by Carolyn Bick
The Emerald’s Watchdragon reporting seeks to increase accountability within our city’s institutions through in-depth investigative journalism.
Author’s Note: The Emerald has redacted the name of the former auditor at the heart of this story, as well as all email addresses, a suspect’s face, and an email included in the ethics complaint (due to concerns about job security in the latter case).
A senior-level Office of Inspector General (OIG) auditor has resigned from their position as investigations supervisor over their concerns that Inspector General Lisa Judge and Deputy Inspector General Amy Tsai have quashed any pushback against the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) — among other duties, the office the OIG is supposed to audit and oversee as part of Seattle’s police accountability system — rendering the OIG’s staff little more than rubber stampers for OPA investigations. The former auditor alleges in a formal ethics complaint to the City that this systematic pushback is based in part on a personal relationship between Deputy IG Amy Tsai and the OPA director and is focused on “appeasing the OPA.”
In the former auditor’s brief Aug. 5, 2021, resignation letter to Judge (which the Emerald obtained, along with a formal ethics complaint dated the same day to the City of Seattle’s Ethics and Elections Commission Executive Dir. Wayne Barnett, the City’s HR Investigations Unit Director Steve Zwerin, and Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold) the now-former auditor — who was an investigations supervisor and whom the Emerald will refer to throughout this article as “C” out of respect for the former auditor’s wish for anonymity in this article — says that they originally joined the OIG because they believed in the mission of police oversight. However, in the course of their seven months with OIG, they “discovered the dysfunctional organizational culture and leadership at OIG does not align with my core values.”
“It has become apparent to me OIG is more interested in preserving political allegiances than providing police oversight,” the former auditor’s resignation letter reads.
C’s formal ethics complaint dives into their “urgent concern” regarding Judge’s and Tsai’s leadership and orders to OIG staff about the scope of their duties. C’s ethics complaint breaks up their concerns into two allegations: “Failure to provide independent oversight of OPA” and “Pattern of concealing the truth and avoiding public disclosure request requirements.”
C states in the ethics complaint that though the accountability ordinance states that the OPA, OIG, and Community Police Commission (CPC) “have an obligation to exercise independent judgment and offer critical analysis in the performance of their duties” and that “[t]hese oversight entities shall exercise their responsibilities … without interference from any person, group, or organization,” C says that “[i]t is clear to me that independence and critical oversight of OPA is not only dismissed by OIG, but also discouraged.”
“During my tenure as Supervisor of Investigations, I was told numerous times I was forbidden from sending any email which is critical of OPA or could be misinterpreted as being critical of OPA,” C’s complaint reads. C then proceeds to list several instances of this allegation.
C says that “[o]n July 13, 2021, I was verbally reprimanded by the Deputy IG [Tsai] for my tone in an email to OPA, which simply stated, ‘Andrew [Myerberg, OPA director], If you have comments and perspectives you would like to share with us, please send them over. Thank you, [C].’”
However, C alleges that “[i]n a follow-up phone call, the Deputy IG told me it is the policy of the IG that any statement which could be construed as negative toward OPA should take place via phone call only. The reason for this was to avoid the press having ‘ammunition’ to portray OPA in a bad light, as this would make the IG’s relationship with OPA Director Andrew Myerberg more difficult. I expressed my frustration with this stance, as it is counter to our oversight position, but was again told it is a political decision made by the IG and I must abide by this policy.”
There is a footnote along with the latter statement that reads, “Other staff members have had similar conversations where they were told it is important to be friends with the OPA Director and to maintain a friendly, collegial relationship, as they are an accountability partner.”
In another instance, C says that “[o]n Thursday, April 22, 2021, I emailed the IG, the Deputy IG, and the OIG team leads, to bring attention to my profound concerns with a Director’s Certification Memo (DCM) OPA Director Myerberg sent to the Seattle Police Department (SPD) chain of command. In an attached interoffice memo, I outlined a series of clear inaccuracies contained in the DCM, which did not accurately portray the events of September 7, 2020. No action was taken by the IG in response to this information.”
C says in the complaint that, after several months of inaction on OIG’s part, they “sent a follow-up email and again attached the memo and corresponding DCM” on June 30, 2021.
