Tag: police accountability

Can the the Seattle Police Department Consent Decree Be Fixed?

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

By Paul Kiefer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Police Chief’s Reversal of Misconduct Finding Reveals Flaws In Accountability System, Advocates Say

An SPD cruiser carrying Lt. John Brooks (center) orders protesters to disperse from a Capitol Hill intersection in October 2020.

By Paul Kiefer

During a meeting of Seattle’s Community Police Commission on Wednesday, police oversight officials expressed concerns about Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz’s decision to overturn an Office of Police Accountability misconduct finding against SPD lieutenant John Brooks, who directed officers to use tear gas, blast balls and pepper spray to clear a mostly peaceful crowd of protesters from the area near SPD’s East Precinct on June 1, 2020.

During a discussion of the case between the commission and Office of Police Accountability (OPA) Director Andrew Myerberg, CPC co-chair Erin Goodman said Diaz’s ability to unilaterally reverse the findings of a misconduct investigation reveal a fundamental flaw in Seattle’s police oversight system. “It makes us all question the strength of the accountability system as a whole,” she said.

Myerberg’s office ruled that Brooks was responsible for directing officers to use crowd-control weapons against protesters despite inadequate evidence of a threat. Diaz disagreed with Myerberg’s decision, and in a letter to Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Council President Lorena González announcing his decision last week, he argued that it’s unfair to judge the decisions of the officers at the protest in hindsight, and that someone at a “higher level of command authority” was responsible for SPD’s missteps.

Last Thursday, Diaz wrote a post following up on his letter on the department’s blog, announcing that he would hold someone accountable for the incident, and that “additional information has surfaced which was not included in the OPA investigation.”

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If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter.

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

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

But without any clarity about who Diaz will discipline or when he will discipline them, CPC members remain concerned that his decision to absolve Brooks means that no one will face consequences for tear-gassing peaceful protesters. “There were a lot of people who were harmed that day,” said Reverend Harriet Walden, a longtime CPC commissioner, during the meeting on Wednesday. “It makes it difficult for those of us who try to work collaboratively with SPD.”

In fact, Diaz’s reference to “additional information” about SPD’s protest response on June 1 only added to the CPC’s concerns. “Did you get the sense that SPD withheld information from your office during your investigation?” Goodman asked Myerberg during the meeting. Continue reading “Police Chief’s Reversal of Misconduct Finding Reveals Flaws In Accountability System, Advocates Say”

Police Accountability Leader Asks SPD to Phase Out Routine Traffic Stops

Image by Erik Mclean via Unsplash.

By Paul Kiefer

Citing concerns from community members and police officers about the dangers of police traffic stops, Seattle Inspector General Lisa Judge sent a letter to Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz on Tuesday asking him to start phasing out traffic stops for “civil and non-dangerous violations”—violations that, unlike DUI or reckless driving, do not endanger the public.

Judge, whose office conducts audits of systemic problems within SPD and issues policy recommendations, cited half a dozen well-known examples of traffic stops that turned fatal. Her list included a traffic stop for a suspended license on Aurora Avenue North that led to an SPD officer fatally shooting 36-year-old Iosia Faletogo on New Year’s Even in 2018; Faletogo’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city in March.

“Stopping a person is a significant infringement on civil liberty and should be reserved for instances when a person is engaged in criminal conduct that harms others,” Judge wrote. “Stops for government-created requirements like car tabs, with nothing but a potential monetary penalty, do not justify the risk to community or to officers.”

Judge also noted that even non-fatal traffic stops can undermine public trust in police officers. Traffic stops are the most common type of encounter between police and civilians—SPD issued nearly 28,000 traffic infractions in 2019 alone—and Black and Latino drivers are far more likely to be injured or killed during routine traffic stops.

SPD isn’t required to act on Judge’s letter, nor is the letter a fully formed policy proposal. Judge’s office will need to conduct more research into best practices for phasing out low-level traffic stops.

However, Judge told PubliCola that she believes the issues she raised in her letter require an urgent response. “Rather than taking to time for a painstaking audit, we have a practice of sending an ‘alert letter’ to SPD to get the ball rolling quickly.” This isn’t the first issue Judge has flagged for SPD: In February, her office sent letters to Diaz urging him to clarify his department’s vehicle pursuit guidelines and to reconsider how his officers respond to people experiencing mental health crises while carrying knives.

