Tag: Office of Police Accountability

Police Guild Leader Defiant in Defense of Officer Who Joked About Death of 23-Year-Old, Saying Critics Should Feel “Shame”

By Erica C. Barnett

In an interview with an investigator from the Office of Police Accountability, Seattle Police Officers Guild director Mike Solan claimed that SPOG vice president Daniel Auderer was processing a “tragic event” with “sarcasm and humor” when he laughed and joked about the death of Jaahnavi Kandula, a 23-year-old student who had just been struck and killed by a speeding SPD officer, Kevin Dave, earlier that evening.

Solan then blasted Auderer’s critics, suggesting that OPA director Gino Betts had informed media about the video and accusing unnamed people of engaging in a witch hunt against the department.

“I would like the director to answer publicly… why this case is already out in the media,” Solan said.

“People [who] use this unfortunate audio captured on body-worn video, which was unintentional, to gain a political strategy against the union and against officer Auderer—I think does the family that lost their loved one a disservice and makes them be re-victimized. Anybody that supports that ideology and supports that tactic should feel shame.”

PubliCola obtained the interviews and related documents through a public disclosure request. We obtained the video, first, through the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, which is conducting a criminal investigation into Dave’s actions, and subsequently from SPD, which posted the video on its own blog about a half hour after PubliCola became the first media outlet to post the video.

“[As] police officers, we deal with tragedy almost on a daily basis, and we’re human beings just like the next person,” Solan told the investigators. “We have to process these in a manner that allows us to go to that next tragic event. And humor and sarcasm is used for us as a coping mechanism.”

In his interview, Auderer did not express contrition for his comments, saying it was a “private conversation” that could just as easily have taken place “over a beer” or “on a street corner.” Given that he thought the conversation with his union director was private, he continued, “No, I did not violate that policy.”

In the video, Auderer can be heard laughing repeatedly for several seconds at a time, then joking about the value of Kandula’s life.

“I think she went up on the hood, hit the windshield, then when he hit the brakes, she flew off the car. But she is dead,” Auderer said, then laughed for several seconds before replying to something Solan said. “No, it’s a regular person. Yeah.”

“Yeah, just write a check,” Auderer continued. Then he laughed again for several seconds. “Yeah, $11,000. She was 26 anyway, she had limited value.” At this point, Auderer turned off his body camera and the recording stopped.

The video does not capture Solan’s part of the conversation, which both Solan and Auderer have described as “mocking” the lawyers who will ultimately decide how much the city has to pay Kandula’s family for her death.

In his own interview with an OPA investigator, Auderer said that when someone dies, “you can either laugh or cry. … You’re laughing over the absurdity of people suddenly being here one moment and not the next.”

In his interview, Auderer did not express contrition for his comments, saying it was a “private conversation” that could just as easily have taken place “over a beer” or “on a street corner.” Given that he thought the conversation with his union director was private, he continued, “No, I did not violate that policy.”

The video is from the night Kandula died—January 23, 2023. An SPD employee who eventually saw the tape filed a complaint on August 2. Six days later, Auderer wrote a letter to OPA director Gino Betts asking for a “rapid adjudication” of his case, a process in which OPA foregoes an investigation in cases involving “minor or moderate” SPD policy violations. Rapid adjudication requires an officer to admit they violated department policy. Auderer is accused of violating SPD’s policy requiring officers to behave professionally.

Betts denied Auderer’s request for a speedy resolution seven minutes after he sent it, saying that “OPA does not consider this case a candidate for Rapid Adjudication.”

In his interview with OPA, Auderer said he asked for an expedited response to his case not because he believed he had violated SPD policy, but “in order to explain it if somebody started asking questions. That was more important to me than [the threat of] being disciplined.”

Solan fiercely defended Auderer in his interview with OPA, calling him a “pillar in this department” who had “served his community for decades, leading in arrests.” Auderer has been an SPD officer for about 14 years—not decades—and has been the subject of dozens of allegations of using excessive force, behaving unprofessionally, and other violations of SPD policy.