“I was immediately contacted by the IG [Judge] concerning this email. Via phone call, the IG accused me of sending the email only because I was upset with Myerberg’s statement to a reporter,” C’s letter reads, appearing to indicate Myerberg’s brief quote to the Emerald in its breaking reporting on the partial certification for 2020OPA-0583. “I was then scolded for sending the email to all-staff (which was inaccurate) and again she told me I was never to write anything critical of OPA or the OPA Director. I was told my comments made her (the IG’s) job more difficult. I was then instructed only to provide ‘negative feedback’ concerning OPA via phone call or during staff meetings.
“I expressed my shock at the IG’s reaction and relayed I was troubled she was not concerned with the substance of my findings but was only concerned about OPA’s possible reaction if my email was obtained via Public Disclosure Request (PDR),” C’s letter continues. “We proceeded to go back and forth for 45 minutes, during which I repeatedly told the IG I was uncomfortable with being in an oversight position but being unable to provide substantive oversight. As far as I am aware, the IG took no action on the false information in this DCM and a corrected DCM was never published.”
Myerberg told the Emerald in an Aug. 7 email that he isn’t aware of the ethics complaint but that he is still working on the DCM for both 2020OPA-0583 and 2020OPA-0587 and has not yet finalized either of them.
C has also attached a footnote to their latter statement about the DCM. It reads, “Brought to the IG’s attention similar false statements contained in the 2020OPA-0587 Closed Case Summary.” This Case Closed Summary (CCS) has not yet been released in full (though Part I has been released), but according to this complaint, it appears to contain similarly allegedly false statements to those in 2020OPA-0583, which still has not been publicly released.
C’s ethics complaint contains an interoffice memo, which itself contains more information of which the Emerald had not been in possession at the time the original article about the partial certification of 2020OPA-0583 was published.
In this memo, dated April 20, 2021, C writes that there were numerous issues raised in the partial certification for 2020OPA-0583. The Emerald wrote about these issues. However, C also writes about specific issues with the DCM. These issues were not included in the partial certification memo the Emerald obtained and wrote about in June.
C says in this April 20 memo that just weeks before, on April 8, Myerberg sent a DCM that C says contained “a series of clear inaccuracies, which paint a picture SPD confronted the crowd of protestors in order to apprehend the individual seen carrying a Corona Beer box full of Molotov cocktails. This is inaccurate and not supported by the evidence.”
This latter statement comes with a footnote from C: “This is also contrary to the statement the OPA Investigator made to OIG: ‘The man seen with the Corona beer box and the man throwing the bag of trash have no bearing on the officer’s initial entry into the crowd to arrest the incendiary device suspect. The box of Molotov cocktails was located later and the suspect was identified later, based on SPOG [Seattle Police Officers Guild] video.’”
C then lists the perceived inaccuracies “without comment on significance.” The Emerald has included these in full below, as they appear in the ethics complaint.
1. DCM (Page 5) Referencing CAD report, “At 6:09 PM, Intelligence reported that a male in the crowd wearing tan clothing and a pink bandana possessed approximately twelve Molotov cocktails in a box of Corona beer.”
Actual. CAD report at 6:09PM, “In the crowd, there is male with a Molotov, tan dress and pink bandana. No eyes on yet.”
2. DCM (Page 5) OPA states the individual carrying the beer box, wearing a dark blue or gray hoodie and tan gloves, will be referred to in the DCM as Subject #1.
3. DCM (Page 5) “Two minutes after the report, the call was updated to reflect that there was probable cause to arrest Subject #1.” This is inaccurate.
Actual. The Corona Beer suspect was not discovered until AFTER the protest, when the beer box was discovered in front of SPOG. This is confirmed by numerous SPD personnel, including the OPA Investigator assigned to this case.
4. DCM (Page 5) “Video from a sergeant who led the arrest maneuver showed that, when officers contacted the crowd, a man in tan clothing matching the description and appearance of Subject #1 was visible.” This is inaccurate.
Actual. The individual seen on BWV who the Sgt attempted to arrest was not wearing tan clothing and did not match the description or appearance of Subject #1. See attached photo comparison taken from BWV and arson flyer for Corona Beer suspect.
5. DCM (Page 13) “The initial description provided stated that the suspect was wearing tan and a pink bandana. OPA notes that this is not an accurate suspect description for Subject #1, who was wearing a dark blue hoodie and tan gloves… Orders were given for bicycle officers to move in and attempt an arrest. Intelligence provided an updated suspect description which was an approximate match for Subject #1.” This is inaccurate.
