BREAKING: BLMSKC Calls on OIG To Investigate SPD Over Questions of Possible Unlawful Behavior, Coordination with OPA and Mayor’s Office

by Carolyn Bick

Black Lives Matter Seattle – King County (BLMSKC) has submitted a formal request to Seattle’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) to “immediately, transparently, and aggressively” investigate the Seattle Police Department (SPD) over questions that the department “at worst” possibly engaged in “unlawful practices” and “at best” failed “to uphold governing officer conduct policies” over the past three months. The letter links the questions it raises to concerns regarding possible alleged coordination with the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) and the Mayor’s Office.

The letter, which follows on the heels of BLMSKC’s appeal to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC) to investigate the Seattle City Council (SCC), was released mid-morning on Sept. 17. As with the SEEC letter, BLMSKC states that it “makes no accusations,” but instead raises issues and questions for investigation.

According to the OIG’s website, the OIG is responsible for auditing SPD and the civilian police oversight office known as the OPA; reviewing OPA’s handling of complaints and investigating allegations against OPA; and working with SPD “and partners” to improve policies to support best practices. The letter starts by laying out these responsibilities, and says that the OIG “lacks institutional credibility unless it demonstrates … a fundamental commitment to objectivity and accuracy … empathy for community concerns and perspectives on policing, and … an understanding of law enforcement principles, laws, and tactics for safe and effective policing.”

The letter then cites “a growing body of evidence tending to show SPD has failed to uphold its responsibilities and obey the law over the past three months.”

“At worst, the evidence suggests SPD has, through its officers and in its capacity as an institution, consistently engaged in various unlawful practices; and at best, the evidence suggests SPD has failed to uphold governing officer conduct policies,” the letter reads, before citing said specific instances that it asks the OIG to publicly investigate and document. 

The letter states that the questions with which BLMSKC is concerned include excessive use of force and use of chemical and other “less lethal” weapons against civilians; abandonment of the East Precinct; surveillance of protestors; and unlawful influence of police officers. It also asks the OIG to separately investigate the OPA in a fifth and final section.

In the first section regarding use of force, chemical weapons, and “less lethal” munitions, BLMSKC says that the City has video and other existing evidence that shows SPD officers using the aforementioned munitions against protestors. The letter says that the OIG “must” publicly investigate and document several specific incidents that it lays out in the form of unanswered questions with specific dates. These unanswered questions ask what “less lethal” munitions were supplied to the SPD in response to protests before and after June 12, and “what “procedure or protocol was followed or violated in the deployment of these weapons” in this same time frame. The letter also calls on the OIG to investigate “the sequence of events that led to the deployment of ‘less-lethal’ weapons between June 5, 2020-June 8, 2020,” as well as who ordered their deployment.

After quoting a June 19 Crosscut story that appears to reveal conflicting information regarding whether the decision to abandon the East Precinct on Capitol Hill was official or unofficial, the letter iterates the unanswered questions for investigation listed above, and raises additional ones.

These additional unanswered questions include asking who specifically in the SPD gave the official or unofficial order to “officially or unofficially … abandon the East Precinct,” and whether SPD officers used City resources “to coordinate a prolonged abandonment of the East Precinct.” It also asks the OIG to investigate whether SPD officers violated orders and assigned duties by not reporting to the East Precinct, and whether “public safety was jeopardized by increased call times because of this action.”

The letter also asks whether the SPD has been surveilling protestors, and asks the OIG to investigate several unanswered questions, including whether SPD officers used their personal mobile phones or other devices to take and share pictures of protestors around the East Precinct or any other SPD precinct between May 25 and July 25. If this happened, the letter asks the OIG to determine whether these officers’ actions were part of a lawful investigation.

In the same section, the letter also asks the OIG to determine whether SPD officers or other personnel “illegally or in violation of SPD policy … accessed records of individuals believed to be associated with protest organizing” as well as those “of individuals believed to be associated with #DEFUND, specifically those organizing entities working to reduce funding to SPD.”

The fourth section addresses concerns regarding whether the City’s police officers have unlawful influence in certain areas integral to police accountability. The letter asks the OIG to investigate whether any staff — civilian or police — within the OPA “unlawfully or unethically counseled or otherwise provided ‘advice’ or assurance to sworn officers in SPD on how to avoid a complaint or disciplinary action, either in response to a formal complaint, or as pre-emptive advice to insure such a complaint is dismissed or diminished.”

It also asks the OIG to investigate whether elected or appointed staff within the Mayor’s Office “unlawfully or unethically sought to directly influence or interfere with the actions and decisions of SPD’s tactical response during protests outside the East Precinct or any other area of the City of Seattle from May 25, 2020-June 15, 2020 either through in-person communications or actions, text messages, emails, phone calls, or direct messages from City of Seattle employees in the Office of the Mayor to employees of the Seattle Police Department.” The section closes by asking the OIG to investigate the SCC over the same questions as it did the Mayor’s Office.

The fifth and final section asks the OIG to investigate the OPA over questions that date back to August 2018. The section asks the OIG to investigate whether Dir. Andrew Myerberg or any OPA staff — again, civilian or police officer — “unlawfully or unethically shared otherwise internal or confidential information with members of the media in ‘off the record’ discussions where they are not identified by the publication as a named source for information regarding the actions of police officers or disciplinary decisions handed down by SPD, from August 1, 2018-September 2, 2020.”

It then asks whether the OPA shared this alleged information or allegedly made these contacts in an effort to positively or negatively influence media perception of SPD’s disciplinary actions in that time period, and asks why the conversations, if they happened, were not on the record.

The letter closes by stating that it “makes no accusations,” but instead raises issues that “are gravely concerning to Black Lives Matter Seattle King County.”

The Emerald has reached out to Inspector General Lisa Judge and Deputy Inspector General Amy Tsai, OPA Dir. Andrew Myerberg, SPD’s legal and media team, and staff in the Mayor’s Office for comment, and will update this story, if more information becomes available.

Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You can reach them here and here.

Featured image by Susan Fried.