Tag: Office of Police Accountability

Morning Fizz: As the City Debates Police Accountability and Homelessness, Brutality Allegations and Encampments Proliferate

Seattle Police Department officers and other members if the Navigation Team watch as a person experiencing homelessness gathers their possessions during an encampment removal at the Ballard Commons earlier this year.

1. Last Wednesday, acting Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz announced a new partnership between his department and the Los Angeles-based Center for Policing Equity (CPE), which specializes in producing “analyses to identify and reduce the causes of racial disparities in policing.”

In a press release, Diaz said the CPE will spend the next several months studying SPD’s “functions, training, policies, accountability measures and impacts on communities of color”; the researchers will then “convert” their findings into “strategies to ensure [that] SPD eradicates public safety inequities moving forward.”

In her September executive order launching an assessment of SPD’s functions and possible areas for civilianization, Mayor Jenny Durkan also included the CPE as a source of “subject matter expertise” alongside the city’s own accountability partners, including the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the Community Policing Commission (CPC).

This is not the CPE’s first time in town. In 2015, after the CPC asked SPD to review its crowd control policies in the wake of that year’s Black Lives Matter protests, then-police chief Kathleen O’Toole included the CPE on a panel of experts tasked with reviewing the department’s crowd control tactics and presenting recommendations for improvement. The CPE did not release its 23-page report until 2017, and the panel never presented their recommendations publicly. The CPE’s recommendations were generally unremarkable: for instance, the analysts suggested that “SPD should further pursue explanations of the elevated severe use of force during demonstrations.” 

Diaz’ announcement gave no indication that the new CPE study will be any more transformative than its last one, not least because he did not name any accountability mechanism attached to the analysts’ recommendations (some accountability mechanism may exist, but a CPE representative didn’t respond to a request for comment on that front). 

Moreover, the scope of work that Diaz described suggests that the CPE’s study could easily overlap with the work of the city’s existing accountability bodies, including the Office of the Inspector General and the Office of Police Accountability. Inspector General Lisa Judge, whose office is currently working on a sentinel review of SPD’s protest response, told PubliCola that the CPE analysts should “engage with the current accountability structure and assess whether they’re actually doing anything different and whether there is value added.” There could be room for the analysts to collaborate with her office, she added, so long as they respect “the ongoing work of accountability partners.”

2. As the city council and Mayor Jenny Durkan continue debating what will will replace the Navigation Team, which Durkan formally dismantled in September, encampments have continued to proliferate around the city. Although one could argue that encampments are merely a symptom of a longstanding crisis Seattle has failed to adequately address, the city’s decision to temporarily stop sweeping people aggressively from place to place during the pandemic has exacerbated the visibility of the crisis. 

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Prior to COVID, the Navigation Team was conducting hundreds of encampment removals a year. Post-COVID, they dramatically scaled back this work, doing sweeps only at encampments that were the source of large numbers of complaints or that presented significant public safety issues, like the large encampment that was recently removed from a cracking, partially demolished pedestrian bridge downtown.

A large encampment at the Ballard Commons, across the street from the Ballard public library, was removed in May after neighborhood residents and community groups complained that it made the park feel dirty and unsafe. Like all sweeps, this one redistributed, but didn’t visibly reduce, the number of people living unsheltered in the neighborhood. Since then, not only has the Commons been thoroughly repopulated by unsheltered people, the people who were ordered to leave in May seem to have simply moved a few blocks away, a predictable outcome whenever encampments are swept. Continue reading “Morning Fizz: As the City Debates Police Accountability and Homelessness, Brutality Allegations and Encampments Proliferate”

OPA Releases First Findings from SPD Protest Response Complaints

SPD officer seen placing his knee on a demonstrator’s neck on May 30 (Screenshot from video by Matt McKnight, Crosscut)

By Paul Kiefer

On Friday morning, the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) released the first set of five completed investigations into alleged misconduct by Seattle Police Department officers during the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd in May. These investigations amount to only a tiny fraction of the OPA’s remaining protest-related caseload. The office consolidated more than 30,000 complaints it has received about SPD’s response to demonstrations into more than 100 separate investigations.