Actual. At no point was an intel description given matching Subject #1, who was wearing a dark blue hoodie and tan gloves. According to the CAD report, immediately prior to SPD moving in on the protestors the updated description was “Blk clothing, Gry backpack…”.
6. DCM (Page 17) “He also noted intelligence about Subject #1, who was observed with Molotov cocktails.” *“He” refers to the Incident Commander, NE#1.
Actual. Again, there was no intelligence given concerning the Corona Beer suspect (Subject #1), as he was not learned of until after the protest.
C writes in the April 20 interoffice memo that “‘Subject #1’ is mentioned over thirty times in this DCM.”
“Each time, OPA refers to Subject #1 as the individual carrying the Corona Beer box, wearing a blue hoodie and tan gloves. The DCM crafts the narrative that Subject #1 was spotted early in the protest, was followed by the intel “plant” in the crowd and was the catalyst for SPD’s confrontation of the protestors,” C writes in the memo.
“This narrative is false,” C continues, bolding the phrase.
C also writes in the memo that the description of the person in the crowd with the alleged incendiary device “changes three times throughout the march to SPOG.”
“From a male wearing a tan dress and pink bandana with a Molotov cocktail, to no bandana but tan clothing, to an individual wearing black, with a gray backpack, carrying a trashbag, who smells of gas. It is unclear if the PC [probable cause] to arrest this person stemmed from merely ‘smells of gas’, as the intel officer was never interviewed, nor was his supervisor who relayed the information,” C writes. They underline the following statement: “What is clear is, at no point does intel relay, ‘a male in the crowd wearing tan clothing and a pink bandana possessed approximately twelve Molotov cocktails in a box of Corona beer.’”
C says in the memo that it is unclear why the OPA “would make such repeated inaccurate statements, but it does convey a narrative SPD has repeated throughout: SPD had probable cause, based on reliable intelligence, to confront the protestors due to reports of an individual in possession of Molotov cocktails.”
This statement hearkens back to the statement in the partial certification memo that the OPA investigation for case 2020OPA-0583 “justifies” officers’ actions “by claiming ‘the officers did not “attack” the crowd, but rather attempted a targeted arrest of a suspect carrying an incendiary device, based on credible reports from an undercover officer in the crowd relaying real-time information captured on radio audio recordings.’”
C continues in the memo that “[i]t is important to note, when the Sgt [Sergeant] attempting the arrest grabbed hold of the trashbag the protestor was holding, there was a struggle and the bag ripped open, trash was visible inside. There was no Molotov cocktail or incendiary device visible or recovered.
“I have serious questions if SPD had the requisite PC required to arrest the seemingly peaceful protestor, who was merely carrying a bag of trash (as were about a dozen other protestors.) This also brings into question their decision to ride into the crowd with three squads of bicycle officers without warning or issuing a dispersal order. This order put both protestors and SPD officers needlessly in harms [sic] way,” C writes.
C then references various materials attached to the interoffice memo that they say help to support their concerns, which consisted of several pictures that appear to demonstrate C’s concerns, as well as a Feb. 9, 2021, memo from the OIG to the OPA.
The Emerald’s original story about the partial certification for 2020OPA-0583 contains an excerpt from this Feb. 9 memo, because the partial certification itself contained said excerpt. However, the Feb. 9 memo is included in full in the redacted copy of the former auditor’s ethics complaint. (Author’s Note: The Emerald has only redacted the signature of the OIG auditor. All other redactions in the Feb. 9 memo were included in the original ethics complaint.)
But C alleges in their ethics complaint that this is not the first time Judge has not taken action regarding “serious concerns” C raised over the OPA’s CCSs or DCMs.
“On January 15, 2021, OPA published the CCS for 2020OPA-0344, involving a protestor who was struck in the chest with a blast ball. During the All-Staff meeting on January 21, 2021, I brought my concerns with this CCS to leadership’s attention,” C writes.
“I was troubled to see a great deal of the complainant’s personal medical information included in the CCS, none of which was provided by the complainant. In this case, OPA obtained unredacted medical records from a Force Investigation (FIT) file and used this sensitive and protected medical information in the CCS and DCM to discredit and diminish the victim’s injuries. OPA included a two-paragraph analysis of her medical records, including the complainant’s ethanol level, speculation concerning pre-existing medical conditions, and an acute alcohol intoxication diagnosis.