“I find it unconscionable that this rapid adjudication inquiry to the [OPA] director was not taken serious,” Solan said. “SPOG looks forward to the closure of this investigation to make sure all the facts are put out there for context, if we’re talking about policy, loss of human life, and transparency and the understanding that officers need to feel as if the accountability system has their best interests in mind.”

Solan told investigators his side of the conversation was not recorded, and has not given an explanation that includes the actual “humor[ous]” comment that made Auderer laugh, nor what he said to make Auderer respond, “No, she’s a regular person.” According to OPA, no complaint has been filed against Solan for taking part in the conversation.

Both the OPA investigation and King County’s criminal investigation into Dave are ongoing.

Burgess Threatened US Post Office Over Graffiti; OPA Clears Officers Who Arrested Protesters for Using Sidewalk Chalk

1. Earlier this year, as part of the the city’s efforts to spiff up downtown Seattle in the runup to MLB All-Star Week, Mayor Bruce Harrell wrote the US Postal Service with an urgent request: Let the city cover the outside of your building at Third and Union with murals or wall banners to help “improve conditions on the street.” At the time, there were several large graffiti tags on the outside the building along with someunpainted plywood panels.

“The City wants to make sure our downtown looks clean and feels safe. However, the current condition of the Post Office is inconsistent with our goal,” Harrell wrote on June 2, in a letter hand-delivered to the local acting postmaster. “The City will pay all costs associated with the murals or wall banners.”

As anyone who frequents downtown Seattle knows, the city plastered the neighborhood with large paste-up portraits of players in the weeks before the All-Star Game; for a while, working in the area was a bit like living inside a promotional installation for baseball.

When the USPS declined the city’s offer to decorate their building, mayoral advisor Tim Burgess responded by threatening legal action.

“The City may be compelled to take action regarding the graffiti on the building, violating the city code,” Burgess wrote on June 20. “Your building looks terrible and contributes to blight.” In a copy of the letter PubliCola received through a records request, those two lines were highlighted for emphasis.

One week earlier, US District Judge Marsha Pechman had issued an injunction barring the city from enforcing its law against graffiti, agreeing with several protesters arrested for chalking outside SPD’s East Precinct that the law is overbroad and likely unconstitutional. However, the mayor’s office noted, Burgess’ threat referred to civil action, which is different than the criminal charges at issue in the federal case.

“I would also point out that the University District post office has a mural painting on it that the UW completed. So permission can be and has been granted in the past,” Burgess’ email continued.

The US Postal Service responded to Burgess’ threat by, in effect, rolling its bureaucratic eyes. “Considering how agitated they are about the exterior, is there a reason we cannot get a coat of paint put on the outlined areas right before the all-star game next month?” a local USPS customer relations manager wrote to USPS higher-ups. Six days later, the postal service sent its response to the city—photos of the building, its exterior wall painted flat government gray and “ready for All-Star game this week.”

The mayor’s office confirmed this sequence of events.

2. Speaking of the graffiti injunction: On August 1, the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) dismissed a series of complaints against six police officers who arrested the four protesters who subsequently sued the city, concluding that the arrests did not constitute biased policing or retaliation against the protesters for chalking messages that criticized police.

In the report, OPA director Gino Betts agreed with the arresting officers that the arrests had nothing to do with the content of the chalked messages, which criticized police, but were “based on property damage—which [an officer who witnessed the arrests] described as a crime—and the cleanup efforts that would ensue rather than the community members’ positions.” At the time, Betts’ report notes, the law banning any kind of alteration to public property was in effect, so the protesters were breaking the law by chalking messages on the temporary walls surrounding the East Precinct.

Additionally, according to the report, at least one of the officers who made the arrests didn’t see the specific messages, “undermining the allegation that [one of the officers] retaliated based on the political message inscribed on the wall.”

