now-retired officer who had previously been suspended for claiming overtime he did not work. Although Nark retired from SPD (and was not interviewed by OPA in this latest case), he still serves on the three-member Public Safety Civil Service Commission (PSCSC), which hears certain appeals from police and firefighters who were fired, demoted or suspended; PubliCola covered his most recent election for the position last year.

Bike Board Member Asks for Encampment Ban Near Bike Lanes, Poll Tests Streetcar Popularity; Council Clarifies “Z-Disposition” for 911 Calls

1. Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board member Dr. Doug Migden wrote to Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office earlier this year to complain about the homeless people he sees while riding his bike, and to suggest legislation that would ban people from sleeping within up to 200 feet of any bike facility or sidewalk.

“First, I voted for Mr. Harrell and the primary reason is that crime and encampment related filth in Seattle is now totally unacceptable,” Migden’s letter begins. “I have lived on the north end of Queen Anne, in a house I own, since 1997. Unfortunately I’ve never seen Seattle in such a mess.”

Council member Alex Pedersen installed Migden on the bike board earlier this year, rejecting a different nominee the board identified through a months-long recruitment and nomination process. The bike board advocates for and advises the city on policies to make Seattle safer and more welcoming to cyclists from all backgrounds, including low-income and homeless people.

Given that “bicycle commuters in West Seattle can’t even safely get to downtown because of encampments and illegal activity such as IV drug use on or adjacent to bicycle pathways,” Migden continued in his letter, “how about a policy whereby nobody can camp on public sidewalks, on bicycle paths, or within 100 or 200 feet of such public spaces. This is not too much to ask and it’s certainly doable. Enforcement would be needed though. Perhaps more police officers on bicycles would help with this and other crime related issues in Seattle.”

“How about a policy whereby nobody can camp on public sidewalks, on bicycle paths, or within 100 or 200 feet of such public spaces.  Enforcement would be needed though. Perhaps more police officers on bicycles would help with this and other crime related issues in Seattle.” —Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board member Doug Migden

Yes, Migden wrote, it’s important to “take care of” truly “vulnerable populations,” but a lot of the homeless people he sees around are able-bodied men who “are not mentally ill,” are “in no distress,” and are well-off enough to “indulge” in cell phones. “[S]tratification and picking apart which illegal campers truly need assistance and which ones are basically freeloading off of responsible citizens who pay taxes etc., is crucial,” Migden wrote.

The mayor’s office, in a standardized response, told Migden they would forward the information about the encampments he reported (including “disgusting RVs” in Fremont and Ballard) to the city’s encampment cleanup squad.

2. A recent poll tested voters’ opinions about completing the long-delayed downtown Seattle streetcar project, along with various local funding options, such as increasing the commercial parking tax, increasing the local vehicle licensing fee, and increasing local sales taxes, already among the highest in the country.

The poll, conducted last week, seems to favor streetcar completion—stating, for example, that federal funding could cut the $350 million estimated cost of the streetcar almost in half, but is only available for a limited time. (Federal funding for the streetcar is far from certain, although, as the Urbanist pointed out earlier this year, a potential $75 million request for federal funding still gets a “high” rating from the Federal Transit Administration.)

“Connecting Seattle’s two existing streetcar lines just makes sense,” one of the poll’s test messages begins. (Many polls test messages that could be used for or against a proposal or person during a future campaign.) “This project will link our busiest transportation hubs serving people coming downtown by bus, light rail, ferry, Sounder, and Amtrak train creating a more seamless and convenient transportation system.”

Former mayor Jenny Durkan paused work on the downtown streetcar connection in 2018, citing cost overruns. Before and since then, streetcar skeptics have argued that the downtown line is redundant with existing bus and light rail service and would not serve enough riders to justify the ballooning cost. Last year, the city council gave the long-moribund streetcar a kickstart by providing $2.4 million in funding to resume work on the project.

It’s unclear who’s behind the poll; local political consultants, transit advocates, business groups, and streetcar proponents all told PubliCola it wasn’t them.