“The IG instructed me to draft a letter to OPA, for her signature, conveying these concerns,” C continues. “However, she [Judge] never signed or sent this letter to OPA. She took no formal action, and it wasn’t until the complainant’s attorney filed a formal complaint with OIG that any action was taken (the complaint is now with SDHR [Seattle Department of Human Resources]). As of the date of this letter, this sensitive medical information remains posted on OPA’s website.”
C includes the draft of the letter to Myerberg, written Jan. 26, 2021. This document is contained within the ethics complaint.
In the quoted section of the ethics complaint above and in the Jan. 26 letter, C is referencing this CCS, in which the OPA appears to attribute the fact that a protester went into cardiac arrest after a police officer hit her in the chest with a blast ball to the level of ethanol in her blood (indicating that she had been drinking). But as in another protester’s case (which the Emerald also recently wrote about), this appears to have been a violation of medical privacy laws.
Sarah Lippek, an attorney with Cedar Law, PLLC, who is representing the young woman who went into cardiac arrest (and who is the “complainant’s attorney” referenced in C’s ethics complaint), said that not only was this illegal, but that the OPA did this in order to avoid addressing the damage the officer’s actions appear to have caused — specifically, a cardiac arrest.
Lippek said that, first of all, the young woman neither consented to have her medical records released to the OPA nor gave them to the OPA. She also never consented to have them published in a public forum (in this case, the CCS).
“There are very specific laws about when a hospital can disclose patient information to someone without that patient’s consent. In this case, [the protester] was asked to disclose her medical records. She declined and said she would provide an excerpt and did,” Lippek said in a July 28 interview with the Emerald. “But instead of using that excerpt, someone — either Andrew Myerberg or a FIT [Force Investigation Team] investigator — someone went and got an unredacted copy of [her] medical records, which should not have been released. My contention is that the police probably misrepresented their purpose for getting the records because they didn’t have a legal reason to get them. Obtaining medical records under false pretenses is a crime. It’s a misdemeanor in the criminal code.
“Once someone declines — explicitly told you they would not consent to their records being released to you — then whatever else you’re doing is under false pretenses, unless there is one of the very narrow emergency exceptions,” Lippek continued.
In their Jan. 26 draft letter to Myerberg, C says that Lippek “initially provided a redacted portion of [the young woman’s] medical record to FIT, but it appears OPA later obtained her unredacted medical record from FIT files.
“FIT requested the Subject’s unredacted medical record from Virginia Mason Medical Center without her consent, under section 70.02.200 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), which allows disclosure without consent when law enforcement authorities reasonably believe a serious injury resulted from a criminal act. Under RCW 70.02.200, only specific, narrow information is authorized for such release,” C writes, apparently indicating that the FIT investigators obtained the young woman’s records under one of the narrow emergency exceptions. “However, FIT requested ‘any medical records relating to her treatment’ and a multi-page medical report was released to FIT.”
Lippek said that even if FIT investigators had “gotten the records properly, [the OPA] would have had to have had a proper reason to get them from FIT.”
“It’s not like once one cop is in your medical records, anyone who works for the City of Seattle gets to see your medical records. … Whoever got the records, whether it was OPA or FIT, that was illegal,” Lippek said. “If [the OPA] … got them from FIT — that’s also illegal for FIT to disclose and for [them] to ask, after specific decline.
“At some point, [Myerberg] got the medical records, which would also be an illegal disclosure. He’s not allowed to have the medical records. So, however he got them, that’s illegal. Then he disclosed them. Also illegal,” Lippek continued. “He is a City official. He’s using taxpayer dollars to use private, illegally obtained medical information to smear someone who made a complaint about a police officer, in order to ameliorate the fact that someone had multiple heart attacks because they got hit in the chest with a flash bang.”
C’s Jan. 26 draft letter to Myerberg appears to agree with this statement. C writes in the draft letter that “[d]espite stating in the ROI [Report of Investigation] that the Subject’s medical records were ‘not included as part of the case file due to privacy,’ OPA included details of the Subject’s personal medical information in the CCS, which was then published on OPA’s publicly accessible website.”
“In the CCS, OPA states the medical records were immaterial to the policy violation at issue, but then went on to include a two-paragraph analysis of the Subject’s medical records, including her ethanol level, speculation concerning pre-existing medical conditions, and an acute alcohol intoxication diagnosis,” C writes in the Jan. 26 draft letter. “At one point in the published summary, OPA stated the Subject potentially had a seizure history ‘given a medication she was prescribed that could be used to treat seizure disorders.’
