by Carolyn Bick
The Emerald’s Watchdragon reporting seeks to increase accountability within our city’s institutions through in-depth investigative journalism.
At least two private citizens who cite professional experience working with current Office of Police Accountability (OPA) Dir. Andrew Myerberg have signed an open letter addressed to the people of Phoenix, Arizona, urging them to “carefully consider his candidacy and whether to allow him access to your community.” Myerberg is one of the City of Phoenix’s candidates for its recently established Office of Police Accountability and Transparency.
“We believe he is dangerous, and predict that, if hired, he will harm your people,” the letter alleges.
The letter, written by an attorney and former Office of Inspector General (OIG) auditor, is co-signed by fellow former OIG auditor, who resigned in August 2021 from their position as OIG investigations supervisor. Both signatories were in charge of OPA investigation oversight during their tenures at OIG.
The Emerald has also learned that more lawyers, professors, and prominent community members are expected to sign the letter in the coming days. The letter, which is currently publicly available on the Seattle STOP website, will later be made into a shared document for the public to sign within the next week or thereabouts.
The letter draws upon a multitude of sources, including court records, publicly available media reports, and personal experience and anecdotes. Though the letter includes these sources as footnotes, the Emerald will link readers directly to the source within the letter’s text whenever possible. The Emerald would like to specifically note that the original text of the letter does not include these sources as hyperlinks. (Readers should also note that the Seattle Times articles cited in the letter will be blocked by a paywall.) Everything else quoted from within the letter appears verbatim in this story, including bolded text.
The letter alleges that Myerberg has the “potential to hurt those around him” and that the letter itself is meant to “inform you of our professional experience of Mr. Myerberg and what we have observed of his character and behavior during his time in our city.”
The letter goes on to allege that “[i]n short, Mr. Myerberg does not appear to be qualified, able, or willing to take action toward genuine accountability for the police, even those under his own direct supervision. He appears even less interested in facing accountability for his own actions.”
The letter then dives into what it calls “Specific History” with regard to Myerberg’s past career. Listed first is his participation in the defense of New York City against a civil suit by the Exonerated Five (previously known as the Central Park Five). It’s unclear exactly what Myerberg’s role was in this case, but the letter says that his name and signature are on court filings from that time. The letter doesn’t point to an exact source for this, but says that sources are available upon request.
Upon his arrival in Seattle, the letter continues, Myerberg took a position with the City Attorney’s Office. The letter alleges that he “spent a lot of time defending, concealing, and covering up police misconduct, systemic racism, and state violence.
“In one criminal case in which Mr. Myerberg was involved and implicated, the accused was a paraplegic Black and Indigenous person accused of assaulting officers after they had torn him from his wheelchair, thrown him to the ground, and injured him for the crime of requesting medical help at a public hospital,” the letter reads. “The ‘assault’ in question was based in part on an officer’s assertion that the accused allegedly ‘tried’ to ‘bite’ him. The contemporaneous self-report of the officer displayed a near-hysterical fear that the accused had ‘contaminated’ the officer with some kind of virus – apparently the ‘virus’ of being a multiply-marginalized person of color with a visibly ‘disabled’ body.”
It should be noted that this incident took place several years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“City prosecutors had stalled for months to avoid providing discoverable, exculpatory, Brady evidence of the arresting officers’ previous misconduct. Andrew Myerberg was brought in to ‘negotiate’ the release of the misconduct records,” the letter continues. “He pushed to have the records reviewed in camera” — privately — “by the judge rather than handed directly over to the defense. When the judge agreed to in camera review, and had the records delivered to her chambers, personnel from Mr. Myerberg’s office was sent to tell the judge that the records would be delivered directly to the defense after all. That was untrue.” A footnote adds that sources for the above information and the latter claim are available on request.
Upon reviewing those records, the letter reads, “it became clear to the defense team that one of the involved officers had over fifty (50) known and reported incidents of extreme violence and others had significant records as well. The case was dismissed with prejudice by the judge on an argument of prosecutorial misconduct.”