3. During an update on the city’s efforts to established an alternative response system for 911 calls that don’t require an armed response, city council public safety committee attempted to clarify an issue that recently confounded a prominent local columnist: The so-called “Z disposition” the Seattle Police Department gives to certain low-priority calls.

Previously, committee chair Lisa Herbold noted, dispatchers would routinely put the 911 system into “priority call status,” meaning that calls that didn’t rank in SPD’s top two “priority” designations (which include violent crimes and crimes in progress) would not get any response at all. Now, an officer reviews lower-priority calls before deciding whether they merit a response before dismissing them. “In my mind, that’s that’s a better approach, because at least you’re having somebody on the ground with law enforcement expertise making that decision,” Herbold said.

In April, she added, the city’s Office of Police Accountability recommended establishing a clearer system for assigning low-priority calls, in response to a high-profile complaint about two officers who ate breakfast near the Ballard library rather than responding immediately to a call about a person asleep inside their car.

Councilmember Sara Nelson said that in her view, the new system is actually worse, because under “priority call status,” police would at least tell low-priority callers to call back or give them a general estimate of when they might hear back about their call. “There is a customer service issue going on with the call with the system right now with no communication and that’s why people are getting upset,” Nelson said.

Efforts to replace police with civilian responders for some 911 calls remain largely stalled, and the Seattle Police Officers Guild has demanded to bargain any changes to the SPD-centric 911 response system.

Proposal Would Prevent Mayors from Burying Complaints Against Police Chief; Nelson Cherry-Picks Study to Claim Forced Treatment Works

1. The actions of Seattle Police Department officers during the protests against police brutality in 2020 led to more than 19,000 complaints against officers and then-police chief Carmen Best, which the city’s Office of Police Accountability subsequently consolidated into just 143 cases.

Most of those cases are now resolved. About 10 are still being processed, with “completion” rates, according to the OPA’s Demonstration Complaint Dashboard, between 75 and 90 percent. Just three complaints remain stalled at 50 percent complete. All are from 2020, and all three name former police chief Carmen Best as a subject.

City law empowers the OPA, which is an independent office within the police department, to decide whether investigating a complaint would create a conflict of interest, which the office did in these three cases involving Chief Best. Because the three complaints would have essentially investigating the boss, OPA referred them to then-mayor Jenny Durkan, who initially wanted the Office of the Inspector General, an independent police accountability agency, to do the investigation.

When the OIG declined, the case went back to the OPA, which asked to assign the investigation to an outside agency. Instead of acting, Durkan apparently sat on the complaints against Best, leaving them to languish until her successor, Bruce Harrell, forwarded them to an outside agency. Harrell’s spokesman, Jamie Housen, said the administration found out about the languishing cases in January and referred them to an external investigator late that month.

Legislation filed by city councilmember Lisa Herbold would prevent the mayor and OPA director from burying complaints against the police chief in the future by setting up a formal process, and deadlines, for the OPA to refer complaints against the police chief to an outside investigator.

Under the proposed new process, which Harrell supports, if the OPA decided a complaint against the police chief merited an investigation, the bill would require the OPA director to decide whether the complaint should be investigated by the city’s Department of Human Resources or an entity completely outside the city.  The OIG would review OPA’s recommendation and decide where to route the complaint, based on a process laid out in the legislation. The proposal would also give the OIG a stronger oversight role in complaints and investigations involving the police chief.

The first of the three cases the city failed to investigate involves Chief Best’s claim (later retracted) that armed people were running an extortion racket at the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) during the protests. As the South Seattle Emerald reported this week, Best apparently knew the claim was a hoax when she repeated it to officers in a videotaped statement to officers working at the protests.

The second unresolved case accuses Best of lying about errors made by Seattle police and fire officials that prevented emergency responders from reaching a man who had been shot in the protest zone; Best told reporters (falsely, according to reporting by KUOW) that protesters had blocked the path of emergency vehicles, contributing to the man’s death.

The final case involves the police department’s use of tear gas against demonstrators in early June, 2020, after Seattle Federal District Judge Richard Jones granted a temporary restraining order against the department.

One goal of the bill is to “protect against any abuse of discretion that might occur if the Mayor or OPA Director are involved in the complaint or seek to conceal the complaint” in the future, according to the bill text.