In her preliminary injunction against the city, Judge Pechman wrote that the officers clearly retaliated against the four protesters, using the “astonishing degree of discretion” police have under the current law to “to retaliate against criticisms written by Plaintiffs, four peaceful protesters who Defendants arrested for writing political messages in ordinary charcoal and children’s sidewalk chalk in an open and traditional public forum. Defendants selectively enforced [the law] against Plaintiffs’ criticisms while tolerating politically neutral and pro-government chalking,” such as pro-SPD messages chalked on sidewalks by police supporters. “Such viewpoint discrimination,” Pechman wrote, “the Constitution does not allow.”

“Take Care of Our Own”: SPD Precinct Captain’s Letter Urges Cops To Handle “Minor Misconduct” Internally

South Seattle Police Precinct
Image via City of Seattle

By Erica C. Barnett

Last week, the new acting commander of the city’s south police precinct, Captain Rob Brown, sent a document titled “Captain’s Expectations” to his officers and supervisors, laying out a set of expectations that included an exhortation to “take care of our own” by handling “minor misconduct” internally, rather than reporting it to the Office of Police Accountability. The letter also said officers should view themselves as forces of “good” whose job is to “intervene and stop evil” in the world.

The letter begins with a number of benign directives for supervisors: Set clear expectations, teach officers about policies and procedures, ensure that officers’ uniforms look professional. Then—in what could be interpreted as a suggestion not to report misconduct—Brown says supervisors should address “well-intended error[s]” internally by reviewing potential misconduct and addressing policy violations through internal processes such as training or counseling. “If we don’t do so, then the prescribed discipline will be imposed by our external critics without our say in the matter.”

“Don’t leave to our detractors or our robust systems of accountability to seize upon the error and attempt to dictate the resulting discipline,” Brown continues. “Take care of our own.”

The Office of Police Accountability reviews allegations of misconduct and recommends discipline, if any, to the police chief.

Contacted by PubliCola, Brown said his intent was “absolutely not” to disparage OPA or suggest that supervisors and officers keep information from them.

“Fundamentally, our role in society is to fight evil. Evil is visited upon a family that happens to live in a house that is the random backstop for a gang shooting. Evil is the urge to rob a store at gunpoint to feed an insatiable addiction. Evil is the act of a drunk driver that plows head on into a car driven by a single mom headed home from work.”

“I never actually said OPA, for one thing,” Brown said. “I talked about external critics, and we’re often dealing with external critics that will actively look for and find minor policy violations. If we’re looking at minor misconduct [and addressing it] so they know it’s unacceptable, that keeps OPA from having to be involved in that process because the frontline supervisor has located the issue.” Dealing with minor misconduct internally, Brown added, helps keep OPA from being overloaded with insignificant cases.

The Open Oversight website, which includes a database of OPA complaints, shows that Brown—a former bike officer—has been the subject of 14 complaints since 2015. Most of those were not sustained, generally because an OPA investigator concluded they were unfounded, but they show that Brown has had extensive contact with the office that investigates potential officer misconduct.

On Monday, the Seattle Times reported that a federal judge found evidence that Brown, who is white, stopped and detained a Black delivery driver because of his race. OPA dismissed the racial bias complaint as unfounded, but the judge found evidence that Brown’s treatment of the driver, including the decision to draw his gun, showed signs of racial bias; she also found that a subsequent search of the driver’s trunk by Brown and other officers was illegal.

Brown was given a referral to training for one incident, in 2018, involving his supervisory responsibilities. Two of the incidents were designated “contact log,” which often (but not always) indicates that OPA doesn’t have enough information to investigate, while OPA referred another four incidents for “supervisor action,” or training to address performance issues or minor policy violations.

Later in the document, Brown tells officers that their job “matters more than any other profession to the maintenance of a free society.

“Fundamentally, our role in society is to fight evil,” Brown continues.”Evil is visited upon a family that happens to live in a house that is the random backstop for a gang shooting. Evil is the urge to rob a store at gunpoint to feed an insatiable addiction. Evil is the act of a drunk driver that plows head on into a car driven by a single mom headed home from work. You are here to intervene and stop evil, or at least do the best you can to restore safety and order.”