The documents released Friday included two investigations stemming from high-profile incidents during the first days of the protests: One in which an officer was accused of kneeling on two demonstrators’ necks during an arrest downtown on the night of May 30; and a widely-publicized incident in which an officer pepper-sprayed an seven-year-old child earlier the same day.

OPA Director Andrew Myerberg only found evidence to sustain two of the four complaints that stemmed from the nighttime arrests. Based on video of the incident, Myerberg concluded that the officer had only kneeled on the neck of one of the demonstrators and instead kneeled on the other demonstrator’s head.

In an interview on Thursday, Myerberg said that “a knee on the head is not against [SPD] policy,” but added that “it’s not encouraged, and [officers] aren’t trained to do it.” Kneeling on a demonstrator’s neck, however, is now against department policy; at the time of the arrest, those restraints were only “strongly discouraged.”

If the OPA had been able to conclude that the officer had intentionally used a neck restraint to restrict the protester’s breathing, the office would have been able to recommend more serious disciplinary action. Myerberg said the SPD policy manual defines a prohibited neck restraint as the intentional application of pressure to a subject’s neck for the purpose of “controlling a subject’s movement or rendering a subject unconscious.” Myerberg said he couldn’t disprove the officer’s claim that he had unintentionally placed his knee on the man’s neck, but he did determine that “what the officer did was not proportional or necessary, because even if inadvertent, the risk of harm is pretty substantial.”

Therefore, the OPA concluded that the officer had unintentionally violated the department’s use of force policy. The OPA also sustained a complaint that the same officer had inappropriately cursed at and threatened demonstrators, calling one woman a “bitch” and telling a fellow officer that he would “fuck up” another demonstrator.

Interim Chief Adrian Diaz will now be responsible for determining how to discipline the officer for both offenses. ”

The OPA also sustained a professionalism complaint against a different officer for an  incident in which the complainant filmed him saying, “I have a hard-on for this shit and, if they cross the line, I will hit them” while responding to a demonstration. The officer in question admitted his wrongdoing to the OPA‚ saying he said he had been quoting a movie (“Top Gun”).

His admission of wrongdoing opened the door for Myerberg to make use of a new disciplinary track for SPD officers called rapid adjudication, which began as one of the accountability reforms proposed by former OPA Auditor and retired Judge Anne Levinson in 2014 and adopted in 2018 as part of the Seattle Police Officers Guild contract.

In a rapid adjudication case, the officer accepts a disciplinary action and waives the right to an investigation or an appeal, saving the city and themselves from an investigative process that could last up to 6 months. The goal of rapid adjudication, or RA, Levinson said, “was to create a department in which officers can admit their mistakes and acknowledge responsibility. Typically, union contracts prioritize due process‚ officers have the right to investigations, for instance—so there wasn’t room for officers to admit wrongdoing.”

In this case, the officer will only receive a written reprimand. At the moment, Myerberg’s office doesn’t measure the efficacy of disciplinary actions in changing officers’ behavior, but he hopes they will start tracking that data in the future. “We could look at recidivism,” he says, adding that a punishment as minor as a written reprimand could still incentivize good behavior because multiple reprimands are grounds for the department to suspend or terminate an officer.

Myerberg’s office did not sustain the complaint against the officer who pepper-sprayed the seven-year-old, concluding instead that the officer had not intended to spray the child and therefore hadn’t violated department policy. The OPA wasn’t able to interview the child or his father (who was pepper-sprayed alongside his child) after the family’s legal counsel didn’t respond to the OPA’s interview requests.

However, based on body camera footage and officer testimonies, the OPA found that the father and child were standing behind a woman who was trying to wrestle away an officer’s baton; when that woman ducked, the pepper spray hit the child. The bodycam footage also appeared to disprove the father’s claim that he and his child had been praying with members of their church just before the incident: the footage showed the father yelling obscenities at officers in the lead-up to the incident.

