Seattle riot police. Photo by Alex Garland.

BREAKING: Email Reveals Even City Officials Fell Victim to 2020 Proud Boys Hoax 

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 received an email that appears to show that the Seattle Police Department (SPD) distributed false information about the Proud Boys moving through Seattle internally among various City departments on the evening of June 8, 2020.

The email from Seattle Public Utilities’ (SPU) Emergency Manager Chad Buechler, timestamped at 6:39 p.m. on the evening the lie was perpetrated, states that “I was asked by the [Seattle Office of Emergency Management] EOC director (Kenneth Neafcy) and Seattle Police for this information not to be distributed further than for operational needs,” and goes on to list the following (emphasis by the Emerald): “SPD is preparing for a possible counter protest at Volunteer Park that could lead to significant volatility in the area. Intelligence reports that the Proud Boys group may be active in the area.

This email was sent out a little less than three hours before SPD officers pretended that there was a group of Proud Boys gathering in the city. Beuchler confirmed to the Emerald that that the email is authentic and that the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) did not reach out to him about this email in its investigation regarding the case, the Case Closed Summary (CCS) for which is linked above.

The Emerald learned after initial publication of this story that the OPA did not take this email into account in its investigation. The OPA investigation focused on the supposed police intelligence that armed Proud Boys were active in the City on June 8, 2020, but this was later revealed by community members to have been a lie meant to fool people listening in on police radio transmissions.

Buechler’s June 8, 2020, email goes on to state that “SDOT, SPU, and other departments have been working this afternoon to make the area as safe as possible by clearing dumpsters, adjusting barricades, and reducing flammable materials” and that Buechler “engaged SPU Spill Response (Tim McDonald) to provide subject matter expertise on defueling of generators inside the [East] Precinct.”

The email is addressed to a handful of emergency management staff, rather than to a large group of people. Buechler states what SPU will be doing, prefacing plans with, “compared to earlier intel, tonight has the possibility to be much more violent, should a counter protest develop. I will also brief the ORC to communicate with first response crews on duty.”

Buechler then lists items that another City official briefed him on earlier that day.

Buechler told the Emerald in a brief interview on the morning of Jan. 12 that he remembered the email in question. He said that he and other City officials got the information from Neafcy and SPD at the evening’s EOC briefing and passed it along to operations management staff. At that point, he said, it was appropriate to pass along such information, because the police involved in the EOC briefing that evening appeared to believe that there was credible intelligence about Proud Boys being in the City. 

“Everybody shares information about what they are seeing out in the field and what they may need to respond to,” Buechler said. “In this case, that was part of that update that I was sending to that smaller group [in the email] that consisted of some EOC leadership and then people who controlled folks that had people working in the field.

“I don’t believe it was a, ‘Hey, they are there, they are coming,’” Buechler continued, referring to the Proud Boys, “I think it was more, ‘Hey, there is a possibility, this is what we are hearing.’ 

“Every group has people listening to their own channels, whether it’s the police, EOC representatives, or SPU, and they listen and then report on what they are hearing [to EOC management],” Buechler continued. “I don’t know if it was, ‘Hey, this is going to happen for sure,’ it was a ‘Hey, this is what we are hearing’ — the possibility. So that’s why it was shared along.”

He said he did not get this information from either of the officers in charge of the coordinated lying effort, but does not remember exactly which officers said this in the briefing.

However, this also means one of two things: either other members of SPD were also in on the lie, or they believed, at this point, that there really were Proud Boys in the City. According to the OPA’s CCS, officers said that in perpetrating the lie over radio, they used fake call signs to dog-whistle to other officers that the information was fake. But this did not happen until several hours after the EOC meeting referenced above. It also shows that this information was disseminated throughout City government, which means that the City expended resources to address what ended up being fake information.

The Emerald reached out to OPA Dir. Andrew Myerberg and the OPA for comment on the morning of Jan. 12, but did not receive a response. The Emerald also reached out to Neafcy — who works as operations coordinator in the Office of Emergency Management — on the morning of Jan. 12, but did not receive a response.

Myerberg did, however, respond to The Seattle Times’ request for comment for its evening story on Jan. 12 about SPD rehiring an officer involved in the effort to disseminate lies. The Times’ story mentions the Emerald‘s reporting, and questions Myerberg about the omission of Buechler’s email from the OPA’s investigation. Of the email’s omission, Myerberg said that it was because the OPA only searched for emails regarding the Proud Boys that were to and from police officers.

According to the Times’ story, Myerberg said that, ‘{g]iven this, I don’t know whether this email was connected to later transmissions.”

The following sentences from Buechler’s email are quoted at the beginning of this article, but the Emerald feels it is once again important to point out, because Myerberg appears to be dismissing it: “SPD is preparing for a possible counter protest at Volunteer Park that could lead to significant volatility in the area. Intelligence reports that the Proud Boys group may be active in the area.”

Additionally, it appears that Myerberg may have known that EOC communications may have held the possibility of more hard evidence regarding the supposed existence of Proud Boys in the City. In the course of his duties at the City Attorney’s Office — his role with the City prior to joining the OPA — he helped to staff the EOC at least once, during the 2015 May Day protests. Among his duties, according to the newsletter linked above: “While the attorneys at the City’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) are tasked with drafting the documents, the information contained in them is provided in real time by staff at the Seattle Police Operations Center (SPOC), who are gathering data in real time from law enforcement.”

The newsletter also states: “During this time, we observed firsthand SPD’s measured and organized approach to the protests.”

Thus — as Buechler’s email further proves — it is not a closed-loop system, where EOC operations are completely divorced from SPD and SPOC.