A spokesperson for the OPA declined to comment for this story. The outside investigation into the three cases is reportedly wrapping up.

2. City Councilmember Sara Nelson told a constituent in an email last week that her own experience going to treatment convinced her that mandatory treatment is an effective response to homeless people who commit crimes because of their addiction—and “less expensive than most housing options,” too.

The email, which Nelson forwarded to all her council colleagues, came in response to a constituent who sent a link to a study finding that out of 160 people in an employment-based treatment program, the 131 who were required to go to treatment by a court were more likely to complete treatment than the 29 who went voluntarily.

“If a person stays sober for even six months, that’s less expensive than most housing options and far less deleterious to a person’s ability to find future housing and employment than having a record.”—City Councilmember Sara Nelson

“I’m not surprised by its argument that mandating (or ‘stipulating’ as used in the paper) treatment is more effective than commonly thought because I’m in recovery myself and when I went to a residential treatment program, I met many people who were in treatment for the first time and only because court-ordered,” Nelson wrote, adding that about half of the people she kept up with from treatment were still sober.

“A month of private in-patient or 6 months of outpatient treatment costs about $10,000,” Nelson continued. “If a person stays sober for even six months, that’s less expensive than most housing options and far less deleterious to a person’s ability to find future housing and employment than having a record. And treatment leads to better health outcomes than jail.” Continue reading “Proposal Would Prevent Mayors from Burying Complaints Against Police Chief; Nelson Cherry-Picks Study to Claim Forced Treatment Works”

Controversial Officer Gets Short Suspension for Shattering Driver’s Window; Woodland Park Sweep Houses Four People; County Councilmember Dunn Votes “No” on Choice

1. Last month, Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability, which investigates allegations of officer misconduct, dismissed most of a complaint filed by a police lieutenant against SPD officer Andrei Constantin, who deliberately shattered the window of a car parked at a gas station while the driver and a passenger were inside. Of five allegations, including charges of retaliation and dishonesty, the OPA upheld only two—failing to document the smashed window and behaving unprofessionally. As a penalty, Police Chief Adrian Diaz issued an eight-day suspension.

If Constantin’s name sounds familiar, that’s because this isn’t the first time his actions have landed him in the press. In 2020, Constantin was outed as the person allegedly responsible for an anonymous Twitter account that, among other inflammatory statements, mocked victims of police violence, including George Floyd, promoted violence against protesters, and called for donations to a defense fund for a driver who killed a demonstrator on I-5 in the summer of 2020.

Since that controversy, police accountability watchdogs have unearthed at least four other OPA complaints against Constantin, many of them containing multiple misconduct allegations, in the last five years. Many of those resulted in referrals for training rather than suspensions or more serious punishment. The complaints identified on the SPD.watch website, a joint project of DivestSPD and Tech Bloc Seattle, included: Pulling over a driver without justification, pointing a gun at him, and handcuffing him; threatening to use his Taser on a man who was not being threatening; stopping a homeless Black bike rider and detaining him for nearly an hour because he wasn’t wearing a helmet; and a use-of-force allegation that the OPA hasn’t yet resolved.

According to the OPA report on this latest incident, Constantin saw a car parked at a gas station, ran driver’s plates and determined that the title to his car hadn’t been transferred when it was sold. When Constantin approached the car, the driver, who was Latino, got back in the car and rolled up the window, according to the report. At that point, Constantin “used a hard object to strike and shatter the driver’s side window” while the driver and a passenger were inside. In his own report on the incident, Constantin withheld the fact that he had smashed the person’s window.

A disciplinary action report recommending the suspension noted that Constantin had been disciplined for misconduct twice before. “[Y]ou did not have probable cause to arrest or any basis to engage in a vehicle pursuit. Despite this, you destroyed a community member’s property,” the report says. “That is an act akin to vandalism done under the purported color of law.”

2. The site of a longstanding encampment in Lower Woodland Park was quiet and mostly empty on Tuesday afternoon, save for a group of volunteers trying to start a vehicle and push it out of the park. Piles of pallets, tarps, and trash were the only evidence that dozens of people had been living on site for months, many of them as recently as a few hours earlier.