Judge is not alone in pressuring police departments to scale back the use of traffic stops: during the final weeks of this year’s state legislative session, state senator and King County Executive candidate Joe Nguyen (D-34, West Seattle) introduced a long-shot bill that would prohibit police officers from stopping drivers for eight minor civil violations. Nguyen told PubliCola in April that he hopes the issue will return to the surface during next year’s session.

If SPD follows Judge’s recommendation, Seattle would join a growing number of cities across the country—both small and large—taking steps to reduce the risks posed by traffic stops to both officers and civilians. In 2020, the New York State attorney general recommended that New York City’s police department phase out traffic stops for minor violations after officers shot and killed a driver in the Bronx whom they had stopped for a seatbelt violation in October 2019. More recently, after Brooklyn Center, Minnesota police officer Kimberly Potter shot and killed 20-year-old Duante Wright during a traffic stop last month, Brooklyn Center’s city council voted to prohibit police officers from stopping drivers for minor traffic infractions and non-felony offenses or warrants, instead assigning that responsibility to a new civilian department.

Police Chief Diaz on Why He Hasn’t Fired Any Officers for Excessive Force

Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz

By Paul Kiefer

On Wednesday, Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz announced his decision to overturn the Office of Police Accountability’s (OPA) findings in one of the most prominent misconduct cases of last summer’s protests. The case centered on the Seattle Police Department’s use of blast balls, tear gas and pepper spray against protesters at the intersection of 11th Ave. and Pine St. on the evening of June 1, 2020, after an officer attempted to yank a pink umbrella out of a protester’s hands.

The chief’s decision to overturn the OPA’s finding of excessive force against Lieutenant John Brooks, who gave the order to use the weapons against protesters, sparked an outcry from police accountability advocates and activist groups. The Community Police Commission, one of Seattle’s trio of police oversight bodies, called Diaz’s decision “detrimental to community trust in SPD and Seattle’s entire police accountability system,” particularly because he offered no detail about how he would hold decision-makers at a “higher level of command authority” responsible in lieu of Brooks.

In a conversation with PubliCola last week, Diaz said he does not want his decision to absolve Brooks of responsibility to overshadow his record as a disciplinarian. Since becoming interim chief in September 2020, Diaz has fired eight officers for misconduct, and two more officers retired to avoid termination; Diaz displays their badges in a wooden box on his desk.

“If there’s an officer-involved shooting and the officer has a history of complaints from years past, we’re going to say, ‘we’ve trained you, we’ve done everything we can for you and you’re still not getting it. That might end up reaching the level of termination.”

Of the ten officers Diaz has fired or would have fired, nearly all violated SPD’s policies prohibiting dishonesty or biased policing; among those officers was Sina Ebinger, who retired in lieu of termination after lying about misusing SPD’s Navigation Team to pick up her trash, as well as a 911 dispatcher who told a Black caller that “all lives matter.

But Diaz has not yet fired any officers for using excessive force, despite the flood of use-of-force complaints stemming from last year’s protests. Diaz told PubliCola that when compared to dishonesty, the disciplinary standards for excessive force are generally less harsh. “A lot of inappropriate use of force cases are incidents in which an officer put hands on a person or did something that didn’t cause an injury, but could still be excessive,” he said. “That doesn’t mean the officer was dishonest about it—they documented the incident, and they explained why they thought their actions were appropriate, but their supervisor disagreed.” Continue reading “Police Chief Diaz on Why He Hasn’t Fired Any Officers for Excessive Force”

What Became of the Legislature’s Big Plans for Police Reform?

Washington State Capitol (Creative Commons)

By Paul Kiefer

At the beginning of the legislative session in January, police accountability appeared to be front and center on many legislators’ agendas. By the time the session ended last Sunday, lawmakers had narrowed a broad array of police reform proposals to a core list of bills that expands the state’s role in police oversight and tactics, although some efforts to address gaps in police oversight—particularly police union contracts—fell short.

The agency that will play an enforcement role in the legislature’s police reform efforts is the state’s Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC), a group of civilians and law enforcement officers appointed by the governor that has the power to issue—and revoke—licenses to work as a law enforcement officer in Washington. On Sunday, the legislature sent a bill to Gov. Jay Inslee that will expand the CJTC’s authority to investigate officers for misconduct and suspend or revoke their licenses, a process known as decertification.

