by Carolyn Bick
The Emerald’s Watchdragon reporting seeks to increase accountability within our city’s institutions through in-depth investigative journalism.
Based on a preliminary internal quality control investigation conducted in July 2021, it appears that Office of Inspector General (OIG) auditor Anthony Finnell failed to thoroughly review more than 30 protest case findings issued by the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), before issuing either full certifications or approving cases as “Expedited” — cases in which the OPA determines that findings can be issued mainly on intake investigations. These are far from the only cases he has certified that fellow staffers have raised concerns over and represent just a sampling of the cases he has certified. Finnell also serves as vice president on the Board of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE).
The preliminary investigation found that Finnell appears to have only sporadically reviewed the Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers’ body-worn video (BWV) associated with the cases for which it was available. In some cases, Finnell appears to have opened files containing tens of pages of evidence, opened a couple of documents, and certified the cases just minutes later — but in other cases, he appears to have fully certified them without opening any of the case files at all, despite the fact that fully certifying a case means confirming that it is timely, thorough, and objective.
In some of these cases, Finnell never even opened the Report of Investigation (ROI) — the very document upon which the OPA bases its investigatory findings, as its purpose is to represent the totality of available evidence the OPA investigator has examined and from which they have drawn conclusions.
The OIG’s concern over Finnell’s performance is one of the issues a former OIG investigations supervisor — the same one who conducted the preliminary investigation — highlighted at the bottom of page three in their ethics complaint, which the Emerald wrote about in August. However, in addition to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC) declining to investigate the matter, the Emerald has learned that the City’s Human Resources (HR) department has similarly declined to investigate — a fact that appears not to have been shared with the Community Police Commission (CPC), based on CPC members’ comments regarding the ethics complaint at its most recent meeting on Nov. 3. The CPC appears to have been similarly kept out of the loop with regard to the Ethics and Elections decision until the Emerald emailed the CPC, Federal Monitor Antonio Oftelie, and SEEC with questions about the matter.
Based on the former investigations supervisor’s review, it appears that the OIG reached out with the intent to hire investigatory review firm OIR Group, headed up by Mike Gennaco, to conduct an official audit of OIG’s casework. Deputy Inspector General Amy Tsai’s emails about hiring the firm appear to show that she was not only in a rush to do so but also that she appears to have wanted the former investigations supervisor to take leadership of the investigation into Finnell’s performance, despite the fact that she and Inspector General Lisa Judge were the primary movers of said investigation. It is immediately unclear whether the OIG officially hired the firm.
Based on the documents the Emerald obtained, the preliminary investigation the former investigations supervisor conducted was ordered by Judge after OIG staff brought it to both Judge’s and Tsai’s attention in May 2021 that there was, according to a July 8, 2021, memo from Tsai to Judge, a “potential issue” with Finnell’s investigations.
In this memo, Tsai states that she and the former investigations supervisor had begun discussing how to better institute quality control and address such issues, while Judge had told the former investigations supervisor to conduct a preliminary review of some of Finnell’s cases. Tsai’s memo states that the former investigations supervisor conducted the audit July 4–5 and that the work took six hours to complete.
“[The former investigations supervisor] individually examined the audit log in IAPro (the OPA case management system) and the audit log in SPD’s body-worn video repository of record, evidence.com for number and type of documents accessed and certification outcomes,” Tsai’s memo reads. “This initial examination did not include a determination of the sufficiency of OPA’s investigation for OIG certification, and it did not include a determination of the sufficiency of AF’s certification review work.”
This initial examination focused on a sampling of 34 protest cases that Finnell reviewed and certified. In all 34 cases, Finnell issued full certifications and approved 10 of those as Expedited. Tsai’s memo states that it did not appear as though Finnell requested any additional investigation for these cases and that, based on the IAPro audit log and another BWV collection database, Evidence.com, Finnell also did not view any of the available BWV in 22 cases for which it was available.