Because a picture of the child crying after being pepper-sprayed circulated widely on social media, Myerberg expects the OPA’s findings in that case to be unpopular, but he also doesn’t believe his office has legal grounds to push for disciplinary action against the officer. Instead, he said, the City Council’s crowd control weapons ordinance—the subject of an ongoing court battle—could provide recourse in similar situations in the future.

Because the ordinance bans the use of several less-than-lethal weapons (including pepper spray) in crowd-control scenarios, Myerberg said that in the future, “officers could be liable even for unintentional harm.” It would not, however, open the door to retroactively punish the officer for pepper-spraying the child on May 30.

The OPA also declined to sustain complaints in two other cases. In one, protesters alleged that an officers violated the department’s use of force policy by pushing them back with batons; one complainant added that because of his sexual orientation, the officers’ aggression “seemed homophobic.” After reviewing the bodycam footage, Myerberg found no reason to conclude that the officers had used excessive force, nor did he find evidence that the officers acted out of bias.

The second case arose from a complaint that an SPD officer pushed down an elderly man on Capitol Hill on May 30th. The person who filed the complaint, however, heard about the incident second-hand, and Myerberg’s office couldn’t find any witnesses or video evidence of the incident to back up the complaint.

The OPA will continue to release protest-related findings on a rolling basis. Myerberg’s office has not given a timeline for the next sets of investigations, but the OPA website includes a dashboard showing the progress of demonstration-related complaint investigations.

After Appointment of New SPD Monitor, Experts Reflect on the Past and Future of the Consent Decree

New Consent Decree Monitor Dr. Antonio Oftelie. Photo via Leadership for a Networked World.

By Paul Kiefer

Merrick Bobb, who served for seven years as the court-appointed monitor for reforms to the Seattle Police Department mandated by the Department of Justice in a 2012 agreement between the city and federal government known as a consent decree, quietly resigned from his position on August 31.

In a letter explaining his decision, Bobb expressed dismay that SPD’s responses to this summer’s protests left him wondering whether “lessons learned and techniques trained under the consent decree were lost, or, at least, set aside.” Looking beyond the department’s protest response, Bobb also pointed to SPD’s “‘bizarre and arcane’ discipline and accountability systems” (referring to the language of one of his team’s earlier reports on SPD) as another primary reason for the department to remain under federal oversight.

US District Judge James Robart appointed Dr. Antonio Oftelie, a fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, to replace Bobb as monitor. Robart appointed Monisha Harrell, the board chair of Equal Rights Washington and a (now outgoing) Community Police Commission commissioner, as deputy monitor. In a new order on Monday, Robart also appointed two associate monitors: Matthew Barge, a senior consultant at the Policing Project at the New York University School of Law, and Ronald Ward, a Seattle attorney who served as deputy monitor alongside Merrick Bobb.

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Oftelie is stepping into the monitor role at a time when the position demands a heavier hand than Bobb has provided since Robart ruled that the city was in compliance with the consent decree in 2018. After that ruling, Bobb said in an interview with KUOW’s Ross Reynolds on Thursday, he believed that his “job was done” as the monitor. “We’d brought the department to that point [of compliance].” But Bobb added that SPD’s protest response made it clear that “there needed to be a new monitor and new team to deal with new facts on the ground.” In that interview, Bobb did not mention that Robart ruled that the city had fallen partially out of compliance with the consent decree in May of last year because of accountability-related concerns.

