by Carolyn Bick
The Emerald’s Watchdragon reporting seeks to increase accountability within our city’s institutions through in-depth investigative journalism.
The Emerald has learned that Office of Inspector General (OIG) auditor Anthony Finnell, who appeared to have been found to have fully certified Office of Police Accountability (OPA) cases without fully reviewing evidence — including not opening any files at all, in some cases — had been allowed to continue certifying cases up to at least the end of October of this year, despite the fact that Inspector General Lisa Judge and Deputy Inspector General Amy Tsai were aware that he had not been properly reviewing cases prior to certification for at least several months, if not more than a year.
On Nov. 8, 2021, the Emerald published a story about the preliminary internal investigation by a former investigations supervisor into concerns about Finnell’s performance, concerns that are part of a complaint brought against the OIG by this same individual. The Emerald has been covering this complaint and its multiple serious allegations in depth.
The internal investigation into Finnell’s performance was carried out at Judge’s request, after other OIG staffers brought their concerns to both Judge and Tsai. The documents the Emerald reviewed indicated that this was not the first time Finnell’s performance had raised red flags for OIG staffers and also was not the first time these concerns were brought to Judge and Tsai. Tsai’s emails about the matter indicate that OIG approached external investigative review agency OIR Group to conduct some sort of investigatory review after the second time it was brought to their attention. When asked for comment on the matter for the Nov. 8 story, Judge told the Emerald that an “independent third party” was handling a “review” of the issue.
Though the Emerald twice asked Judge whether Finnell was still auditing cases for certification, she did not reply.
And now, it seems, the Emerald and readers have their answer: as of September, Finnell was still auditing cases.
Interestingly, however, Judge did not mention this at all in the Community Police Commission (CPC) meeting on the morning of Nov. 17, where she specifically talked about the issue of Finnell’s performance.
She opened by saying that “most of the meeting today has been devoted to discussion of my office, I feel like I want to say something.
“I’ve been working throughout this whole process very closely with HR [human resources] and the law department and trying to follow their advice and trying to stick with the processes that are in place for investigating things that happen in the workplace and making sure that I have all the facts before I release information or take any action,” Judge said. She failed to note that the preliminary investigation the Emerald wrote about was not the first time OIG staffers had flagged issues of concern with Finnell’s performance.
“The concerns to community are concerns to me, too,” Judge continued. “I take this very seriously. I take our work and public trust very seriously. When this was brought to my attention by another staffer pulling data for the Sentinel Event Review [SER], I immediately initiated an internal look at what was going on and then, in fairly short order, initiated an external review.”
Judge’s words regarding the supposedly swift action on her part immediately prior to the SER, while not technically inaccurate, leave out a glaring problem the Emerald has already pointed out above: This was not the first time she and Tsai had been notified of concerns regarding Finnell’s performance. It is unclear what, if anything, she and Tsai did about it the first time these concerns were brought to their attention.
Though Judge claimed at the CPC meeting that she was trying to “give that process” of external review “space,” she did not mention to the CPC that Finnell appears to have continued to audit cases for months after the preliminary internal investigation had begun, through at least the end of September. It is immediately unclear whether Finnell was ever taken off of certifying cases — but, if he was, the question remains as to why he was put back on, when Judge and Tsai were fully aware of the fact that he fell short of fulfilling his role as auditor.
Judge went on in the CPC meeting to assure listeners and the CPC that the OIG was “giving them [the external agency] access to all of our information in the databases, and they need to do some fairly deep dives into what occurred, so I am just trying to make sure I have all of the facts, first.
“I don’t want you to interpret any delay on our part in answering as trying to, in some way, avoid responsibility,” Judge said.
She did not mention the fact that the CPC was twice kept out of the loop with regard to first the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC) decision and then the City’s Human Resources (HR) decision not to investigate the former investigations supervisor’s complaint. Both SEEC and HR said that none of the allegations in the complaint were of a nature that they could investigate. Based on SEEC’s and HR’s emails about the matter, it appears that both departments are treating the former investigations supervisor’s complaint not as that of a whistleblower with what appear to be legitimate concerns but as though this were merely a matter of a disgruntled employee.
The Emerald reached out to Judge on the evening of Nov. 17 to make additional inquiries. The Emerald’s questions included why she did not mention to the CPC that this was not the first time Finnell’s performance has been flagged as a matter of concern, as well as whether Finnell had ever been taken off of auditing and certifying cases — and, if so, when and why he was put back on certifying them.
Judge did not respond to the Emerald before publication, but responded to the Emerald shortly after this story was published on the evening of Nov. 18.
“The comments I made during the CPC meeting were in response to concerns expressed during public comment to provide assurance that I take this situation seriously, and that I have referred it to an independent investigator,” Judge wrote to the Emerald. “As I said in the meeting and have expressed to you already, I cannot provide substantive comments until that work is finalized. All of the issues you have inquired about are part of that inquiry and will be addressed.”
The Emerald has followed up to clarify whether this means that her decision to allow Finnell to keep certifying cases is also under review by the independent investigator she referenced.
CPC Commissioner Douglas Wagoner said during the CPC meeting on Nov. 17 that the CPC has “sent letters now to OIG and OPA with a litany of questions related to the concerns raised” in the Emerald’s various stories about the complaint against OIG. Earlier in the meeting, the CPC discussed adding questions based on issues raised in the Emerald’s Nov. 8 story. However, neither he nor any other members of the CPC shared those letters with the public.
The Emerald reached out to the CPC to ask for those letters on Nov. 17. On the afternoon of Nov. 19, the Emerald received notice that its request for the letters was turned into a public disclosure request. It is unclear how long it will take for the Emerald to get those letters via this route.
Author’s Note: The original version of this story stated that Finnell had been certifying cases up to at least the end of September of this year. At the time of publication, this was true. The Emerald learned on Nov. 20 that a new round of certifications had been posted, including the one cited at the beginning of this story.
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 Lisa Judge speaking at a May 2021 CPC meeting.
Before you move on to the next story … Please consider that the article you just read was made possible by the generous financial support of donors and sponsors. The Emerald is a BIPOC-led nonprofit news outlet with the mission of offering a wider lens of our region’s most diverse, least affluent, and woefully under-reported communities. Please consider making a one-time gift or, better yet, joining our Rainmaker Family by becoming a monthly donor. Your support will help provide fair pay for our journalists and enable them to continue writing the important stories that offer relevant news, information, and analysis. Support the Emerald!