Image depicting Oftelie's profile in black-and-white. Surrounding him are file folders labeled as "OPA" with "Zero File" and "Contact Logs" written on each.

Fed. Monitoring Team May Have Ignored Potential Source of SPD Sex Abuse Data

by Carolyn Bick

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

Author’s Note: This article is one of two released today that both discuss issues related to the Office of Police Accountability’s (OPA) contact log complaint classification. Complaints designated as “contact log” are not subject to investigation and are effectively “closed” according to the OPA manual.

This article addresses some of the content of a March 2022 meeting among the federal monitor, members of the monitoring team, and a local lawyer and her colleague attempting to shine light on sexual abuse allegations against Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers. Based on the available evidence, it appears that allegations regarding officer sexual misconduct may exist as “contact log” complaints. However, the federal monitor appears to have dismissed this potential source of sexual abuse data without looking at any of the available contact log complaints.

Relatedly, an accompanying article addresses the OPA’s misclassifications of what appear to be serious, investigation-worthy allegations as contact log complaints. Documents obtained by the Emerald show that these allegations include retaliation and bias, as well as more than 40 complaints against Seattle Police Officer Guild (SPOG) President Mike Solan, grouped together as one complaint and classified as contact log. A third article reveals that the Community Police Commission apparently lost or destroyed survey data relating to sexual abuse by SPD officers.

In March, Seattle-based lawyer Sarah Lippek and her colleague Senait Misgina met with federal monitor Antonio Oftelie and monitoring team members Ron Ward and Vanessa Wheeler. The meeting, which Oftelie proposed, was to discuss Lippek’s repeated attempts to alert the monitoring team to allegations of sexual abuse by Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers as well as how to address those allegations in a way that would ensure the safety of those making them. Lippek and a handful of others had collected the data as part of a Community Police Commission (CPC) survey effort, but the data somehow never made it into the final report.

But despite Lippek specifically telling Oftelie where he might be able to find additional, more recent data regarding sexual abuse allegations, as well as Oftelie telling both Lippek and Misgina that “we’d be open to having you obviously come back” and his suggestion that he would “talk to DOJ … on my end to see what they could be doing from … the office here,” the monitoring team in April put out a press release that appears to be a 180-degree turn from what Oftelie and Ward said to Lippek and Misgina in the meeting.

The press release claims that “Lippek and Misgina did not present any actionable evidence of specific incidents or of a systemic problem in the SPD related to sexual misconduct, nor any survey data collected on the issue. In addition, no other organization or person has provided evidence or documentation on alleged SPD sexual misconduct to the federal monitor.”

Based on available evidence, this first statement regarding “actionable evidence” appears to be false.

While Oftelie states in the press release that “[i]nvestigations regarding alleged sexual misconduct is not within the scope of the federal monitor’s mandate, and its limited role governed by terms of the consent decree,” the monitoring team is allowed to collect data — such as contact log files — in an effort to, as the monitoring site states, engage “with city partners” to develop “measures and metrics for progress,” and to provide “technical assistance on initiatives.”

Notably, the language in the press release is similar to the language City officials — such as Seattle City Councilmember and Public Safety and Human Services Committee Chair Lisa Herbold — used to summarily dismiss the whistleblower who filed the complaint against the Office of Inspector General (OIG). It is also reminiscent of the language Oftelie used when he told the Emerald that he had not read the whistleblower complaint or any of its associated documents, and that he had instead relied on “accounts relayed to me” by City personnel.

During the meeting, too, Ward states that the City’s accountability system “is not functioning at the optimum level that it was hoped or that we aspire to, collectively.” 

Though no one in the room immediately followed up on this, such a statement from a member of the federal monitoring team, and one who has served on the monitoring team since its inception in 2012, is remarkable.

Finally, it appears that the CPC, the agency that collected the survey results that contained the sexual abuse allegation data — which the Emerald has discovered were the only known extant copies of that data — has either lost or destroyed the surveys that contained this data, in addition to anything relating to that survey effort, save for the final report that only appears to exist online.

It is unclear whether either Oftelie or Ward looked for data in the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) contact log files or whether either of them is aware that the CPC lost or destroyed the sexual abuse allegation data, as neither responded to multiple phone calls or emails.

According to the recording of the March 11 meeting between Lippek and Oftelie (the full recording of which Lippek provided to the Emerald) Lippek specifically told the monitoring team that there was a wealth of information sitting in both contact log cases and what is — or was — known as the “zero file,” which Lippek told the Emerald was at the time she worked at OIG a subcategory of contact log cases. It may by now have been subsumed into the general contact log file.

Lippek became familiar with the file during her time as an auditor with the OIG, a role in which she certified and audited investigations from the OPA. As Lippek explained to the monitoring team, the OPA puts cases it deems unrelated to SPD officer misconduct into this file. However, at least one case the OPA placed in said file appeared to have been directly related to officer misconduct — specifically, sexual abuse.

“I looked at … a lot of cases. And while I was there, it turned out that there was a file of like, pre-contact logs, where they had one case number, that they stored a whole bunch of complaints in that hadn’t been given individual case numbers and that were never reviewed,” Lippek explained in the meeting. “They weren’t reviewed by the OIG — it was a point of controversy. I was in the process of reading through what was in that file. And just in reviewing contact logs and things that had been declined for investigation by OPA, I found a few things that were extremely disturbing.”