The concerns that kicked off this preliminary investigation are recorded in a brief case review document dated May 20, 2021, which outlines the different cases that Finnell reviewed in such a way that raised red flags for fellow OIG staffers. While the Emerald cannot, due to privacy concerns, share the document, the Emerald will note in this article several of Finnell’s case reviews, including those that appeared to most concern the former investigations supervisor who created the document.
In one instance, the May 2021 document reads, OIG staff discovered that Finnell viewed just 12 of the 35 files — including a 21-page ROI — associated with OPA case 2020OPA-0036, in which an SPD officer allegedly “engaged in criminal activity by illegally purchasing prescription oxycodone pain pills on at least ten separate occasions starting in or about October 2019 through the present. The illegal transactions have reportedly taken place at Southcenter Mall, a private residence in Spanaway, and possibly other locations in King or Pierce County.”
The document states that Finnell opened the first file at 9:28 a.m. and certified the case at 9:50 a.m. According to the Case Closed Summary (CCS), the OPA sustained all allegations against the officer, but the officer chose to retire in lieu of termination.
In another case, 2020OPA-0056, while SPD’s Force Investigations Team (FIT) was reviewing a use of force that involved potential misconduct, it was discovered that one of the involved officers, Officer Hunt, “covered his BWV with his hand at the 09:19:16Z timestamp. At the 9:46:56Z timestamp Officer Hunt approaches Officer Prettyman. As he approaches, Officer Hunt again covers his BWV while engaging in a whispered conversation with Officer Prettyman.”
The document states that of the eight files relevant to the case, Finnell reviewed just two of them. It also outlines what it calls “Special Considerations” — namely that Finnell “viewed 1 Ofc [Officer] BWV out of 4, Interview of NE [Named Employee] not viewed, ROI viewed just one minute before certification.”
The OPA removed allegations of unprofessional conduct regarding discretion from the complaint against the involved officers and sustained allegations of improper body-worn video recording procedure. One officer resigned and moved to a different law enforcement agency before the OPA had finished its investigation (and before the OPA could interview him or any discipline could be imposed), while the other officer received a written reprimand.
In yet another case, Finnell did not review any of the officer interviews associated with the case at all. In this case, 2020OPA-0197, the complainant alleged that SPD officers took no action, despite witnessing someone violating a no-contact order.
Of the more than 18 evidence files associated with this case, Finnell viewed just four. None of them were officer interviews, despite the complainant having named four officers in the initial complaint. According to the document, Finnell opened the first file at 12:30 p.m. Just 24 minutes later, he fully certified the case.
There is no publicly available CCS for this case. The Complaint Tracker states that, as of March 3, 2021, “[t]he investigation is complete.
“The OPA Director has recommended that one or more of the allegations associated with the complaint be Sustained,” the Complaint Tracker reads. “A discipline meeting has been scheduled in which OPA’s investigation, allegations, and recommended discipline will be discussed. The Chief of Police will make the final decision on the findings (Sustained or Not Sustained) and will determine the discipline to be imposed. This process may take 1-3 months to finalize. For more information on the meaning of Sustained or Not Sustained allegations, please visit the ‘Complaint Process’ page of OPA’s website.”
The former investigations supervisor also appears to have been particularly concerned about four consecutive cases — 2020OPA-0376, 2020OPA-0377, 2020OPA-0378, and 2020OPA-0379 — primarily because Finnell did not open the ROIs for any of these cases, in addition to other issues.
Of the more than 30 files associated with 2020OPA-0376, Finnell viewed just six files. This case’s CCS is not yet available.
In 2020OPA-0377, Finnell viewed just a third of the at least 15 files associated with the case. None of those were the involved officers’ or witness officers’ interviews. In this case, the OPA sustained no allegations against the involved officer for allegedly firing a 40mm launcher with a CS grenade in it at a person who had identified themselves as a member of the press or for alleged failure to record BWV.