Asked about his repeated references to “evil”—an extreme and potentially loaded term—Brown said, “When I chose that word, I did not at any point characterize people as evil—I characterized acts as evil. … I did choose those words, ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ because I really wanted to strongly say to the officers how valuable the work they do is. 2020 was really hard, and I wanted to send a very clear message that what these officers are doing out on the streets, it’s very, very important.”

The South Precinct, which includes all of Southeast Seattle, has had a number of high-profile shootings in recent weeks, including an incident in the parking lot of the Rainier Beach Safeway in which five people were shot, and is home to the one of the city’s most dangerous streets for pedestrians and cyclists, Rainier Ave. S.

Read Brown’s full letter, which also says that supervisors should respond to serious calls alongside officers, here.

SPD Fires Controversial Cop Who Taunted Protesters, City Eases Back-to-Office Mandate

1. The Seattle Police Department has fired controversial officer Andrei Constantin, who created a fake Twitter account to harass and mock protesters and make fun of victims of police violence, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

According to the SPD disciplinary action report explaining why Constantin was fired, the officer posted dozens of “extremely unprofessional, offensive, derogatory, and entirely unacceptable” tweets that “celebrated violence against protesters, ridiculed human beings who were injured or killed, taunted the family members of deceased individuals, and publicly accused SPD of hating its employees, blamed victims of assault, appeared to celebrate a homicide, and stated George Floyd ‘got justice.'”

Constantin’s tweets, originally uncovered by Twitter user @WhiteRoseAFA in October 2021, included posts calling people who participated in the 2020 protests against police violence “antifa terrorists” who should be “napalmed”; mocking the death of the young activist Summer Taylor, who was struck by a driver in a section of I-5 that had been closed down for a march; and telling the mother of an activist who was murdered in Portland, “Rest in piss bitch.” Constantin posted as @1SteelerFanatic under the name “Bruce Wayne”; he deactivated the account last year.

Constantin was previously the subject of at least nine other Office of Police Accountability complaints. Those complaints, detailed on the SPD.watch website, included: Pulling over a driver without justification, pointing a gun at him, and handcuffing himthreatening to use his Taser on a man who was not being threatening; and detaining a homeless Black bike rider and for nearly an hour. Last year, as PubliCola reported, Constantin received an eight-day unpaid suspension after shattering the driver-side window of someone’s car while they were sitting at a gas station.

In his written decision to fire Constantin, SPD police chief Adrian Diaz acknowledged Constantin had received “counseling” for the mental anguish he claimed to have endured as the result of the 2020 protests, but said that in light of his long disciplinary history and the “inexcusable” nature of his posts, Constantin could no longer work at SPD. Constantin last day at SPD was September 22.

2. The union representing Seattle Public Utilities’ 85 call center employees has reached an agreement with the city that exempts these workers from the mandate that all city employees come in to the office a minimum of two days a week, PubliCola has learned. As we reported in July, many call center workers preferred working from home because it was a huge improvement on commutes that could add up to hours of unpaid time in the car or on the bus each day.

“The City shall exempt the employees in the SPU Contact Center from any in-office minimum requirement, in acknowledgement of the substantial expense compliance would cause that department to incur,” the agreement says.

As we reported in July, call center workers have been more efficient and effective, by the city’s own metrics, since representatives started working at home instead of a crowded room in downtown Seattle.

The agreement allows SPU to require workers to come back to the office if management decides it will “improve operations.” It also requires call center employees to live within a three-hour drive of the Seattle Municipal Tower so they can get there if needed—a change that narrows the possibilities for true telecommuting.

In addition, other city employees who are subject to the mandate—part of Mayor Bruce Harrell’s “One Seattle” effort to bring workers back into a still-struggling downtown—will be allowed to spread their in-office days across a two-week pay period, instead of coming in two days every week. The agreement also clarifies what counts as “in the office” (field work, including inspections, public meetings, and trainings will count as in-office time) and give individual departments the opportunity to ask for exemptions from the rules.

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.