The legislation, originally sponsored by Senators Jamie Pedersen (D-43, Seattle) and Manka Dhingra (D-45, Bellevue), empowers the commission to discipline officers at their own discretion; under prior state law, the CJTC had to wait until a law enforcement agency fired an officer before considering whether to revoke the officer’s license, which allowed problematic officers to transfer to new agencies to escape consequences for misconduct.

Lawmakers passed new restrictions barring police officers from firing at moving vehicles, prohibiting judges from issuing so-called “no-knock warrants,” and limiting the contexts in which officers can initiate car chases or use off-leash police dogs.

The law will also require law enforcement agencies to report any serious use-of-force incidents to the commission, as well as any misconduct allegations or criminal charges of which their officers are found guilty. The commission would use that information to identify officers whose misconduct is serious enough to merit disciplinary action, including decertification.

Notably, the bill will alter the CJTC’s makeup, reducing the number of law enforcement representatives on the commission from ten to six and increasing the number of community representatives from two to seven. In total, the commission will grow from 16 to 21 members; other additions include a civilian police oversight expert. Members of the public will also be able to search a new CJTC database to track officers’ disciplinary and employment history. Continue reading “What Became of the Legislature’s Big Plans for Police Reform?”

The C Is for Crank: God Doesn’t Care How You Protest

By Erica C. Barnett

Before a press conference last week responding to the guilty verdict in the trial of George Floyd’s murderer, Mayor Jenny Durkan handed the mic over to the Rev. Leslie Braxton, pastor of New Beginnings Christian Fellowship church in Kent, “for a prayer and some words of wisdom.”

Braxton, who is Black, had the unenviable job of setting the tone for a government press conference responding to a rare case of justice delivered in a system that continues to allow police to kill Black men and women with impunity. Durkan and SPD responded to the protests sparked by Floyd’s murder last year with an overwhelming show of force, and by barricading two police precincts behind concrete walls.

In his remarks, Braxton urged protesters to be peaceful and obey the law. “There’s no reason for anyone to burn anything, to loot anything, or be unnecessarily confrontational,” he said. He asked God to “be with us all, and let us all behave in such a way that might make others think that we know you ourselves.”

Later, interim Seattle police chief Adrian Diaz provided some secular reinforcement to Braxton’s plea: The police had no problem with demonstrations, he said, but “we cannot let the city burn.” 

The same afternoon, in a press release, Durkan declared a citywide prayer. “The City of Seattle – in coordination with faith leaders – will be hosting a citywide prayer and moment of silence at 7 pm,” Durkan announced.

Seattle has not “burned,” either last week or last summer. Nor is this the first time the city has participated in an state-sanctioned prayer—a right the US Supreme Court effectively upheld in 1983, when it found that prayer at government meetings was “deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country.”

However: Just because the mayor of Seattle has the right to hold a prayer at a press conference, and just because she can declare a citywide prayer, that doesn’t mean she should.

Enoka Herat, Police Practices and Immigration Counsel for the ACLU of Washington, said Durkan’s call to worship was a distraction from the real issues facing elected leaders and SPD, including police violence and racial bias in policing.

Any prayer that conscripts God to advocate for a government directive or discourage civil disobedience against objectionable policies is inherently political, a violation of church-state separation in spirit if not law.

“Whether, when, and how to pray is a deeply personal decision, and the government should not intrude on it,’ Herat said. “The city should be putting its energy into eliminating the racial injustice inherent in the way it currently polices its communities.”

Washington state is one of the least religious states in the country, with about half the population saying they don’t practice any religion. In another poll about religious affiliation, only about half of Seattle residents even nominally identified as Christian, and 37 percent had no religious affiliation. Continue reading “The C Is for Crank: God Doesn’t Care How You Protest”

Findings Against Former Police Misconduct Investigator Highlight New Oversight Challenges

Protesters gather at Seattle City Hall on June 3, 2020 (Bruce Englehardt via Creative Commons)

By Paul Kiefer

As protesters began to trickle away from a Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Seattle on May 30, 2020, an unmarked Seattle Police Department cruiser waited at an intersection near  department headquarters while a small crowd of demonstrators crossed the street. “God, I fucking hate these people,” said one of the officers in the cruiser as the crowd passed.

A small gap opened in the crowd as the traffic light switched to yellow. The cruiser’s driver—a sergeant, and the most senior of the four officers in the car—flashed the car’s warning lights and accelerated towards the protesters in the crosswalk. A few marchers dove to safety, barely escaping the cruiser as it passed. Onlookers watched as the cruiser sped away. Inside the car, an officer laughed.

