Sideview closeup of a Black woman in a police uniform.

BREAKING: Claims in Fmr. SPD Chief Best Video Discredited by OEM the Day Before

SPD Publicly Released Video Without Clarification

by Carolyn Bick

The Emerald’s Watchdragon reporting seeks to increase accountability within our city’s institutions through in-depth investigative journalism.

In the late morning of June 11, 2020, shortly before 11 a.m., the Seattle Police Department (SPD) released a video of its now-former Chief Carmen Best relaying a message to officers, following the internal and public fallout of the Seattle police’s decision to abandon the East Precinct.

In that video, Best claimed that SPD had received reports of armed people patrolling the area, and that these same armed people “may be demanding payment from business owners in exchange for some of that protection. We’ve also heard that they may be demanding to see identification for people who live in the area. This is not legal.”

But about 17 hours earlier, at 6:10 p.m. on June 10, 2020, Best — along with several other high-ranking City officials, including a host of core mayoral staffers, as well as SPD Assistant Chief Thomas Mahaffey and now-interim Chief Adrian Diaz — received an updated ground intelligence report email from then-acting Dir. of the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Laurel Nelson. The report specifically stated that the above claims about extortion and identification demands were untrue, per an OEM staffer’s site visit to investigate the claims.

The next morning, SPD released the video to the public, despite OEM staff investigating and discrediting the claims within. It is unclear when the video was internally circulated, but the SPD Blotter page has an update at 11:05 a.m. that same day stating, “Point of clarification. We are only releasing this publicly after hearing that it had already been leaked.” However, there is no acknowledgement in that update that the claims Best made within the video had been discredited almost a full day earlier.

These claims were disseminated not only throughout the local community as fact, but also throughout the nation, most prominently by conservative media outlets like the entertainment entity Fox News. In early January 2021, six months after the fact, SPD finally walked back the claims made in the video, but never admitted knowing that they were false hours before posting the video and the aforementioned “point of clarification.”

In the email from OEM, Nelson specifically strikes the following sentences from the original intelligence report, sent just before 6 p.m. on June 10: “OEM has followed up on secondhand information about persons being asked to show IDs. OED is trying to verify this information. Residents of the Sunset Electric building report that they have had ID checked once and have had an entrance to their building blocked. They are reporting that they are experiencing hostile behavior from some group members” and “There are also some reports that some businesses are being asked for protection money.”

Figure 1. Screenshot of part of the updated ground intelligence report email sent by then-acting Dir. of the Office of Emergency Management Laura Nelson. 

Nelson replaces these sentences with the following amendment in bright red letters: 

Amendment: Per Mami’s [Seattle Public Utilities General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Mami Hara] site visit. No blockage at alley. SDOT [Seattle Department of Transportation] had a Jersey barrier there until yesterday morning. Sunset Electric and building manger have no complaints nor have heard complaints from building residents. Upon talking with every business that is open inside the perimeter and several on the outside, almost all say they have been treated well and respectfully no shakedowns, no ID requested. A hotdog vendor at 12th and Pine, who is out there every night till around 9, stated he has not seen any ID checks, barrier turn backs (he’s next to one), or weapons.

In addition to Best, Mahaffey, and Diaz, Nelson sent this email to now-former mayor’s office staff, including Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller, Chief of Staff Stephanie Formas, Dir. of Legislative Affairs Anthony Auriemma, Durkan’s Senior Public Safety Advisor Julie Kline, Office of the Mayor Senior Operations Manager Kathryn Aisenberg, and Dir. of Communications Ernesto Apreza. Also included in this email were Hara, who visited the site, current Seattle Fire Department (SFD) Chief Harold Scoggins, former Seattle Parks and Recreation Superintendent Jesús Aguirre, current Operations Coordinator Kenneth Neafcy — who served as Emergency Operations Center (EOC) director during the Proud Boys hoax incident — former SDOT Dir. Sam Zimbabwe, former Department of Neighborhoods (DON) Dir. Andres Mantilla, current Dir. of Finance and Administrative Services Calvin Goings, and current Deputy Dir. of Neighborhoods Sarah Morningstar. CC’ed recipients also included a host of other City staff. Nelson herself currently serves as the OEM’s deputy director.

Additionally, just six hours before Nelson sent this email, SPD Assistant Chief Deanna Nolette held a press conference in which she pushed the unsubstantiated rumors that were later debunked. 

Nolette appeared to suggest that armed guards were demanding identification from people, telling reporters in a 12:30 p.m. press conference that “[w]e have been hearing from community members that they have been subjected to barricades set up by the protesters with some armed individuals running them as checkpoints into the neighborhood. … No one at these checkpoints has the legal authority to demand identification from anyone.”

She also told reporters that “we have heard, anecdotally, reports of citizens and businesses being asked to pay a fee to operate within this area. This is the crime of extortion.” This, too, is a statement that would later be discredited by OEM’s email. 

It should be noted that Nolette was not in direct receipt of Nelson’s email. However, Nolette was a core command officer in this situation, and it is unclear why she would not have been kept abreast of developments and on-the-ground intelligence reports, particularly when speaking to the public on the department’s behalf.

In addition to Nelson’s email, the Greater Seattle Business Association tweeted just before 10:30 a.m. on June 11, 2020, that it and the Capitol Hill Business Association had reached out to local businesses and found no evidence to support rumors of extortion and shakedowns. After SPD released Best’s video, several other journalists also reported that they did not see any armed guards checking identification and that the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce did not receive any reports of extortion.

The Emerald has reached out to Nelson and SPD and will update this story if they respond.

CORRECTION: The Emerald mistakenly printed that neither the department nor Best ever walked back these claims. This was incorrect. They walked back these claims in January 2021, six months after the fact. The Emerald also clarified information in the third paragraph regarding the specific claims the email discredited.

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: Former SPD chief Carmen Best (Photo by Susan Fried)

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