More than 95 percent of the Woodland Park encampment residents who accepted referrals from the HOPE Team were offered emergency shelter, not housing.

By 2pm, workers with the city’s Parks Department had surrounded most of the former encampment site with caution tape and posted large “PARK TEMPORARILY CLOSED” signs at the entrances to the area; parks employees stationed at the east end of West Green Lake Way asked drivers entering the area where they were going.

The city has spent five months doing outreach at the park and offering shelter beds to people on a “by-name list” of those who were living on site back in February. Since then, dozens more have arrived who were not on that original list, including at least some who moved to the park because they heard it was scheduled for a sweep, effectively unlocking city services that are not available at other encampments. The HOPE Team, run by the city’s Human Services Department, has exclusive access to about a third of the city’s shelter beds, which it offers to people living in encampments in the runup to sweeps.

According to Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office, the city’s HOPE Team made 83 offers of “shelter or housing” to people living in the park, including most of the people on the original 61-person list. Seventy-nine of those offers were for shelter; just four people moved into permanent supportive housing. Other than the four housing referrals, the city does not have data on how people actually enrolled in shelter.

The goal since the onset of this coordinated engagement was to ensure that everyone residing onsite received an offer of shelter and that the vast majority were  connected to the best-suited shelter and support services,” Harrell spokesman Jamie Housen said. As of Tuesday morning, the city had 42 shelter beds available for those who remained on site; 27 accepted referrals, including 20 referrals into tiny house villages run by the Low-Income Housing Institute. 

As always, people who receive “referrals” do not necessarily show up and stay at a shelter, and people who enroll in a shelter within 48 hours—”enrollments,” in the city’s nomenclature—do not necessarily stay there. (More on the HOPE Team’s low shelter enrollment rate here). And media reports, like this one, that claim dozens of people moved into “housing” are, at best, misleading, since more than 95 percent of the Woodland Park encampment residents who accepted referrals from the HOPE Team were offered emergency shelter, not housing.

One reason the city was able to offer so many shelter beds—particularly tiny house village spots, which are in high demand—is that they reserved spots specifically for this encampment removal; the referral rate is not representative of the number of beds available to the HOPE Team on a typical night, nor is it close to the number accessible to nonprofit outreach groups like REACH, which access shelter beds through a separate pool.

According to HSD spokesman Kevin Mundt, the Low-Income Housing Institute made about 30 of its shelter beds available to people living in Woodland Park, including 16 spots at tiny house villages.

The park will be closed until next Monday, according to Housen, so that Parks employees can “focus on returning the park to its intended use (access to recreation, hosting events and sports, and sustaining critical natural area).”

3. King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn, currently running as a Republican against Democratic US Rep. Kim Schrier in Washington’s 8th Congressional District, cast the lone “no” vote against a resolution supporting women’s right to choose and affirming the validity of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which the US Supreme Court is poised to overturn. Even the council’s other Republican, Pete Von Reichbauer, voted to support the measure after several council members, including women and gay men, spoke passionately about their support for the right to abortion as well as other rights that could be threatened if Roe goes away, such as the right to same-sex marriage.

Dunn did not explain why he voted against the measure, which “declares [the council’s] support of a woman’s right to reproductive freedom and of Roe v. Wade as settled law of the land” and asks the health department to “actively enforce” existing law regulating so-called “crisis pregnancy centers”—sites run by religious groups that attempt to talk pregnant women into going through with their pregnancies.

Dunn, a moderate by contemporary Republican standards, is up against several more conservative primary-election challengers peddling conspiracy theories and touting their support for Trump. Still, his vote against a nonbinding pro-choice resolution places him out of the mainstream of Washington politics, and could alienate many voters in his district; Schrier, a Democrat, ran against anti-choice Republican Dino Rossi and won on an explicitly pro-choice platform.