Now, misconduct allegations against the sergeant, and how the city handled them, help illuminate how the last year’s protests have pushed the city’s police oversight bodies into uncharted waters.

The case of a sergeant who drove through a crowd of protesters is an unusual example of an OPA staffer being investigated for misconduct—and a unique example of an OPA employee facing an investigation unrelated to their work with the oversight office.

Within months of the incident, the sergeant took a new position as a misconduct investigator with SPD’s Office of Police Accountability. At the time of his transfer, the sergeant’s disciplinary record didn’t raise any red flags. While OPA Director Andrew Myerberg has a hand in deciding which officers transfer to and from his office, he said he wasn’t aware that the sergeant had driven through a group of marchers at the start of last summer’s protests, so he gave his approval to the new arrival.

Then a witness filed a complaint with the OPA about the near-hit-and-run, calling the sergeant’s actions “completely unprofessional and terrifying.” Although the sergeant wasn’t an investigator when he drove the cruiser into the crowd, his case is an unusual example of an OPA staffer being investigated for misconduct—and a unique example of an OPA employee facing an investigation unrelated to their work with the oversight office.

The OPA handed the investigation into the sergeant’s misconduct to a relatively new office: Seattle’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), an oversight agency that conducts audits of systemic or policy-based problems within SPD—and, in cases like that of the sergeant, investigates misconduct complaints against OPA staff.

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Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

The OIG’s ability to investigate OPA staff may help reveal some of OPA’s own vulnerabilities. As mandated by the city’s contract with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild—Seattle’s largest police union—nine of the OPA’s 11 investigators are sworn police officers. The sergeant’s case revealed an inevitable challenge for the OPA: officers who transfer to the office from other roles in SPD may carry baggage, including a history of misconduct, that isn’t immediately apparent to the OPA director.

OIG’s ability to investigate OPA staff relatively quickly could improve Seattle’s police oversight system, but only if the OPA director has the power to remove problematic investigators from their staff. Whether the OPA director can successfully exercise that authority remains untested.

The sergeant also argued that his driving decisions weren’t a problem because they “worked out”—he hadn’t injured any demonstrators.

The OIG is not the first agency to investigate misconduct by OPA staff, but its creation by the Seattle City Council in 2017 vastly improved the efficiency of those investigations. Until 2017, Seattle’s Human Resources Department (or, in some cases, a private attorney) investigated most complaints against OPA staff. That structure was significantly slower than other misconduct investigations, in part because the investigators lacked significant experience in police oversight.

In findings released on April 7, Inspector General Lisa Judge ruled that the sergeant who drove through the crowd on May 30 had violated SPD’s standards for professionalism and safe driving. His decision to drive through a group of demonstrators, she wrote, “put an exclamation point on the community sentiment being expressed during [last summer’s] protests,” as did his failure to chastise his passengers for laughing as protesters dove to avoid their car. Continue reading “Findings Against Former Police Misconduct Investigator Highlight New Oversight Challenges”

Last-Minute Bill Would Limit Police Traffic Stops

State Sen. Joe Nguyen (D-34)
State Sen. Joe Nguyen (D-34)

By Paul Kiefer

When video of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota police officer Kim Potter killing 20-year-old Duante Wright during a traffic stop started to circulate across the country, Sen. Joe Nguyen (D-34, West Seattle) realized that the slate of police reform legislation that went before the Washington State Legislature this year had a noticeable hole. “We talk all the time about driving while Black,” he said, “and for some reason, it just didn’t connect with me that we should just prevent cops from using minor violations as a way to stop and question people.”

In a last-minute effort to build momentum for next year’s legislative session, Nguyen wrote a new bill—just one page long—that he hopes will curtail opportunities for minor traffic stops to escalate into arrests or shootings. In its current form, the bill only prevents police officers from stopping drivers for eight common moving violations, including improper turns, driving with expired tags, and driving without a valid license. “A lot of the work that we’ve been doing has been focused on police tactics and accountability measures,” said Nguyen, “but this bill is about trying to stop the confrontations in the first place.”