Oftelie says that police accountability will be one of his priorities as monitor. In an email to the Seattle Times this week, Oftelie specifically said that his team’s focus will be on “SPD’s accountability and transparency structures”—the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), and the CPC. But according to some local accountability experts, Oftelie’s proposal to reassess the city’s accountability structures will unnecessarily retrace the steps of longtime accountability advocates while real accountability reforms continue to languish. Continue reading “After Appointment of New SPD Monitor, Experts Reflect on the Past and Future of the Consent Decree”

Interim Police Chief Diaz Explains Plan to Transfer 100 Officers to Patrol

By Paul Kiefer

In his first appearance in his new role, Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz joined Mayor Jenny Durkan Wednesday to explain why he’s transferring 100 officers to the 911 response team within the month.

Diaz first announced the move in an SPD Blotter post on Tuesday afternoon, saying his intent is to “better align department resources with our mission statement and community expectations” by emphasizing patrol roles (officers responsible for responding to 911 calls) which he called the “backbone” of the department.

Diaz said today that his goal is to move “at least half” of SPD’s officers to patrol positions, as well as half of the supervisorial staff (lieutenants and sergeants). He explained that about 40% of the 100 officers who will transfer to patrol by September 16th will leave units that currently serve patrol-like functions, including officers in the anti-crime unit, traffic enforcement ,and community policing. The rest of the new patrol officers will come from a variety of the department’s other specialty units,. Those units, Diaz said, were adopted over the past several decades “at the cost of [SPD’s] 911 response,” adding that “considering current personnel and budgets, these specialty units are a model we can no longer afford.”

The dramatic move came just a week after Durkan issued a sharp rebuke of the council’s vision for downsizing SPD by vetoing their midyear budget rebalancing package. That council package included several ordinances that would have cut 100 positions from the department—largely through attrition, but also including targeted cuts in several specialty units, including the harbor patrol, the mounted unit, and the misleadingly named homeland security unit (generally assigned to provide security at large events).

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One of Durkan’s most consistent criticisms of the package was that the job cuts would lead to slow 911 response times to even the most serious crimes, including rape and home invasions. But the council responded by pointing out that 56% of all 911 calls in Seattle are for non-criminal situations; they recommended a more effective protocol for triaging SPD 911 response that would prioritize critical incidents and vulnerable populations, ensuring fast response times when they are most necessary. The council hasn’t yet voted on whether or not to override the mayor’s veto.

According to Durkan, the shift was largely spurred by demands she’s heard from “every neighborhood in the city,” both for faster 911 response times and for greater community engagement. “Officers don’t have the time they need to know the residents and businesses of the neighborhoods they serve,” Durkan said, “and many times it’s because they were responding from call to call.”

She and Diaz both said increasing the number of officers on patrol would allow officers to respond faster and respond to a wider array of calls—including “Priority 2” calls, which SPD defines as “altercations or situations which could escalate if assistance does not arrive soon.” 

Diaz said it would also give officers more time to “identify the underlying issues [on their beats] and start relationships with renters, homeowners, the neighborhood watch, the business owner, and the person living outside.” And while some of the transfers would come from the community policing unit, Diaz’s indicated the new patrol officers would be expected to shoulder some responsibility for community policing themselves.

Durkan brushed off questions from the press about the contrast between the increase in patrol officers and the concerns of the Defund SPD movement about  interactions between SPD and the public, arguing that she’s heard more consistent calls for efficient 911 response. “We know we still need police,” she argued. “We rely on them to provide public safety.”

Durkan and Diaz also said the shift will help cut the department’s overtime costs by scaling down the more overtime-heavy specialized units and increasing the number of patrol shifts.

Durkan pointed to this year’s spike in homicides—up 44% from last year in King County, according to the King County Prosecutor’s Office—as another justification for the reshuffling. She said the move will “help…officers arrive at scenes more quickly, give victims the help they need, help first responders and find perpetrators.” However, she acknowledged that “policing alone cannot and will not solve” the rise in gun violence. She said  “upstream” investments in education and diversionary programs were a key part of the solution, as well as “trusted community partners who can deescalate situations and provide alternatives to the criminal justice system.”