Finnell opened nine of more than 15 files associated with 2020OPA-0378 and certified the case in just 12 minutes. The OPA sustained both allegations against the officer, suspending them for one day without pay for sending a profane email to Seattle City Councilmembers.
Finally, he opened only three of the nine files available in 2020OPA-0379. He certified the case 22 minutes after opening the first file. The OPA did not sustain allegations against an officer for allegedly firing a 40mm “less lethal” launcher at protesters.
The May 2021 document also notes the short turnaround time for some of the cases.
In 2020OPA-0378, Finnell certified the case in 12 minutes, despite there being more than 15 evidence files, with Finnell supposedly reviewing nine of those files in that time. The OPA sustained the allegation against the officer, and the officer was suspended for one day without pay.
In 2020OPA-0289 — a case in which the OIG requested additional investigation, resulting in more than 15 evidence files, a 15-page ROI, and six pages’ worth of additional requested investigation — Finnell certified the case in just nine minutes. This latter recorded concern notes that, despite this requested additional investigation, “none of the requested attachments were viewed and no correspondence mentioned was reviewed, case certified in less than 10 minutes.”
The OPA sustained the allegations against two officers. One resigned and refused to participate in the investigation, the CCS reads. The other received a written reprimand.
For the OIG’s official July 2021 preliminary investigation, Judge directed the former investigations supervisor to focus solely on protest cases, “as these are cases of likely public concern and [the investigations supervisor] had already begun compiling case information for a public disclosure request for all OIG protest casework,” Tsai’s July 8 memo reads.
The preliminary investigation document found that of the 34 cases, Finnell concurred with OPA investigators’ findings and decisions 100% of the time.
As with the cases of concern recorded in the May 2021 document, the Emerald will highlight just a handful.
In one investigation that the OPA wanted to be Expedited — which Finnell approved — the complainant alleged that the officer pointed a gun at a protester. In this case, 2020OPA-0402, Finnell opened the first file at 7:45 a.m. That file was the complaint. At 7:46 a.m., Finnell opened the ROI. He then routed the case back to the OPA at 7:47 a.m., without opening any evidence files or any of the nine photos and videos of the incident from the community and without reviewing any of the BWV available.
In this case, the OPA sustained no allegations against the officer.
In another Expedited investigation, 2020OPA-0438, three officers faced serious allegations, including biased policing and lack of probable cause for arrest. Not only did Finnell open none of the files associated with the complaint — including the ROI — he also did not view any of the five BWV recordings associated with the complaint. He opened the complaint at 2:32 p.m. and routed it to the OPA — fully certified — just two minutes later, at 2:34 p.m.
In this case, the OPA sustained no allegations against any of the three officers.
In case 2020OPA-0427 — yet another Expedited investigation into a demonstration complaint — two officers faced allegations of excessive use of force (when attempting to confiscate umbrellas), use of profanity, and failure to properly identify themselves. According to the document, Finnell approved the Expedited investigation classification without viewing any of the files — including, again, the ROI — or any of the BWV available.
The OPA sustained none of the allegations against the involved officers.
Finally, in 2020OPA-0430, the complainant alleged that officers targeted him with both a CS gas canister and a 40mm blue-tipped round (a sponge-tipped “less lethal” weapon) for no reason and that the police targeted other protesters with blast balls, CS gas, and rubber bullets. The complainant also said that a piece of blast ball hit him in the face. He said that he was peacefully protesting and that he did not hear any orders to disperse. The OPA sustained no allegations in this case, deeming them “inconclusive” because the complaint allegedly involved unknown employees.
In this case, the OIG auditor found that Finnell viewed the first file in this case at 11:24 a.m., and went on to fully certify the case at 11:37 a.m. But not only did Finnell view no evidence, aside from the ROI and the complaint intake document, he also did not view any of the more than 15 BWV files available and referenced in the ROI.
