by Carolyn Bick
The Office of Police Accountability has determined in a two-part investigative summary that at least eight Seattle police officers violated Seattle Police Department policy when they registered to vote using the addresses of different Seattle Police Department precincts. One of those officers was current Seattle Police Officers Guild President Mike Solan.
The Office of Police Accountability’s (OPA) initial investigation was triggered after the Emerald broke the news on the matter in a July 2020 article about five officers who had registered to vote at police precincts. It appears that the OPA subsequently investigated these five officers and several more, according to a two-part investigative summary released on June 11. The second part of the summary is the longer and more detailed of the two.
The OPA said that it had referred the issues to the Seattle Police Department (SPD) for criminal investigation, given that — absent meeting the requirements of Washington State’s Address Confidentiality program — registering to vote at an address that is not one’s residence is a Class C felony under Washington State law that can carry with it a five-year incarceration sentence or a $10,000 fine. It appears that none of the officers the OPA investigated were in the state’s Address Confidentiality Program. The OPA also notes in the second part of its two-part investigative summary that registering to vote at an address that is not one’s residence constitutes a Class C felony.
However, it appears that the SPD didn’t even bother to conduct a criminal investigation into the apparent felony matter.
The second part of the OPA’s two-part summary of its own investigation into the matter states that “SPD did not conduct any criminal investigation at all, citing to an [sic] SPD Captain’s erroneous assertion that she was personally aware that the Named Employees lived within Seattle and to an ongoing investigation by the King County Department of Elections.
“No statement was provided by the Captain and her opinion regarding the residence status of the Named Employees was conveyed by a Lieutenant,” the OPA summary reads. Moreover, “[t]he only ‘evidence’ included with the criminal investigation was a news article from KOMO, which referenced an interview with a Department of Elections official. SPD returned the case to OPA and OPA commenced its administrative investigation.”
It appears that the SPD also did not bother to take the Emerald’s initial article — again, the one that triggered the entire investigation — into account as evidence. The SPD was aware of the article’s existence, because when the Emerald requested comment on the matter on July 20, 2020, then-media-relations officer Sgt. Lauren Truscott said she would look into the matter and acknowledged that the article had already been published. The following morning, she sent a brief email: “Good morning. Thank you for your inquiry and bringing this to our attention. This matter has been sent to the Office of Police Accountability for review.”
Though the OPA did not sustain allegations that any of these officers who appear to have violated voter laws violated SPD policy 5.001, which states that “Employees Must Adhere to Laws, City Policy and Department Policy,” the OPA said that this is because it was not within the agency’s “expertise” to investigate or prosecute voter violations.
“This is within the purview of the King County Board of Elections and/or the County Auditor. Moreover, based on OPA’s reading of RCW 29A.08.010, these entities have sole jurisdiction to investigate these cases and, if criminal conduct is determined, to refer them to a prosecuting attorney,” the OPA summary read. “Given this, as well as due to the fact that the Board of Elections’ investigation is still pending, OPA declines at this point to opine on whether the Named Employees engaged in intentional voter fraud as contemplated by the RCW.”
The OPA also notes again in the summary that “the Department of Elections investigation remained ongoing and, depending on findings, could result in a referral to a prosecutor for the filing of charges.”
Ultimately, the OPA only interviewed five of the eight officers who faced voter fraud allegations, because three of the officers declined to be interviewed. These three officers were no longer employed with SPD at the time of OPA’s investigation, with one of those officers retiring while on leave, which he had taken before the OPA’s investigation began. At the time of OPA’s investigation into this latter officer, he did not have a residential address on file with SPD and only used a P.O. box in Seattle for official correspondence.
The OPA also appears to have investigated several more officers, as indicated in the first part of the investigative summary, but appears to have not turned up anything substantial.
While all of the officers the OPA interviewed denied intentionally violating the law — all of them claimed that they were unaware of the requirements surrounding voting addresses, and some claimed that they believed their voting addresses were automatically updated when they registered a vehicle or got a driver’s license — the OPA states baldly that while it could not “definitely prove the Named Employees’ lack of awareness, the assertion that their voter registrations were automatically set appears to be contradicted by the plain language of 29A.08.340.”
The OPA meted out discipline recommendations of either a written reprimand or a one-day suspension without pay for these officers. Because three of the officers had retired, they did not face discipline. However, as the OPA noted, this does not rule out the possibility that some or all of the involved officers may face criminal prosecution once the Department of Elections’ investigation has concluded.
The Emerald has reached out to the Department of Elections for comment on the matter on June 11. Department of Elections Communications Officer Halei Watkins responded to the Emerald on June 14.
In her email, Watkins said that for the officers who did not immediately change their addresses after the Emerald‘s initial story was released, the department followed up twice with letters telling these officers that they needed to do so.
Watkins did not say which officers were slow to change their addresses, but said that “[a]ll but two either updated or cancelled their registrations.
“The two that we didn’t hear back from in the course of that outreach are Jon Girtch and Terry Dunn, who have yet to update their address or cancel their registration with us. Dunn is listed as inactive, which means they do not get a ballot mailed to them,” Watkins said. “This happens when ballots or other official correspondence come back to us as undeliverable mail. Unless the inactive voter reaches out to update their registration, cancel it, or their registration is successfully challenged, they will remain on inactive status and thus not receive a ballot for two federal elections before being cancelled.”
“The issue with these two voters is being forwarded to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for further investigation,” Watkins continued. “We have also flagged all the addresses from these instances in our voter registration system to prevent anyone from registering at them going forward.”
The Emerald followed up on June 14 to up to ask whether the officers who changed their addresses but still used them to vote — an act that would appear to be in violation of Washington State voter laws — would face any consequences, as well as what would happen to a normal voter in this scenario.
Watkins said in a June 15 email that “[w]hile it’s not very common that someone registers at a business address … it does happen sometimes.
“This is the exact thing we would do for any voter, regardless of who they are or what they do for a living – outreach to explain that they need to use their home address rather than a business address, give them a chance to rectify the situation, and then if we don’t hear from them, it goes to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (PAO) for a potential voter registration challenge. Any legal ramifications or actions are up to the PAO,” Watkins said.
The Emerald asked for further clarification, specifically regarding any consequences. Watkins iterated in a June 17 email, saying that the Department of Elections “followed the exact same process with these voters that we would with any voter, which is outreach to inform them they need to register using their residential address, not a work address, and if they don’t take action to rectify the situation through that outreach then they get referred to the PAO for further investigation and a potential challenge to their registration.
“Any legal action is decided by the PA’s Office, not by Elections,” Watkins said.
Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. As the Emerald’s Watchdragon reporter, they dive deep into local issues to keep the public informed and ensure those in positions of power are held accountable for their actions. You can reach them here and can check out their work here and here.
📸 Featured Image: Screenshot of a Converge Media interview with Mike Solan, president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, in July 2020. On Friday, the Office of Police Accountability found that eight officers, including Solan, violated SPD policy by registering to vote at their precinct address rather than their residences.
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