Police Accountability Office Dismissed Widespread Mask Violations as “Cultural Issue”

Photo by Adam Cohn on Flickr; Creative Commons license

By Erica C. Barnett

A new report from the Seattle Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that the Office of Police Accountability, which investigates allegations of officer misconduct, routinely dismissed complaints from the public about officers refusing to wear masks as required, viewing noncompliance as a “cultural problem” rather than individual insubordination. A spokeswoman for the OPA said the office “does not investigate systemic issues, which are the sole purview of the OIG.”

The OPA did not sustain (uphold) any of the 98 complaints the OIG reviewed about officers ignoring the mask mandate. These complaints included a highly publicized incident in which an officer refused to wear a mask inside a hospital; that officer was disciplined for violating SPD’s professionalism policies, but the OPA said mask noncompliance was a “systemic issue that needs to be remedied” by the department, not a matter for individual discipline.

The report also found that SPD supervisors rarely disciplined officers even for third, fourth, and fifth violations of the mask mandate, using “supervisor actions” (training or coaching by a supervisor, usually reserved for minor policy violations) in lieu of formal discipline.

“Director Myerberg explained that he perceived the mask non-compliance as indicative of a serious culture issue within SPD and stated that it was not sustainable for OPA to be the ‘thought police’ of the Department.”—Inspector General report on widespread mask violations at SPD

The OPA spokeswoman declined to comment on the OIG’s conclusions.

“I think what you see with the frustration expressed by OPA and the tone of this report is an acknowledgement that such widespread non-compliance with policy, and even direct orders, can’t be adequately addressed by piecemeal, individual discipline or external policy recommendations,” Inspector General Lisa Judge told PubliCola. “Issues like this that have a strong underlying cultural or philosophical root require action on the part of leadership to shift that culture to change behavior.”

According to the report, both the OPA and SPD treated officers’ refusal to comply with mask mandates as a “minor nondisciplinary issue,” even after the state Department of Labor and Industries penalized the department on two separate occasions for “serious” violations of state law requiring work sites to be “free from recognized hazards that are causing, or are likely to cause, serious injury or death.”

For the first violation, from February 2021, L&I fined SPD $5,400 and outlined a course of disciplinary action, including progressive discipline (discipline that becomes more severe with additional violations) for officers cited for failing to follow mask rules more than twice. L&I ultimately closed that complaint because officers were using various tactics to slow down disciplinary proceedings against them, making it harder for the OPA to investigate and punish officers who wouldn’t wear mask.

L&I’s second citation, from July 2021, involved multiple complaints that officers weren’t wearing masks while responding to public demonstrations. Although the agency couldn’t interview any of the officers involved in this second complaint because they were all on furlough or refused to cooperate, L&I issued a $12,000 fine.

According to the report, then-OPA director Andrew Myerberg, now a public-safety advisor to Mayor Bruce Harrell, “noted that it seemed procedurally unjust to sustain an insubordination allegation against an individual officer when others higher in the chain of command might also not be wearing masks.

“Director Myerberg stated that no one in headquarters wore masks and related that someone had sent OPA a photo of multiple lieutenants, captains, and chiefs celebrating an event at headquarters without any masks. Director Myerberg explained that he perceived the mask non-compliance as indicative of a serious culture issue within SPD and stated that it was not sustainable for OPA to be the ‘thought police’ of the Department.” Continue reading “Police Accountability Office Dismissed Widespread Mask Violations as “Cultural Issue””

Professionalism Complaints Make Up Largest Number of SPD Misconduct Allegations

By Paul Kiefer

An annual report by Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA) released on Tuesday contained a revealing statistic: Of the nearly 1,500 misconduct allegations brought against Seattle police officers last year, the largest number—more than 20 percent—involved unprofessional behavior. In one well-publicized case, an officer refused to wear a mask inside Harborview Medical Center; in another, an officer referred to a trans protester as “that.”

The Seattle Police Department’s professionalism standards are broad, so unprofessional conduct can include anything from insulting a member of the public to covering up mistakes. Consequences for unprofessional behavior are generally light, typically ranging from “training referrals”—often a conversation with an officers’ supervisor—to written reprimands that appear on an officer’s permanent record. In certain cases, the OPA can resolve complaints quickly through a process called “rapid adjudication”; however, the OPA did not resolve any complaints through rapid adjudication in 2021.