“Furthermore, OPA inlcuded [sic] an immaterial statement against the Subject and her attorney, stating, ‘OPA also finds it troubling that, in the medical records initially provided to FIT by the Subject’s attorney, the information concerning this diagnosis and her ethanol level was redacted throughout,’” C writes.
C continues on to say that the OIG has two concerns, one of which is the “legal and public ramifications of releasing the protected medical information of a private citizen by a police accountability body.” C says that there are several local, state, and national laws prohibiting such disclosure and that although the State RCW may have given FIT the right to obtain these records, the RCW does not say that the OPA may publish this information without the individual’s consent.
C also says that the OIG was “not allowed to review all investigative material prior to certification or OPA’s release for public review via the CCS. Furthermore, OPA hindered the OIG review process by failing to share such information with OIG, claiming initially that it was not included due to privacy concerns. Arguably, if OIG was allowed to review all investigative materials, the disclosure of the Subject’s medical records may have been prevented.”
If true, this allegation would appear to raise an alarming red flag, as the OIG is supposed to oversee and audit the OPA.
Myerberg told the Emerald in his Aug. 7 email that he is “not sure what the reference is to OIG staff not being allowed to review documents in 2020OPA-0344. They have full access to our electronic files and any other documents in our possession and can get any of these materials upon request.”
Lippek told the Emerald in her July 28 interview that another concern she has is that Myerberg is not a medical doctor, and is thus not qualified to make such a diagnosis. In an email to Myerberg on Feb. 23, 2021, Lippek outlined her concerns about the CCS, including stating that the OPA is unqualified to make medical determinations.
“I am concerned that your determination is based in part on medical records that were not only improperly obtained, but that you are not qualified to review,” Lippek writes in her email. “Unless OPA used the services of a medical professional to interpret the records, your statements on the fatality risks of a particular ethanol concentration in the blood are speculative and irrelevant.”
She also says that the OPA’s “letter implies that there was some nefarious reason for redacting [the protester’s] records.”
“Apparently, the records that were improperly obtained were different than those I have,” Lippek writes. “In the record I have reviewed, there is no ‘diagnosis’ that would indicate [the young woman’s] cardiac arrest was from ‘acute intoxication’. I redacted some things when I provided them, like a pregnancy screen, and a tox screen, because they were clearly not relevant to the medical diagnosis – let alone the behavior of the officer who hit [the protester] in the chest.”
Myerberg does not directly answer Lippek’s initial Feb. 23 concern about whether the OPA used the services of a medical professional to arrive at this diagnosis. Instead, he says in an email on Feb. 24 that “[i]n the medical records that you provided, you redacted any reference to [the protester]’s potential intoxication and alcohol level.”
“I obviously don’t know why you did so, but, in OPA’s opinion, this information was relevant to the case, the extent of her injuries, and her ability to accurately recount what occurred. For example, on page 8 of the redacted records, under Assessment and Plan, it states: ‘#Acute Hypoxic Respiratory Failure: multiple reported episodes of apnea and hypoxia on presentation to ED, requiring intubation. Unclear etiology…’,” Myerberg writes. “You redacted the next sentence, which was ‘possibly secondary to acute alcohol intoxication.’ Further on in that paragraph, you also redacted the ethanol level. Looking at the records you provided, it would be impossible to know that there was another potential cause for [the protester]’s injuries apart from the blast ball deployment, which is again relevant to this case.”
“The information we included concerning the significance of the 308 ethanol level and that a level of 400 can be fatal came from the Mayo Clinic,” Myerberg continues, apparently indicating that the OPA did not seek the services of a medical professional.
Myerberg firmly holds that SPD did not violate the State’s medical privacy laws. However, he does not write about whether the OPA did or did not. Instead, he tells Lippek that “any complaint against OPA needs to go through the OIG.”
Lippek contests Myerberg’s statements about the cause of the young woman’s cardiac arrest in a Feb. 24 email, saying that “[i]n the records, it is clear that the ‘possibly secondary to alcohol intoxication’ refers to the hypoxia, not the cardiac arrest, which is elsewhere in the record attributed to chest trauma. I did not attempt to hide this because it was relevant but because it was not relevant. The allegation is that a blastball to the chest caused cardiac arrest.
“Alcohol intoxication does not cause cardiac arrest. Alcohol intoxication does not explain away the cardiac arrest caused to this 26-year-old woman by an explosive munition blast to the chest. I am disappointed in your apparent prioritization of exonerating an officer rather than taking a balanced view of the facts,” Lippek continues.