“If an officer approaches every stop with the mindset that they are looking for dangerous people, they will act in ways that potentially confirm this ‘danger bias’ during the traffic stop—potentially leading to deadly consequences.”—Seattle Inspector General Lisa Judge

The bill is based on similar legislation that Virginia’s legislature passed last year, which lawmakers in that state said would effectively end the use of so-called “pretext stops”—traffic stops in which a police officer uses a minor moving violation as an excuse to detain a driver they suspect of a more serious crime.

The Washington state supreme court initially ruled pretext stops unconstitutional in 1999. However, in a related decision in 2012, the court backtracked by recognizing so-called “mixed-motive stops,” wherein an officer may stop a driver whom they suspect of a more serious crime if they have a serious, “independent” intent to also address a moving violation. The introduction of the “mixed-motive stop” effectively reversed the court’s 1999 decision, because disproving an officer’s claims about the motives for a traffic stop is exceedingly difficult.

Seattle Inspector General Lisa Judge, who leads audits of Seattle Police Department tactics and discipline, told PubliCola that she’s aware that community members and officers consider minor traffic stops to be “inherently dangerous,” both for the officer conducting the stop and for the driver, and particularly for drivers of color. “Given the significant concerns all around, it begs the question why police continue to stop vehicles for low-level, oftentimes civil, violations,” she wrote in a text. “Is the inherent risk of that encounter devolving to use of force or a death worth writing a ticket for expired registration or a broken taillight?” Continue reading “Last-Minute Bill Would Limit Police Traffic Stops”

Court Upholds Firing of Officer Who Punched Handcuffed Woman, Challenges Authority of Arbitrators

By Paul Kiefer

The Washington State Court of Appeals issued a ruling on Monday upholding the Seattle Police Department’s 2016 decision to fire Officer Adley Shepherd for punching a woman while she was handcuffed in the back of a patrol car.

After then-Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole announced she was firing Shepherd, Shepherd and his union, the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG), appealed her decision to an arbitrator—in this case, an attorney who can approve, adjust or overturn disciplinary actions for police officers. In 2018, the arbitrator sided with Shepherd, directing SPD to re-hire him and offer back pay.

But Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes stood by Shepherd’s firing, asking the King County Superior Court to vacate the arbitrator’s decision—a rare challenge to the authority of arbitrators in police disciplinary cases, whose decisions are typically final. The Superior Court agreed with Holmes; after another appeal by SPOG, so did the Court of Appeals.

The city’s success in the Shepherd case could have broader implications for police discipline in both Seattle and Washington State as a whole. The ruling underscores the importance of consequences for misuses of force by police; it also casts a spotlight on efforts to reform the arbitration process itself, which many reformers argue is biased in police officers’ favor.

In June 2014, Shepherd arrested 23-year-old Miyekko Durden-Bosley after stepping into an argument between Durden-Bosley and her daughter’s father, Robert Shelby. At the time, Durden-Bosley was drunk and agitated, but she hadn’t committed any obvious crimes—Shelby’s mother had called 911 to report that Durden-Bosley had threatened her son over the phone, and Shepherd arrived to investigate.

The Court of Appeals took the unprecedented step of outlining an “explicit, well-defined and dominant public policy” prohibiting the excessive use of force by police rooted in the US Constitution and underscored in Seattle’s 2012 agreement with the Department of Justice that requires SPD to address “unconstitutional practices” by its officers.

When Shepherd handcuffed Durden-Bosley and pushed her into the back seat of his patrol car, she kicked him in the jaw. Two seconds later, Shepherd retaliated by punching Durden-Bosley in the eye, leaving her with two small fractures in her eye socket. Shepherd himself was mostly uninjured by the kick. After investigations into the incident by several oversight agencies, including Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA), O’Toole decided to fire Shepherd for the unnecessary use of force. Throughout the investigations, Shepherd refused to acknowledge that he had made a mistake; after his firing, he maintained his innocence and appealed O’Toole’s decision.

The arbitrator who later reviewed Shepherd’s appeal didn’t dispute that Shepherd violated SPD policy when he punched the handcuffed Durden-Bosley. However, the arbitrator also concluded that the circumstances surrounding Shepherd’s punch—both the argument and kick that preceded it, specifically— had “mitigate[d] somewhat the seriousness” of his policy violation, and that firing Shepherd was an excessive response to his actions—before Shepherd, the arbitrator noted, SPD had never fired an officer for using “unreasonable non-lethal force on a suspect.”