While a federal court has tracked SPD’s progress toward reducing racially biased policing and excessive force for the past decade, professionalism issues have not sparked similar scrutiny. Recent OPA data suggests that officers accused of violating SPD’s professionalism standards are more likely to be disciplined—more than half of the misconduct cases the OPA sustained since January involved unprofessional behavior—but in reviews of SPD practices by accountability agencies, professionalism concerns draw only brief attention. The Office of the Inspector General’s most recent assessment of SPD’s protest response in 2020, for instance, suggested that “SPD officers should eliminate their use of sarcasm or confrontational dialogue with protesters” but made no other mentions of unprofessional behavior.

Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who chairs the council’s public safety committee, told PubliCola that professionalism issues within SPD aren’t new, though the OPA’s recent policy recommendations for SPD generally have not addressed those problems.

Some accountability advocates say that although systemic reviews of SPD pay relatively little attention to professionalism complaints, disrespectful or unprofessional treatment of the public by police officers still matters. “The issue of professionalism and the police force cuts to the heart of culture change,” said Leslie Cushman, a spokesperson for the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability. “Disrespect is disregard, it is dehumanizing, and it is thumbing their nose.” Continue reading “Professionalism Complaints Make Up Largest Number of SPD Misconduct Allegations”

Outdoor Seating Is Here to Stay, City Extends Hiring Deadline for Police Accountability Director, “Seattle Nice” Debates “Operation New Day”

Councilmember Dan Strauss, at La Carta de Oaxaca in Ballard
Councilmember Dan Strauss, at La Carta de Oaxaca in Ballard

1. Back in 2013, when the city opened its first “parklet” in two former parking spaces on Capitol Hill, opponents (like this guy, who called the city “vehemently, virulently anti-car”) claimed that repurposing parking spaces for non-car uses would lead to all kinds of calamities, including lost parking revenue, traffic congestion, and the collapse of business districts—after all, why would anyone go to a business if they couldn’t park out front?

Parklets eventually caught on, and none of the dire consequences opponents predicted came to pass—in fact, the outdoor seating made business districts more appealing by bringing people into areas that used to be choked by cars. During the pandemic, the city decided to expand the program (allowing larger, more permanent structures) and make it free, providing safe, semi-permanent spaces for restaurants and bars to operate and helping businesses that might otherwise have closed.

Sitting under one of these temporary outdoor structures outside the La Carta de Oaxaca restaurant in Ballard Tuesday morning, Mayor Bruce Harrell signed legislation sponsored by District 6 Councilmember Dan Strauss to extend the program until January 31, 2023, with a goal of making it permanent. Eventually, Strauss said, the city will start charging for the permits and impose design standards for street dining structures, but that it won’t be “the same amount as [revenue from] five parking spots”—the pre–pandemic cost. “We don’t want to rush and jump to conclusions about how much a permit should cost or what the design standards should do,” Strauss said.

In a sign of how much things have changed since the parklet program started, only one reporter asked how making the program permanent would impact “parking and traffic congestion,” and Strauss responded with a hand wave. Gesturing to cars parked across the street, Strauss said, “As you see, we are having both the ability to have people eating outside and to park their cars. There’s many parking stalls here. What we also see here in Ballard is with increased density, we have more people living close to [businesses]”—people who don’t need to drive.

2. Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability won’t have a new permanent director until this summer at the soonest, giving the mayor’s office and city council time to launch a national candidate search for the high-profile role. Former OPA Director Andrew Myerberg left the office in January to join Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office as the new Director of Public Safety; Dr. Gráinne Perkins, an adjunct professor of criminology at Seattle University and a former detective in the Irish Police Service, currently runs the OPA as interim director.

During a city council public safety committee meeting on Tuesday, committee chair Lisa Herbold said the council will waive the standard 90-day deadline for the mayor to appoint a replacement for a departing OPA director; ordinarily, if the mayor misses the 90-day deadline, the public safety committee is responsible for appointing a new director. Instead, Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell said her office will hire a recruiting firm that specializes in police oversight positions, with a goal of identifying six candidates and starting to interview them by May 27.