In her July 28 interview with the Emerald, Lippek explained further that “there is no argument under which [OPA] are charged with, expected to, or entrusted with the interpretation of medical records.”
“[In the email to me, Myerberg] refers to a sentence where he says that … there’s a symptom, and the … note in the medical record says, ‘hypoxia, potentially secondary to’ and then a list of possible things that are precursors to hypoxia,” Lippek said, referencing the February email interaction the Emerald has included above. “What they are saying is that alcohol could have affected her blood oxygen level. So could the cardiac event. They are not saying that alcohol caused the cardiac event. They are not saying she had a heart attack because of alcohol. They are saying that her low blood oxygen could be from this list of four or five different things. And what [Myerberg] is trying to say is that they are saying that the heart attack came from [alcohol].
“So, not only is he not qualified, he is … intentionally not parsing the English language correctly. You can read the sentence. It says ‘hypoxia potentially secondary to’ XYZ factors,” Lippek continued. “It does not say ‘cardiac arrest caused by potential drunkenness.’ There is nowhere in the chart that says the actual underlying complaint that brought her there — which was multiple cardiac arrests — would have arisen from anything but the trauma of getting blasted in the chest with a blast ball.”
In a previous case about SPD officers who appear to have broken voting laws by registering precincts at their voting addresses, though the OPA found that officers had violated professionalism and voting address policy, the OPA writes that it could not determine whether these officers violated SPD policy that states that employees must adhere to city, state, and federal laws.
Instead, the OPA says that “[t]his 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.”
Myerberg told the Emerald in his Aug. 7 email that Lippek has “filed a complaint against me concerning this case and it is currently being investigated by Seattle HR [Human Resources].”
“Aside from disagreeing with your characterizations below,” Myerberg said, referring to the Emerald asking why the OPA felt qualified to make a medical judgement in the young woman’s case but not a legal one about whether officers violated SPD policy, “I’m not permitted to comment on the substance of the investigation until it is completed.”
Lippek told the Emerald that she had filed a complaint with OIG that was transferred to SDHR due to an unspecified conflict of interest. She forwarded a string of late June 2021 emails to the Emerald, which show that the OIG “determined there was potential for a conflict of interest with Lisa Judge being the deciding official on the investigation.”
Lippek asked whether this conflict of interest had to do with her own former position as auditor at OIG.
“Not necessarily,” the OIG answered. The rest of the office’s answer was similarly vague: “The distinction being that this current matter involves allegations of misconduct naming the OPA Director, and is therefore a formal investigation. It was the consensus that the potential for a conflict of interest (or appearance thereof) for our office comes more from how that process plays out.”
Lippek noted to the Emerald in a July 15 email that she has made a handful of other complaints to OIG about the OPA in the past but that this is the first one Judge conflicted herself out of.
SDHR Dir. Steve Zwerin told the Emerald in an Aug. 8 email that he could not comment on Judge’s decision to conflict herself out of the investigation. He also said that “like Mr. Myerberg, I don’t discuss the details of active investigations out of respect for everyone involved as a party or witness to the investigation.”
C does not write about the following interaction in their ethics complaint, but Lippek also told the Emerald in an Aug. 7, 2021, email that she was refused access to the young woman — her client — who was hit in the chest with a blast ball, even though the young woman had asked for her attorney.
“I SHOWED UP, and the FBI still interviewed her without her attorney present while I was literally pounding on the front door and asking every cop I could find to let me in to see my client,” Lippek told the Emerald in the email. “I complained, it was not sustained, but the finding said there was an ongoing investigation into involved ‘unknown officers.’ That was in April. No word on any ‘ongoing investigation’ after multiple inquiries.”
Lippek filed a complaint with the OPA about this incident. The CCS for this complaint, 2020OPA-0398, has not yet been publicly released. Lippek shared the CCS with the Emerald, which shows nothing was sustained. However, as Lippek writes in an April 13 follow-up email to the OPA, the OPA did not in Lippek’s estimation appropriately address the complaint.