Notably, the OPA investigator claimed that they could not clearly see the employees in question or identify the complainant from the latter’s description of himself in any of the at least 15 BWV files available. This claim would serve as the crux of the OPA’s decision not to sustain any allegations due to inconclusive evidence.
Though Tsai’s official memo regarding Finnell’s performance and the internal investigation clearly indicate that she and Judge were the ones who decided to launch an investigation, Tsai’s emails to the former investigations supervisor whom Judge set to the task of performing the preliminary investigation appear to indicate that Tsai wanted to distance herself from said investigation.
Tsai emailed the former investigations supervisor after hours on July 23, 2021, saying that “[w]e need to get started” on the contract with OIR Group, the investigatory firm headed by Mike Gennaco.
“As the unit supervisor you will be leading this effort, but I will be actively involved and assist when I can, so please keep me on copy,” Tsai writes in this email, on which Judge and OIG operations manager Alexandra McGehee are copied. “Lisa wants this work started ASAP, but I am out next week so you will likely have the first conversation without me. Lisa will want to be present for that meeting. If I happen to be available at the time you schedule I might tune in. Please reach out to Gennaco and set up a meeting time to begin discussing and scoping the work.
“I think it is advisable to set up regular check-ins just like SER has a weekly check-in, but ultimately it’s up to you to manage and decide. Please also be working on our game plan for giving him access to materials given his non-CJIS status. We may need a data-sharing agreement,” Tsai continues, before suggesting that two of the former investigations supervisor’s colleagues at OIG could show them a similar example of such agreements.
Tsai then appears to shift the responsibility of getting together the necessary documents to hire OIR Group onto the former investigations supervisor, despite an apparently very limited time frame, and suggests that hiring OIR Group is already a done deal: “We are expecting his final report within the next two months, so there is not a big window and this work should start as quickly as possible.”
Tsai says in her email that she is copying the formers investigations supervisor’s colleague “because it is possible she could assist you with this project, since she has a pretty good sense of the history and is CJIS certified. I believe she may also have an IAPro account.” However, Tsai notes, at the time, this colleague also had a two-week vacation coming up, “so if you need her assistance, this next week is the largest window of opportunity.”
The former investigations supervisor replies in a Monday, July 26 email, sent just before 4:30 p.m., suggesting that before bringing in OIR Group, she and Tsai spend whatever free time Tsai has that day discussing both the scope of the investigatory review (which the former investigations supervisor refers to as “the project”) and the data-sharing agreement, which the former investigations supervisor says is dependent upon the scope of the project.
“Gennaco not having IA Pro access is going to make it extremely difficult for him to review IA Pro case files. This will be a massive logistical effort that should be discussed and figured out prior to Gennaco beginning his work (it has to be figured out before he can begin working anyway),” the former investigations supervisor writes.
Tsai writes back just after 6 p.m. the same day: “These are good questions — that’s why it will be important to have me or Lisa at the meeting. I think you were on our call with Gennaco – the end result of which was to agree to do some prep work (with him) that includes scoping and answering the questions you pose below. If we go in with an idea of what we want that’s great, but we will also be discussing and refining it with [Gennaco].”
The former investigations supervisor writes back that they were not on the call with Gennaco.
Moreover, it appears as though the former investigations supervisor was caught unawares regarding the idea that they would be leading the rush to hire Gennaco.
On Sunday, July 18, Tsai had requested that employees, including the former investigations supervisor, write to her with “issues of concern as they occur,” including that “[a]ll team leads send me (or update a tracker) every time staff is asked to work after hours or on weekends and in what amount.”
The former investigations supervisor appears to have deemed Tsai’s July 23 after-hours email to be such a case and says as much in a July 26 email sent at 9:37 p.m., just a few hours after the short exchange about Gennaco and OIR Group.
The former investigations supervisor lists off three tasks Tsai appears to have designated as the investigations supervisor’s job in her after-hours email. The former investigations supervisor writes that, before Tsai’s after-hours July 23 email, not only were they “previously unaware any of these items would be happening this week” but that they were “completely unaware I would be heading up the Gennaco project.”