Deputy Mayor Harrell added that the next OPA director will need to be a “special unicorn” who can navigate increased public scrutiny of police oversight agencies. During Myerberg’s four years at the OPA, police accountability advocates criticized his  cautious approach to investigating police misconduct—particularly allegations of excessive force, which Myerberg argued were rarely black-and-white enough to justify firing an officer. Myerberg said he was wary of recommending discipline that officers could get overturned on appeal; his wariness may be one reason for the overall decline in the number of disciplinary appeals filed by Seattle police officers over the past five years.

Harrell added that her office will also form a committee, which will include members of Seattle’s Community Police Commission, to review the OPA director’s job description. In the past year, the CPC has increasingly challenged the OPA for what it views as inadequate disciplinary recommendations in high-profile misconduct cases.

3. This week on the Seattle Nice podcast, Erica and political consultant Sandeep Kaushik debate the merits of Mayor Harrell’s “Operation New Day” effort to crack down on crime in downtown Seattle. Continue reading “Outdoor Seating Is Here to Stay, City Extends Hiring Deadline for Police Accountability Director, “Seattle Nice” Debates “Operation New Day””

SPD Briefly Suspends Officers Who Shot Man in Crisis on Seattle Waterfront

Officer Willard Jared aims his weapon at Derek Hayden on February 16, 2021.

By Paul Kiefer

Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz has suspended two officers for failing to de-escalate before fatally shooting 44-year-old Derek Hayden on the Seattle waterfront in February 2021. According to an investigation by Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA), Officers Cassidy Butler and Willard Jared acted recklessly when they responded to a call for backup from two Port of Seattle Police officers who were following Hayden along Alaskan Way. Hayden was carrying a knife and threatening to kill himself. Within seconds of their arrival, Butler and Jared opened fire, killing Hayden.

Although former OPA Director Andrew Myerberg ruled that the officers did not follow SPD’s de-escalation guidelines, he did not rule that the shooting itself violated department policy. Diaz suspended Butler for one day and Jared for three days.

The ruling marks the second time in less than a year that SPD has disciplined officers for failing to de-escalate before shooting a person in crisis. In August 2021, the department suspended Officer Christopher Gregorio for 20 days after the OPA ruled that he had exacerbated a tense confrontation with 57-year-old Terry Caver on a Lower Queen Anne sidewalk the previous year; the confrontation ended when Gregorio shot and killed Caver, who was carrying a knife and suffering from an apparent acute schizophrenic episode. Citing Caver’s death in his assessment of Butler and Jared’s actions, Myerberg reiterated his call for SPD to “revamp” its training on how to respond to people carrying knives.

On the night of February 16, 2021, Hayden approached a Port of Seattle Police cruiser parked on Seattle’s waterfront and asked the officers inside to kill him. The officers called for backup. The first SPD officers to arrive joined their Port Police counterparts, following Hayden at a distance as he walked along the waterfront. Butler and Jared, however, pulled their cruiser within 20 feet of Hayden. Jared stepped out onto the street, carrying an assault rifle, and yelled for Hayden to drop his knife. Seconds later, Hayden walked towards Jared, raising his knife into the air. Both Butler and Jared opened fire, mortally wounding Hayden. Almost simultaneously, the nearby Port Police officer fired a foam-tipped round in an attempt to subdue Hayden, but it was too late—Hayden fell to the pavement and died at the scene.

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Butler and Jared later told investigators that they had arrived at the waterfront without a well-developed plan; most of their pre-planning, Jared told investigators, entailed “trying to figure out where they were going and how to get there.” Instead of joining the officers following Hayden at a distance, Butler and Jared chose to hem him in with their cruiser.

Having placed himself within feet of Hayden—and without any barrier between them—Jared argued that he had no choice but to open fire when Hayden walked in his direction. Jared cited the “21-foot rule”: According to training he received while working for SPD, a person carrying a knife within 21 feet of an officer presents enough of a threat to merit using deadly force. Butler, who positioned herself behind the hood of the cruiser, claimed that she fired at Hayden to protect her partner. Continue reading “SPD Briefly Suspends Officers Who Shot Man in Crisis on Seattle Waterfront”