The Emerald once again reached out to Myerberg just before 9 a.m. on the morning of Jan. 13 with question regarding the above. If it receives any response from Myerberg or the OPA directly, the Emerald will update this story.

Following initial publication of this story, it also occurred to the Emerald that the certification for this case was never posted on the Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) website, despite having been certified in September. The Emerald reached out to Inspector General Lisa Judge and Deputy Inspector General Amy Tsai at OIG, and Judge promptly sent the certification showing it was certified by Lynn Erickson, who is not the auditor under investigation.

The Emerald followed up again with Judge and Tsai to ask whether either of them or anyone else from OIG was present at the June 8, 2020, EOC meeting. As of this writing, neither Judge nor Tsai has responded.

There have been questions about OIG oversight of OPA and what it directed its auditors to do in a whistleblower complaint from August 2021. As of this writing, no one in City government, OIG, OPA, or the Community Police Commission (CPC) has substantially commented on the complaint, except to dismiss a majority of its allegations as being without merit, despite what appears to be evidence to the contrary.

One of these allegations stated that Judge and Tsai directed auditors not to push back against Myerberg — especially in writing, allegedly so that the press could not get ahold of it — in order to maintain good relations with the OPA. This allegation, if true, would appear to run contrary to OIG’s stated duties of oversight over the OPA.

According to Converge Media’s Jan. 12 Morning Update show, new Mayor Bruce Harrell said when questioned by Converge Media at a press conference that same morning that none of the EOC staff told him they knew about the ruse or had information about it.

“A couple of days ago, I was at the Office of Emergency Management, talking to its director and its assistant director … and we asked the question, ‘Did you know there was a ruse going on?'” Harrell said. “As you know, OEM [Office of Emergency Management] was activated … and they said they did not know there was a ruse — which then, in our inquiry, raises some issues, that if they are making tactical decisions based on false information, that is problematic.”

At just before 4 p.m. on Jan. 12, the Emerald received another email. The email, also dated on the evening of June 8, 2020, was sent out from the EOC, and details cooperating EOC departments’ jobs that evening. Notably, under the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department’s roles, the email states that Parks facility and night staff had been told not to report to Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park and Cal Anderson Park.

“All resource and facility staff will be reporting to Cal Anderson park in the morning,” the email reads.

The email was sent at 8:07 p.m. It is immediately unclear whether this order was given to protect staff from the nonexistent threat of Proud Boys or because, if Parks staff saw that there were no Proud Boys, they would be able to disprove the lies SPD officers would later perpetuate throughout the community and that SPD was already perpetuating throughout City government and emergency operations. Regardless of intent, it is clear that the lie was perpetuated throughout at least the early part of the City’s emergency operations that night, if not straight into the next morning.

The EOC email lists the following finished and then-upcoming duties for SPD (formatted exactly as in the email):

“• Finished securing East Precinct around 6PM
• Evacuated personnel from the East Precinct; remain mobile and in a safe location.
• Some vandalism reported but crowd appears to be peaceful
• Some barricades that were used to protect Precinct have been moved to block roadway
• Will continue to monitor and adapt as situation develops to keep community safe”

In a Seattle City Council briefing from this past Monday, Jan. 10, Seattle City Councilmember and Public Safety and Human Services Committee head Lisa Herbold said that after hearing concerns from constituents on the evening of June 8, 2020, she reached out to then-Chief Carmen Best.

“I did reach out to the Chief about this, and contacted her about the concerns that — not that there was a ruse, but that the Proud Boys were gathering in Seattle and was at that time told that I should be more skeptical about what I hear in the media,” Herbold said.

On the evening of Jan. 12, the Emerald once again received an interesting piece of information: the night before SPD perpetrated the lies that Proud Boys were roaming the City of Seattle, SPD had called in mutual aid partners from the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO). But the emails revealed that the SCSO officers were “working alone in the North Precinct area (not riding with SPD officers, no SPD radios).”

According to the email from SCSO Sgt. Cynthia Caterson, sent at 10:36 p.m. on June 7, 2020, SPD patrol officers at the North Precinct “are just lounging around the precincts and not responding to calls, so SCSO going to many calls and normally alone.

“SCSO recovered a stolen (unoccupied) vehicle and still no SPD officers came to even take the paper. So our deputy wrote a SCSO report to the vehicle recovered in Seattle,” the email continues. “There are also a bunch of liability concerns that I’m sure we have already considered.

“Thus, guys are very concerned about working down there with the current climate, the restrictions/bans, SPD policies and how they differ from our policies, etc. This is coupled with the fact that SPD officers are sitting around their respective precincts while other agencies are working their city,” the email continues, before closing: I just didn’t know if this SPD detail was going to be a ‘thing’, so I wanted you to be aware…”

The following morning, on June 8, 2020, at 11:00 a.m. on the dot, SCSO Operations Bureau Chief Ian Huri wrote the following in an email response to SPD’s request for mutual aid assistance: “I have contacted SPD and let them know we will not have any units to assist them tonight. I would like to see a better plan come together from SPD that addresses comms, report writing and officer safety among other things. I just wanted to make sure everyone was aware we responded no, in case you see emails requesting assistance for 30 officers again.

“If you have feedback from people who worked the detail, please let me know but what I have heard so far is not an acceptable risk for our folks or our agency,” Huri said.

According to the OPA CCS about the Proud Boys lie, Named Employee #1 — who was later revealed to be now-former Captain Bryan Grenon (who retired prior to the investigation being closed) — told the OPA that he created the plan to lie about the Proud Boys’ presence in the City of Seattle, after “all our mutual aid partners … had abandoned us.”

The Emerald will update this story as more information becomes available.

Carolyn Bick is a local journalist and photographer. 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: Photo by Alex Garland.

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