“I did not complain that the particular desk officer was necessarily at fault for refusing my client’s access to her attorney. She was denied access to her attorney, and multiple SPD officers knew of the situation and failed to correct it. Any officers involved should have been included in this investigation. I do not consider my complaint addressed,” Lippek writes in her follow-up email. “On the day in question, I was at the door of the precinct, knocking and asking to see my client, when she was interviewed without me by the FBI. During that time I would say that 8 or more officers came and went. I told every single one of them that I was an attorney, and that I needed to be present for my client’s interview. Every one of them ignored what was going on and failed to correct the problem. My OPA complaint makes that clear.
“To arbitrarily limit the OPA inquiry to the single officer whose name I happen to know is poor investigation and produces inaccurate results. I made an OPA complaint in good faith that there would be an actual investigation that would determine which officers were responsible for denying my client her constitutional rights. An investigation that ends with ‘other SPD officers may have been involved’ is not a complete investigation. Those other officers should be identified and interviewed for potential misconduct,” Lippek continues.
Lippek writes in her April 13 email that she is renewing her OPA complaint to specify that she is complaining against all the officers she talked with and that she “would expect OPA to review entrance camera footage to identify all the officers I spoke with, and to also investigate which officers facilitated the FBI interview. My client asked for her attorney many times. The officers she spoke with should also be identified and investigated.”
Months later, Lippek still has not received any more information about 2020OPA-0398. She forwarded the Emerald an email to the OPA on Aug. 4 in which she requests a status update.
Myerberg did not address any questions about this case in his Aug. 7 email reply to the Emerald. It is unclear whether this is because Lippek requested that the case be reopened, which means that it is once again an active investigation if the OPA has reopened it.
Though the case of the young woman taking a blast ball to the chest is the only other specific issue C raises in their ethics complaint, C appears to indicate there may be other cases about which they believe the public should be concerned, saying that “[i]t is impossible for me to adequately do my job when appeasing OPA takes precedent over all else.”
“A matter as simple as publishing a dozen OIG Partial Certification Memorandums has now been postponed indefinitely because OIG leadership did not believe it would be fair to OPA to only publish the partial certifications to the OIG website. This itself is indicative of the disfunction [sic] and misalignment of duty within OIG,” C writes.
C’s footnote regarding publishing the partial certifications to the OIG website reads, “Full certification memos are 2-sentence form responses, which contain no individual analysis or information. It is only the partial certifications which provide a case review. Staff was surprised the IG and Deputy IG insisted on posting or referencing the massive number of full certifications, with the sole purpose of appeasing OPA.”
C continues, alleging what they call a “[p]attern of concealing the truth and avoiding public disclosure request requirements.”
“In staff meetings, we have been repeatedly instructed to limit written communication and, for select meetings, told not to take notes, or keep meeting minutes. Further, we have been instructed to send document links, which are able to be deleted, as opposed to sending attachments via email, with the sole purpose of avoiding PDR’s,” C alleges. “As mentioned above, I have been scolded numerous times about [the] content of my emails because, according to the IG and the Deputy IG, they could be obtained by certain reporters who could manipulate the content to fit their story.”
C includes a footnote regarding the instruction to limit written notes and communications. It reads, “The OIG Operations Manager can corroborate this event.”
C continues: “The leadership at OIG uses email to control their narrative and create a one-sided paper trail. I have never experienced such controls over my communication, despite serving ten years in the United States military.
“I received an email from the Deputy IG at midnight this morning containing a very lengthy critique, in response to an innocuous email; this comes a week after I reached out to HR inquiring about the HR complaint process and amid my unwillingness to be complicit in their unethical behavior,” C writes. “In the entirety of my military and legal career, I have never received such an email from a superior. It is not lost on me that we were scheduled to have our monthly check-in tomorrow [Aug. 6, 2021] and all issues could have been addressed verbally between her and I at that time. There is a pattern of OIG leadership using email to document issues but forbidding their employees from doing the same.”
C includes Tsai’s email towards the end of the ethics complaint. In the email, Tsai does not appear to acknowledge in writing why C felt they were not empowered to communicate with the OPA — specifically, because C was allegedly verbally barred from doing so by Judge and Tsai themselves.
C says that “[t]ransparency within government is vital to promoting accountability and should be welcomed, not avoided.”
“I cannot continue to sit by and watch the people of Seattle be misled by OIG or OPA. I can no longer watch City Council be fed half of a story or be given glowing reports with verbatim language from the IG and the OPA Director,” C writes, before proceeding to describe an instance of such alleged behavior.