For the time being, Diaz said, he intends to move at most two detectives per specialty unit, such as Domestic Violence or Sexual Assault; those detectives’ caseloads will be transferred to the staff remaining on those specialized units. He said one of his goals is to minimize the effect of these transfers on the department’s case closure rate and the speed of investigations. (Patrol officers do not conduct investigations).

In keeping with the conditions of the Seattle Police Officers Guild contract, Diaz said the first detectives to be reassigned to patrol will be those who most recently joined specialty units, and therefore those who have the most up-to-date training as patrol officers. However, Diaz added that detectives who haven’t been on patrol duty for several years will receive “updated” training during the coming two weeks to learn new patrol rules and procedures.

But Office of Police Accountability Director Andrew Myerberg doesn’t think that last-in, first-out approach to transfers will last, and in fact, could exacerbate a potential officer shortage. “The OPA expects to see SPD staffing shortages for the next year, if not longer,” he said. “And we think we might see a rise in senior officers retiring instead of going back onto patrol,” he said.

That would mean more patrol vacancies, and potentially more transfers from the specialty units to fill those vacancies, which, in turn, would leave the remaining detectives in the specialty units with much larger caseloads. He said his office will play a role in retraining officers for patrol, “understanding that there are going to be officers who come onto patrol for the first time in years.”

Despite her recent veto of the council’s proposed 2020 budget revisions, the mayor said she thinks the council will “respond very positively.”

Lisa Herbold, the chair of the council’s Public Safety Committee, told The C is for Crank that she had the chance to discuss the shifts with Diaz after his announcement. She said she supports his authority to make deployment decisions, and she “appreciate[s] that he wants to do more to improve 911 response time.”

However, she sees some bumps in the road ahead. For instance, Herbold said she supports the idea of increasing the number of shifts, but added that “it was [her] understanding that contract negotiations with SPOG will be necessary” to make those changes.

Herbold said she hopes Diaz’s yet-to-be-disclosed decisions about which specialty units will use officers align with the council’s proposals this year for downsizing some SPD units. “It would have been great to know more about whether the executive and Chief Diaz looked at the specialty units the council identified to be reduced,” she said. “And even if there’s disagreement between the Council and the Executive about whether the Navigation team should exist, I’d hope the mayor and the chief would consider moving some officers off that team.”

In the coming week, SPD is giving officers the opportunity for officers to indicate their preferred assignment before ultimately deciding which officers to reassign to 911 response.

Terry J. Caver, The Black Man Killed By SPD Officers In May, As Remembered By His Family

Painting of SPD shooting victim Charleena Lyles outside the boarded-up Seattle Police Department East Precinct in June

By Paul Kiefer

Vanessa Caver learned of her brother’s killing several days after Seattle police officers shot Terry J. Caver near an intersection in Lower Queen Anne on May 19th. Her daughter called her unexpectedly to pass along the news. A few more days passed before she got a call from a Seattle Police Department sergeant who wanted to ask if she wanted to talk about her brother’s death. “I didn’t know what to talk about,” she explained when we spoke this week. “And the sergeant couldn’t tell me anything.”

Local news outlets covered the shooting only briefly on May 19. A day later, a post on the SPD Blotter identified Christopher Gregorio and Matthew Milburn as the officers who had fired at Caver and said that the department’s Force Investigation Team was looking into the incident.  As is standard after most shootings by SPD officers, the department did not release the name of the victim. The C is for Crank first learned Caver’s name from the King County Medical Examiner’s office on Tuesday, nearly three months after his death.

According to the 911 calls and bodycam footage shared in SPD’s blog post, at least five officers arrived at the intersection of West Harrison Street and Elliott Avenue West in response to a series of 911 calls describing a man waving a knife at passersby. By the time the police arrived, there were no longer any pedestrians near Caver, who was still standing on the sidewalk. The officers stepped out of their cars and shouted at him to drop to the ground. At that point, he started to walk south on Elliott.