Tsai writes back to the former investigations supervisor just after 10 p.m. on July 26. In addressing the former investigations supervisor’s concerns regarding hiring OIR Group, Tsai does not address the apparent suggestion that she and Judge have not kept the former investigations supervisor in the loop and that they are looking to shift the responsibility of the project onto the former investigations supervisor. Instead, Tsai says that “we’re going to need you to have an active role as the supervisor of the unit, but we can discuss how better to identify what are official ‘projects’ that fall within your wheelhouse as the unit supervisor, versus things that management might lead instead.”
“My perspective on that is that matters affecting the unit would default to you – I rarely involve myself in the day-to-day projects of the units because it just isn’t feasible,” she continues, appearing to suggest that serious and apparently ongoing concerns regarding Finnell’s professional performance as an auditor — concerns that OIG leadership felt warranted hiring an outside investigation team as soon as possible — falls into the “day-to-day projects” category of the oversight entity’s auditing team and was specifically the former investigations supervisor’s responsibility.
“But the Gennaco thing certainly has complexities to it so I appreciate the confusion and it’s worth discussing further how the project should be managed,” Tsai continues, appearing to indicate that her and Judge’s suggested failure to keep the former investigations supervisor in the loop or continue to lead an investigation Judge and Tsai herself had launched was a failing on the former investigations supervisor’s part. “Regardless, one thing that may help you to anticipate when these stray requests may materialize is to recognize that it is a known priority with a September due date, so the work has to start. If no one has started it, then it can also be extremely helpful to have you as the unit supervisor flag and raise the question. I realize that’s just an ideal that isn’t always going to be realistic with all the other things going on—particularly given the week you are having–so I only mention it as one way to anticipate the lay of the land.”
The Emerald reached out to OIG for comment on Nov. 2. Judge responded to the Emerald’s questions in a short email on Nov. 4.
“I take the responsibility and authority vested in OIG to provide OPA oversight very seriously and have high expectations for my employees who conduct this critical function,” Judge wrote. “We are a fairly new office and have been working diligently to create our internal processes for OPA review, and determine how we provide internal quality control. The issues you have asked about are currently under review by an independent third party. Beyond that, I am not able to comment on pending investigations or personnel matters.”
As of this writing, almost four months after Tsai’s July 23 email referencing a two-month timeframe for a final report on the matter, it is unclear where the internal investigation stands and whether OIG ended up bringing Gennaco and OIR Group on board. It is also unclear whether Finnell continues to audit OPA investigations. Though the Emerald followed up with Judge to confirm whether Gennaco and his agency are the ones reviewing the case and asked whether this review was simply that — a review — or a proper investigation, Judge did not reply.
The Emerald also asked again whether Finnell is still auditing cases or if he was auditing cases as of the Emerald’s original Nov. 2 email. Judge did not reply.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, neither HR nor SEEC will be investigating the former investigations supervisor’s ethics complaint, which contains the issue of Finnell certifying OPA cases without comprehensively reviewing evidence, as well as several other serious allegations.
HR’s Investigations Unit Dir. Steve Zwerin said in a Sept. 10 email that, after reviewing the statement the former investigations supervisor gave in addition to the resignation letter they provided, “[w]hile I empathize with your feelings about your experiences, the allegations you described did not involve harassment or discrimination. Therefore, I did not find sufficient facts to suggest that there may have been a violation of the City of Seattle’s Personnel Rule 1.1.
“Nonetheless, your discussion with her [Rochelle Brown, an HR employee] revealed that you have concerns about possible misconduct by your supervisor,” Zwerin continued. “Because your concerns are outside the scope of the HRIU’s authority, I recommend that you contact EAP [Employee Assistance Program] or the Office of Employee Ombud if you would like to discuss your concerns and the impact they are having on you.”