“Last summer, an OIG employee expressed concerns with the subpar level of review another OIG employee was exercising in conducting OPA case assessments,” C writes, including a footnote to say that they were not informed about these issues, which C says took place before they became a supervisor in 2021. “No responsive action was taken, and the employee was allowed to continue reviewing sensitive protest cases. Earlier this year another employee came forward expressing similar concerns and I conducted a follow-up review of the employee’s work.”
C says that they then “informed the IG of the disturbing results of this review in May of this year, but this information has yet to be disclosed outside of our office. The IG has now launched efforts to minimize damage to OIG’s public image, but I refuse to have any involvement in rushed efforts taken to address this massive deficiency in oversight before the public or city council becomes aware.”
C includes a footnote noting that this information has yet to be disclosed outside the OIG: “In the June 30, 2021 phone call from IG Judge, I was told it was of special importance not to be critical of OPA because, ‘this is not a time to anger Andrew [Myerberg], with this issue we currently have going on.’ This was in reference to the issues with the protest case certifications and fear of OPA retaliation.”
C closes their complaint by saying that they remain “astonished that I have faced repeated criticism and lecture from the Deputy Director concerning my pushback against OPA, but an employee who is failing to provide even minimal oversight of OPA was allowed to continue without censure for over a year.”
“This issue further illustrates OIG’s focus on maintaining an allegiance with OPA, over providing thorough and unbiased oversight. I certainly am not the only employee who has faced negative repercussions after attempting to provide thorough oversight of OPA,” C writes.
C then asks that the letter be considered a formal complaint against both Judge and Tsai, and says that “[i]t is my strong belief these individuals are currently operating counter to the City Code of Ethics. Further, the leadership at OIG has created a toxic work environment and uses intimidation to silence their employees. I cannot speak for my colleagues on specific issues, but I am certain many have had similar experiences and can corroborate my concerns.”
There are two footnotes regarding the City of Seattle’s Code of Ethics. One is a quote from the Code itself, but the other regards the relationship between the OIG and the OPA. It reads, “Other staff and I have repeatedly been informed of the out of office friendship between the Deputy IG and the OPA Director, including their frequent late night phone calls and social events. This has been used to convey the importance of maintaining a friendly demeanor with OPA.”
In her Aug. 6, 2021, response accepting C’s request for resignation, Judge says that she “must share with you that I am surprised you did not choose to discuss your concerns and/or grievances with me before taking this action, as I feel we could have come to an understanding that might have resulted in you feeling more supported in your role with OIG.”
Judge does not acknowledge the examples that appear to show C had shared concerns multiple times over the course of their seven-month employment at OIG.
Zwerin said in an Aug. 7 email to the Emerald that the complaint is the only information he has received on the matter and that his office will offer C an intake interview but that it’s not clear whether the complaint falls under the purview of his office. He said that his office primarily handles harassment, discrimination, and retaliation claims.
The Emerald reached out to the OIG, specifically to Judge and Tsai — to both via email on Aug. 7 and to Judge again with one more question on Aug. 8 — but neither returned request for comment before publication. The Emerald will update this story with their comments if they respond.
At the Seattle City Council’s Aug. 9 meeting, Councilmember Lisa Herbold outlined C’s complaints to the Council as written at the beginning of the complaint. Herbold said that she would “inquire whether the scope of the complaints themselves are within the authority of the regulatory bodies to consider,” and that, if they were not, determine whether there are other avenues to consider.
The Emerald also reached out to Seattle’s Ethics and Elections Commission and Herbold for comment on Aug. 7. Neither the Ethics and Elections Commission nor Herbold responded before publication, but the Emerald also called both the Ethics and Elections Dir. Wayne Barnett and Herbold on the afternoon of Aug. 9.
Barnett the confirmed to the Emerald that his office received the complaint, but said he is not allowed to talk about the complaint beyond that.
Herbold did not respond to the Emerald‘s phone calls, but later texted and emailed the Emerald to briefly remark that her comments, at this point, are limited to what she said in the Aug. 9 Council meeting.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article referenced an alleged out-of-office friendship between IG Lisa Judge and OPA Dir. Andrew Myerberg. The text has been updated to reflect that the friendship referenced by C is alleged to be between Deputy IG Amy Tsai and Dir. Myerberg. A previous version of this article also mistakenly noted that Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold would speak more at length about the ethics complaint on Aug. 10, 2021, at the 9:30 a.m. Public Safety Committee meeting. The Emerald misunderstood Herbold’s words in the Council briefing.
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.
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