“I don’t understand why they had to kill him. I guess in their mind, he was a nobody.”—Vanessa Caver, Terry Caver’s sister

As the officers started to chase him, Caver broke into a run, shouting “you’re going to have to kill me.” He dropped a piece of clothing, revealing what appeared to be a kitchen knife. The officers fired a Taser at Caver, but they claim it did not have any effect. Caver suddenly stopped and turned to face the officers (or, if the Taser did have an effect, turned as his knees buckled), and Gregorio and Milburn shot him several times. Caver crumpled onto the sidewalk, and medics from the Seattle Fire Department pronounced him dead when they arrived. Based on the bodycam footage, the entire encounter lasted less than a minute. Terry Caver was 57 years old when he died. Like more than a third of all those shot by Seattle police in the past decade, Caver was Black.

When Vanessa heard that her brother had been carrying a knife and acting erratically, she knew what had happened.

Terry Joel Caver was born in Birmingham, Alabama in April 1963. He was one of three siblings: Vanessa is his older sister, and his other sister died years ago from health problems. His mother was only briefly married to Caver’s father, and before he turned ten, she moved with her children to the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County.

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By his sister’s account, Caver was lovable and bright. “Even if he hadn’t been my biological brother, he would have been my best friend,” she says. And even as a child, Caver was apparently generous to a fault. “He would do anything for anybody, anytime,” his sister recalls.

As he neared his early twenties, Caver began to rack up felony charges, mostly for burglaries in northern LA County. According to his cousin, Gwendolyn Taylor, Caver bounced in and out of jail for years, never quite finding his footing before he landed in court again. That cycle consumed most of his young adulthood.

Once he moved to Washington to be near his sister, Terry Caver’s mental health struggles overwhelmed him. His sister says he constantly feared that someone was following him “to finish him off,” prompting him to almost always carry a knife to protect himself.

Caver’s trajectory took a turn for the worse after he was released from a stint in prison in 2010 and returned to his home in the San Fernando Valley. There, a drive-by shooting left Caver temporarily in a wheelchair after he survived nine gunshot wounds. His sister, who lives in Everett, brought him to Washington to stay with her while he underwent further treatment at Harborview Medical Center; his sister says he left with a plate in his ankle to help him walk again.

According to Vanessa Caver, the shooting in California was the breaking point for her brother. In its aftermath, he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. She believes the shooting triggered the onset of his mental illness. Taylor shares that belief, and she thinks that his brief detention as a witness to the shooting only exacerbated the trauma. A doctor prescribed Caver a medication to help manage his schizophrenic episodes; it’s unclear whether he was taking his medication at the time of his killing.

Once he moved to Washington to be near his sister, Terry Caver’s mental health struggles overwhelmed him. His sister says he constantly feared that someone was following him “to finish him off,” prompting him to often carry a knife to protect himself. Though he often stayed in her apartment, she says he didn’t always feel safe there, either. “He would think there was someone else in the house,” she says. As a result, he periodically found himself homeless.

Court records show that he was charged with a few minor assaults in Seattle and Everett, which his sister believes stemmed from other mental health episodes. He was also arrested for non-violent incidents. His cousin recalls him being arrested in Las Vegas after breaking into an empty apartment and refusing to leave; another record from the Washington Court of Appeals describes an incident in 2016 in which Caver was arrested for possession of methamphetamine after he called 911 to ask to be taken to a mental health treatment facility.

In the latter case, court documents show that Caver was carrying a pocket knife, but after talking to police, he placed it on the ground. In the initial trial, the arresting officer justified placing Caver in the Snohomish County Jail during a mental health crisis by explaining that “the jail [had] available mental health professionals and separate housing for inmates with mental health issues.” For his part, Caver requested that he be allowed to wear his jail clothes to the trial. “It represent[s] what’s really going on in my life,” he explained to the judge. “I don’t want these people thinking that I’m on the streets when I’m not on the streets.” The court denied his request, claiming that “it causes much mischief if the defendant is clothed in regular jail garb.”