The letter says that the person accused later died by “apparent suicide, after telling family, friends, and legal team members that he could not live with the constant fear and rage instilled in him by the police violence he suffered.”
Additionally, the letter says that an attorney who was working one the case became suicidal and depressed — and left the legal profession altogether for a period of time — following the case.
The officer who the letter alleges had more than 50 incidents of extreme violence has, according to the letter, since been promoted and “appointed to a task force to ‘protect’ LGBTQIA folks from queer-bashing.” The letter states that this officer also “played a role in the suppression of free speech and assembly during the George Floyd protests.”
Myerberg was also on the City team defending Seattle in the matter of the United States’ Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into the Seattle Police Department (SPD). This investigation would ultimately result in the Consent Decree, after the investigation found that 1 in 5 uses of force as reported by SPD officers was unconstitutional. The letter states that the investigation also found that “a minority of officers account for a disproportionate number of use of force incidents” and that in the more than two-year period the DOJ surveyed, just 11 officers reported using force 15 or more times.
However, “[t]he claim was frequently bandied about that a high percentage of the unconstitutional uses of force were committed by a small number of officers,” the letter reads. The letter then goes on to allege that this particular assertion “has been used to cloak the institutional rottenness of the whole department and the police guild.”
But, the letter says, “[e]ven in the moment of greatest opportunity to make a small symbolic purge of eleven ‘worst’ officers as a small gesture of good faith to the community, Andrew Myerberg and ‘the team’ apparently sought to protect the identities, careers, and well-being of known violent police criminals.
“The names of eleven ‘bad apple’ officers with more than 15 reported violent incidents each (seven plus per year averaged over two years) were not made public, and the public was not told whether they had been fired, disciplined, or even given a firm talking-to,” the letter states, and adds a footnote: “Caveat: There is some possibility that somewhere within millions of pages of City records and legal filings in criminal and civil court, the list of officers exists or could be compiled; it is not popularly known.”
Following his Seattle City Council (SCC) appointment as mayor, former Seattle Mayor Tim Burgess nominated Myerberg to lead the OPA. The letter says that Burgess had previously dropped out of a 2013 mayoral race and had lost another one in 2017, “with many questioning his failure as Chair of the Public Safety Committee to accomplish anything like oversight of the police.” The letter also notes that Burgess himself is a former SPD officer who worked as a beat cop, a detective, and then in the department’s public relations division during major protest campaigns that demanded police accountability and a civilian review board.
The letter then states that the signatories believe that these demands “were not met, and the arguments still feel fresh and familiar today because today, over 46 years later, we are still fighting the same battles” and cites a slew of sources for this latter contention.
The letter alleges that throughout the reform process, the federal government, the City, the OPA, the OIG, the City’s legal departments, the Office of the Mayor, and several members of the SCC “have propagated the illusion of a rosy collegiality between everyone in the accountability system and the (other) officers of SPD” with “[g]lowing self-congratulation” that “announces ordinances and resolutions that never seem to get ratified or harmonized or implemented.”
The letter then moves on to point out that though the OPA “touts the number of civilians” within its ranks, in reality, “all of the ‘civilian investigator’ positions are vacant as of September 14, 2021.”
“All of the investigators are currently sworn, active-duty police officers, and practice is that these officers ‘rotate through’ placement at the Office of Police Accountability,” the letter reads.
“The justification for this practice is that officers who have spent time at OPA are somehow expected to ‘change the culture’ of the police department, spontaneously spreading accountability around them when they return to other assignments,” the letter reads. “In actuality, it means that officers who are purportedly investigating misconduct maintain deep – and deeply enforced – loyalties to their colleagues and command chain throughout their brief stints at OPA.”
Moreover, the letter alleges, “[b]ecause there’s not really a career path for advancement within OPA, officers are more consistently incentivized not to do rigorous investigations or ‘betray’ their colleagues.
“They may receive rudimentary training as investigators, but they are more effectively ‘trained’ on all the tricks and tips for how to evade accountability, which they almost certainly perpetuate by disseminating to their friends on the force,” the letter alleges.