Instead, the arbitrator ordered SPD to re-hire Shepherd and offer him back pay for all but 15 days of the time that had passed since his firing; those 15 days, the arbitrator decided, would suffice as a punishment for his policy violation. According to Seattle’s contract with SPOG, the arbitrator’s decision was final.

Nevertheless, Holmes decided to challenge the arbitrator’s ruling, arguing that reinstating Shepherd would violate the “public policy against excessive use of force in policing.” Despite SPOG’s objections, the Superior Court agreed that Shepherd had unambiguously breached an “explicit, well-defined and dominant public policy” and that a 15-day suspension wouldn’t suffice as a consequence. Continue reading “Court Upholds Firing of Officer Who Punched Handcuffed Woman, Challenges Authority of Arbitrators”

Afternoon Fizz: Sheriff Fires Deputy, New Director Lays Out Plans for Homelessness Authority, City Reinstates 72-Hour Parking Rule

King County Regional Homelessness Authority director Marc Dones

1. King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht will fire a detective for failing to follow basic de-escalation policies and for “extremely poor tactical and officer safety decisions” before fatally shooting a car theft suspect near Enumclaw in 2019.

Detective George Alvarez is a 21-year veteran of the sheriff’s office with a lengthy use-of-force record, including five shootings and a criminal charge for assaulting and threatening an informant in 2003. In November 2019, Alvarez and his partner, Detective Josh Lerum, were driving an unmarked car when they spotted 36-year-old Anthony Chilcott, wanted for stealing an SUV and a pet poodle, driving in rural southeastern King County. Earlier that day, Chilcott had evaded a Washington State Patrol officer, but when the detectives found him, he had parked next to a power station to smoke a cigarette. At the time, Johanknecht wrote, “there was no imminent risk” to members of the public.

Nevertheless, without consulting with Lerum or waiting for backup, Alvarez decided to pull within inches of Chilcott’s driver’s-side door, sparking a confrontation that ended with both detectives shooting Chilcott in the head. Neither detective was wearing a sheriff’s uniform, and witnesses at a bus stop nearby told investigators that they didn’t initially realize that the pair that rammed the stolen SUV across the road and broke the driver’s-side window with a sledgehammer and the butts of their handguns were police officers.

In a letter to Alvarez explaining her decision, Johanknecht emphasized that she did not decide to fire him for the shooting itself, but for his decisions that led up to the shooting. “You did not use the opportunity you had to slow things down,” Johanknecht wrote. “The urgency here was created by your actions, not the actions of the suspect.” Johanknecht and other department leadership also called into question Alvarez’s claims that Chilcott posed an “immediate danger” to witnesses at a bus stop nearby. Instead, Johanknecht argued that Alvarez’s actions had placed bystanders—and Lerum—in danger by sparking an unnecessary confrontation with Chilcott.

For his part, Lerum received a written reprimand for not wearing his ballistic vest or clothing identifying himself as a law enforcement officer during the encounter.

In a press release on Thursday, King County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Sergeant Tim Meyer drew a parallel between Chilcott’s death and the failed sting operation in 2017 during which plainclothes sheriff’s deputies shot and killed 17-year-old Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens on a residential street in Des Moines. King County agreed to pay a $2.25 million settlement to Dunlap-Gittens’ family in May 2020; however, according to Meyer, Alvarez is the first officer whom Johanknecht has fired for misuse of force or failure to de-escalate since taking office in 2017.

Cooper Offenbecker, an attorney representing Alvarez, told the Seattle Times that his client intends to appeal Johanknecht’s decision.

According to Rachel Schulkin, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office, the city “will not immediately resume issuing citations starting April 1 and will instead have a grace period in which we remind the public about the parking rules.”

2. In a media availability this week, new King County Regional Homelessness Authority director Marc Dones said they intended to “allow for regional variations” in how various parts of King County respond to homelessness, giving the example of a “mega-shelter in Black Diamond” as something that “would not make sense” as part of a regional response. “I don’t see this job as being about running roughshod or issuing policy fiats; it will be about building things together,” they said.

However, Dones added, they are not interested in promoting the narrative that Seattle is somehow producing homelessness or generating the region’s homeless population; cities are natural “draws” for people experiencing homelessness in nearby areas, they said and “there is a natural pull to where there are services. We see this in jurisdictions across the country—people go where they think they can get the help they need.” Continue reading “Afternoon Fizz: Sheriff Fires Deputy, New Director Lays Out Plans for Homelessness Authority, City Reinstates 72-Hour Parking Rule”