His cousin, Taylor, says that no matter his mental state, Caver always gave her a call as soon as he was released from jail. “He somehow always knew my number,” she says. “He would lose his phone, his phone would break, but he always remembered it.”

As Vanessa Caver made clear, her brother’s life in Washington was not wholly defined by his mental illness. Her fondest memories are of his most enduring quality: his generosity. When he first arrived in Everett in the early spring of 2010, Vanessa remembers buying her brother a leather coat to help withstand the cold. Only a few hours later, her brother returned coat-less, having given the gift to a man at a bus station. “I had a sweater and a hoodie,” he explained to his sister. “The other guy looked cold.” His sister says he was also a regular volunteer at a local soup kitchen; she’s sure he had become well-acquainted with some police officers in the process. “He said they told him he was doing a good job,” she remembers.

Terry Caver also made some attempts to get on his feet while in the Northwest. After returning from Las Vegas, he moved into a substance abuse recovery house, only to return to his sister’s apartment after realizing his roommates had taken his clothing and shoes. Later, she remembers him receiving a voucher for affordable housing. “He went down to Seattle to look for a place to live,” she said, “because he wanted to continue helping the homeless.”

While in Washington, Caver also converted to Islam and became a steadfast attendee at a local mosque. His sister doesn’t know the name of the congregation, but she admired his piety. “He tried to convert me,” she said with a chuckle, “but every time we would just start talking about the Lord. He loved the Lord.”

But Caver was still regularly overwhelmed by paranoia and fear caused by his mental condition. His sister can only imagine how afraid he was when he was reported waving a knife at pedestrians in Lower Queen Anne just before he was killed. “I’m sure he thought they were going to try to finish him off,” she says.

She thinks his mental crisis was made worse when police arrived on the scene. “If there had been one or two officers, they could have talked to him. He always listened. If they had talked to him, got him to sit down in the patrol car, he would have felt safer. But there were too many officers, so he was scared,” she explained.

She hasn’t been able to bring herself to watch the video of the shooting, but she is sure that her brother didn’t have to die. “If they had to stop him, they could have just shot him in the foot, taken him to the hospital and then taken him to jail,” she says. “I don’t understand why they had to kill him. I guess in their mind, he was a nobody.” Over the phone, she drew a comparison between her brother’s death and that of Charleena Lyles, the 30-year-old Black woman killed by Seattle Police officers in Magnuson Park in 2017 in front of her children (Lyles was also pregnant at the time). “They knew [both Lyles and Caver] were having mental health crises. They just needed to slow down and talk,” she said.

The current SPD policy manual does not provide specific instructions for responding to people with knives. The manual does instruct officers to de-escalate when “safe and feasible,” and the manual’s guidelines for de-escalation recommend that officers consider “whether any lack of compliance is a deliberate attempt to resist rather than an inability to comply based on factors including… behavioral crisis” and that they make an effort to slow down interactions and maintain a safe distance from suspects. In Caver’s case, the officers surrounded him on three sides (by the time officers fired, his only route of escape was into a dead-end parking lot) and repeatedly shouted at him to drop to the ground.

Both because of pandemic-related public health recommendations and because her brother was uninsured, Vanessa Caver and her family weren’t able to hold a proper funeral for her brother. His cousin paid for his body to be cremated and delivered to her apartment in an urn. “I couldn’t sleep at night knowing that urn was in the other room,” she says. The next day, her daughter arrived to drive Vanessa – and the urn – to her home in southwest Washington, where the family had a memorial dinner.

Vanessa Caver says her daughter has been in contact with a lawyer to discuss the case. For now, though, she is still trying to wrap her head around her loss. “I don’t have any siblings left,” she says.

According to Andrew Myerberg, the director of Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA), the police department’s Force Investigation Team will present their findings about the shooting to the Force Review Board—an eight-member panel that includes both Myerberg and the city’s Inspector General as non-voting members —sometime soon. Myerberg says that his office did not receive or file any complaint that would trigger an OPA investigation.