Despite this, the letter says, Seattle’s accountability system is held up as a model for other cities across the country. This is an endorsement the City touts, the letter says: The City’s own website on the matter states that Federal Court Judge James L. Robart — the judge presiding over the Consent Decree and making decisions with regard to the City’s compliance status — found that the City was in “full and effective” compliance with the decree in 2018.
But the letter also says that this very same City web page fails to point out that “by 2019, the department had been deemed out of compliance, and has never again been found compliant by the federal judge overseeing the reform” — and that, specifically, it is the accountability system that has been found lacking. The letter also claims that SPD officers and internal City reformers have clashed over accountability, with the former “vigorously” resisting attempts to hold individual officers — or the department as a whole — accountable.
“And that’s while the ‘accountability offices’ (OPA and OIG) have been bending over backward to protect individual officers from individual consequences and slow; disrupt; interrupt; or co-opt the systemic and community-demanded changes, which have been ‘happening’ at an already-glacial pace,” the letter claims. “Andrew Myerberg, as heartless and harmful as he may be, is just a useful tool, easily used and easily discarded.”
The letter claims that the actual power deals between the City and the police “are, and always have been, negotiated in secret closed-door sessions called … ‘collective bargaining,’” and lists both the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) and the Seattle Police Management Association (SPMA) as the two current organizations that routinely bargain with the City at these meetings.
“The massive, unrelenting, stomach-turning corruption, cruelty, and appalling consequences of this carceral state and its legal and extra-legal apparatus are well documented,” the letter reads, following with a footnote that adds, “Honestly, just run a basic internet search. There is too much good work out there to BEGIN to cite a sample.”
The letter then discusses the most recent events of the last year, which it terms “ongoing escalated police violence,” and says that not only has a combination of “less-lethal” and lethal police weapons harmed people, but alleges that the “lies, silences, inactions, deprivations, and failures” of both the police and the government have, too.
“When bloated, intentionally-ineffectual bureaucratic ‘process’ subsumes the spark and juice of spontaneous and heartfelt community action, it never does so to ‘aid’ the community, but only to slow it down and wear it out,” the letter reads. “This system just keeps grinding. Slowly, but inexorably, it can extinguish hope, trust, and even love. Don’t let it do that. It requires your consent to operate. Our silences and inactions are also powerful. And there is much work to be done.”
“As ineffectual as ‘reform’ of the police is demonstrated to be, you can distract the bureaucracy just the way it attempts to distract you,” the letter reads. “That’s the thing to remember – the whole rickety edifice is precarious and works at razor-thin tolerances. A few percentage points one way or the other can mean massive blockages, back-ups, slowdowns, shutdowns, and…collapse. It requires your consent to operate. Analyze your choices with that rubric. It requires your consent to operate.
“During the Spring and Summer (and ongoing) protest actions against the murder of George Floyd and for Black lives; a number of whistleblowers; journalists; community collaborators; legal observers; and others worked (and are working) inside and outside of City institutions to make public the deficiencies in the Seattle ‘accountability’ system,” the letter continues, citing this article and this article from the Emerald, both of which deal with recent, serious accountability allegations. “Of course, this is also true everywhere. Don’t forget it.”
The letter then references a forthcoming book and promises that the letter’s signatories will “continue our work – excavating and evacuating and disinterring; daylighting and sunshining and lighting candles and other kindly fires; transporting and transposing and transforming; fighting when we have to, loving always and in all ways; and, crucially, inexorably, unstoppably, never giving up. We see you and we’re with you. Don’t hesitate to call.”
The letter closes by encouraging readers to get involved with the legal system as a way to fight the abuses of power it alleges, listing a number of community-sourced ways to do that. For the sake of brevity, the Emerald will not list them here and will instead direct readers to the letter linked at the beginning of this article.
The Emerald has reached out to Myerberg to ask about the letter and the allegations therein, but could not immediately reach him. The Emerald will update this story if it receives any response.
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: Andrew Myerberg is sworn in as director of the Office of Police Accountability, November 21, 2017. (Photo: Screen-capture of video via City of Seattle)
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