Zwerin here fails to note that because the former investigations supervisor no longer works with the City, they are ineligible to bring a complaint to the City Ombuds, and the office is not an investigatory one. This is also true of EAP — not to mention the fact that EAP is an emotional well-being and psychological support system for employees and is also not an investigatory office. As with SEEC Executive Dir. Wayne Barnett, it appears that Zwerin, too, is treating this former investigations supervisor like a disgruntled employee, rather than a whistleblower with what appear to be legitimate concerns.
Zwerin continues, briefly outlining steps that, once again, it appears only employees may take.
“As also discussed in your meeting with Rochelle, any involvement in the HRIU process, whether as a reporter or a witness, is protected under City of Seattle policy. No adverse employment action may be taken against anyone in retaliation for making a good faith complaint,” Zwerin writes. “The same holds true for those assisting in or participating in the investigation. If you experience or witness what you believe is retaliation because of participation in this process, you are strongly encouraged to promptly report it to any of the following: your management; your department Human Resources; the HRIU; or the Office of the Employee Ombud. You may also ask the person to stop the behavior that you believe is retaliatory if you feel comfortable doing so. If you would like more information about your rights regarding the possible harassment or discrimination, here is a link: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws-guidance-0”
The Emerald reached out to both HR and the CPC for comment on this story on Nov. 5.
Zwerin told the Emerald in an email that HR’s investigations unit “seeks to resolve employee concerns about harassment and discrimination.
“Our unit conducts neutral, thorough, and timely investigations throughout all executive branch departments. We are a fundamental resource for employees by building trust and fairness through our investigations,” Zwerin wrote in his email.
He went on to say that the unit conducted an intake based on the former investigations supervisor’s complaint “using our usual trauma-informed approach, and did not find sufficient facts to support elevating the allegations to an investigation” because the allegations as described “were not within the scope of harassment or discrimination, nor did they suggest a violation of the City of Seattle’s Personnel Rule 1.1. (PR 1.1 outlines our scope, which is necessarily limited since we have just four investigators for 12,000+ employees.)”
“After we completed the intake, we referred [the former investigations supervisor to potential other City resources, including the Office of Employee Ombud (OEO), the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, and the Employee Assistance Program. You’re correct that OEO is only for active employees. However, they sometimes intervene when there is a concern about a systemic issue or something else along those lines,” Zwerin told the Emerald.
Zwerin did not acknowledge the fact that the City Ombuds does not conduct investigations at all.
Zwerin closed his email to the Emerald by saying that the office “would encourage [the former investigations supervisor] to consider the Seattle Office for Civil Rights, Washington State Human Rights Commission, or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission” if they want to pursue some sort of investigative route. However, it is immediately unclear how any of these offices would conduct an investigation into any of the allegations in the ethics complaint, as none appear to fall under their purview.
Zwerin clarified in a follow-up email that he is not intimately familiar with the inner workings of the City’s accountability system and suggested that the Emerald reach out to the OIG and the OPA — the two entities that are under fire in the ethics complaint — and the CPC.
The CPC did not respond to the Emerald’s queries before publication.
It should also be noted that, as of this writing, no one on the Seattle City Council — including those who frame themselves as wanting to hold the police accountable and create a good, working accountability system — has publicly spoken at length about the ethics complaint and the serious allegations it contains, despite the fact that it is readily and widely available to read, following the Emerald’s release of multiple stories about the issues contained within.
Thus, this leaves a central problem still at play — a problem that still has no answer or apparent solution: If there is no clearly established entity at the City level that will investigate serious allegations such as these or others like them in the future then where does that leave whistleblowers like this former investigations supervisor? What does it mean for allegations like the ones described here and in related stories? What does it mean for police accountability and for accountability as a whole?
The Emerald will update this story with any responses it receives and will continue to monitor the situation and report on developments.
📸 Featured Image: Photo by VDB Photos/Shutterstock.com
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