Seattle Mayor’s Proposal To Move Police Investigations Out of SPD Could Have Unintended Consequences

As calls to defund the Seattle Police Department continue, Mayor Jenny Durkan has proposed moving about $56 million out of the Seattle Police Department’s budget into other parts of the city budget—a ledger swap that could actually cost the city more money than the current system and could, advocates say, actually weaken the accountability system.

When announcing the transfers, Durkan’s office described the changes as “actions to transform the Seattle Police Department and reimagine community safety” by responding to requests from community stakeholders. However, it’s unclear where the impetus for the specific changes the mayor proposed—moving 911 dispatch, the Office of Police Accountability, and the Office of Emergency Management out of SPD—came from.

OPA is the city agency that conducts police misconduct investigations. Under the mayor’s proposal, it would move out of SPD and become its own department, most likely reporting “directly to the Executive and Council,” a spokeswoman for Durkan, Kelsey Nyland, says. “Our hope is that by making them a separate office from SPD, there will be an increase in community confidence in their independence from SPD.”

When asked where the mayor got the idea to move OPA of SPD, specifically, Nyland pointed to the “Blueprint for Divestment” produced by King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle, which includes these three items at the end of a long list that includes a hiring freeze, the elimination of the Navigation Team, the elimination of community outreach implicit bias training, and communications, and the elimination of overtime pay.

The agencies that deal with police accountability, including the Community Police Commission—an independent oversight body—and the OPA itself, were apparently not consulted about the change or asked whether they had concerns. (The CPC only received notice about the changes the mayor was proposing a few minutes before her public announcement). But three years ago, when police accountability advocates like the CPC, the ACLU, and the Public Defender Association were crafting a sweeping police accountability bill, they explicitly kept OPA under SPD’s aegis because doing so allowed them direct access to unredacted SPD files and to SPD personnel.

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Retired judge Anne Levinson, the former OPA auditor whose recommendations for improvements to the accountability system were endorsed by the CPC in 2014 and incorporated into the 2017 accountability legislation, says the point of that ordinance was to create a firewall between the accountability agencies and SPD while preserving their direct access to data and records, case management systems, 911 calls, and other records.

“The usual progressive position is that in order to accomplish that, they also need to be totally outside of the department,” Levinson says—”not under the department’s organizational umbrella. But when we looked at others across the country, we frequently saw not only were they not well-resourced, but they did not have full, , immediate, and unfettered access to all the information they needed to do thorough investigations. Some have to issue subpoenas or public records requests just to get basic evidence. So we said that until the City can ensure no loss in full, direct, and unfettered access to systems and evidence, OPA should not be moved to a stand-alone City agency. It makes a very significant difference.”

Nyland says that maintaining “unfettered access to SPD data and case files” is the “north star” for Durkan, one that could potentially be achieved by by creating a new “data-sharing system between SPD and OPA” and amending the accountability ordinance.

Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard, who served on the CPC and worked on the 2017 law, says that “similar civilian-led oversight bodies in other cities have had extreme difficulty getting access” to records in a timely fashion and have had to resort to subpoenas. “Subpoena power still leaves the agency at arm’s length and taking a shot in the dark about what to ask for,” she says. “It’s extremely helpful that OPA can access the records and data it needs from within the organizational structure.”

OPA director Andrew Myerberg, who at the city attorney’s office in 2017 and worked on the bill, recalls that “the decision was made unanimously [in 2017] to keep OPA in SPD” in order “to preserve access to data and people.”

Myerberg says that not only would the changes likely be subject to collective bargaining (something Durkan acknowledged in her announcement), they would also require approval under a federal consent decree and amendments to the 2017 ordinance. For example, although moving OPA out of SPD could increase community confidence in its independence, Myerberg says, the legitimacy of OPA decisions might be called into question if no one from SPD is in the room when OPA is reviewing investigations. Continue reading “Seattle Mayor’s Proposal To Move Police Investigations Out of SPD Could Have Unintended Consequences”