Lippek went on to describe one of these disturbing cases, which took place in 2018 and involved sexual assault allegations against two police officers. Lippek said that she found it classified as a contact log case and that it was so concerning she brought it to the attention of then-OPA Dir. Andrew Myerberg.

In this case, Lippek said, a sex worker who was a confidential informant reported to SPD two people who said they were police officers who may have been from the North Precinct’s Vice Squad, “one of whom she believed to be in the command chain, who were sexually coercing sex workers.”

From what Lippek recalled that she could see in the OPA file, SPD then sent two officers from the North Precinct Vice Squad — the same squad out of which the two potential officers likely worked — to find witnesses. 

“And then they reported that they couldn’t find any witnesses. And then it got sent to OPA. And then it was contact logged. So, it wasn’t investigated at the OPA,” Lippek said. “I found it and said, ‘This should not be a contact log … if the report is about someone on the North Precinct Vice Squad, then that person’s colleagues should not be the ones who were asked to go look for information or ask witnesses what was going on.’”

According to the OPA Internal Operations and Training Manual, an OPA supervisor classifies all incoming complaints as Contact Log, Supervisor Action, Investigation, Expedited Investigation, Mediation, or Rapid Adjudication. While Supervisor Action cases “generally [involve] minor policy violation or performance issue that is best addressed through training, communication, or coaching by the employee’s supervisor,” cases classified as Contact Logs are essentially closed.

Lippek said that she “had dialogues with Andrew Myerberg about moving this [sexual abuse complaint] away from a contact log. As I recall, he eventually agreed. And there was, I hope, some kind of inquiry into that. But I have never seen it, the end of it. But that’s the kind of thing that I saw on multiple occasions.”

It appears that there has been no dedicated OPA inquiry or investigation into the matter. Though the case resulted in what appears on paper to be an OPA investigation — OPA case 2018OPA-1101 — it relies entirely on SPD’s own investigation. According to the OPA’s Case Closed Summary (CCS), which the OPA did not release until 2020, the original claim came from a Seattle Times reporter, who had relayed the information to SPD.

“The first individual stated to the reporter that a sex worker informed her of two males who were known to harass and assault women,” the CCS reads. “The first male was identified only by a nickname ‘Otter,’ and was said to be in his mid-30s and wearing an SPD uniform. According to the women, ‘Otter’ would aggressively ‘shake down’ sex workers for cash and was ‘handsy’ when doing so. The second male, whose name was not known, was described as driving a vehicle with California plates and was said to identify himself as an SPD employee.”

The CCS states that officers interviewed 20 sex workers, but that “[n]one of these interviews yielded any additional information about either suspect. 

“SPD also contacted the first individual who spoke to the Seattle Times reporter. The first individual stated that she had never seen ‘Otter’ but had heard about him from different women over approximately two years,” the CCS reads. “The first individual was not able to identify any specific victims of ‘Otter.’ She stated that ‘Otter’ was described as wearing a police uniform, but that he could be a member of a different law enforcement agency. The first individual declined to provide contact information and did not want to be further interviewed regarding this matter.”

The allegation regarding “Otter” and his partner is oddly mashed together with a separate incident, which the OPA itself claims was an “unrelated report of rape by SPD officers that purportedly occurred on Aurora.” The OPA says in the CCS that an individual “who was known to be experiencing crisis” arrested “in the process of negotiating his surrender to SPD after he committed an unrelated assault … alleged a conspiracy among City of Seattle officials, SPD, and the FBI to cover up rapes committed by SPD officers.”

Save that they allegedly occurred in the same part of the city, the two allegations appear to have nothing to do with each other, so it is unclear why the OPA would combine them into one case. 

Though the CCS states that this second allegation “was also investigated criminally,” it “was unable to be substantiated.”

Ultimately, the OPA — after conducting no investigation itself — determined that it “cannot meet its evidentiary burden despite best efforts” and recommended that no allegations be sustained, as SPD never identified any officers.

However, the fact that the OPA created this single case from a contact log (again, without performing an actual investigation) does not mean they then thoroughly reviewed cases marked “contact log.” If they had, Lippek told the Emerald, they would have also found a complaint marked as contact log in which a police officer told a young neurodivergent boy’s father that the child — who had gone missing — was likely dead and did not bother searching for him. The boy’s father found the child alive in his own shed hours later.

And this raises a larger issue: Not only does the recording of the meeting between Lippek and Oftelie demonstrate Oftelie’s and the monitoring team’s complete 180-degree reversal in their press release, it also appears to show that they ignored directions to data about which they specifically asked Lippek. If they had looked — or  even just run a search for discussions regarding “contact log” — they would have found several glaring misclassifications, according to official City documents from July 2021, a topic discussed in a related Emerald article also released today. While none of these specific misclassifications turned up sexual abuse allegations, they were based on a random sample. Thus, some contact log complaints may indeed continue to involve allegations of sexual abuse by SPD officers, particularly given the scope of the misclassifications identified.

The Emerald attempted multiple times to clarify whether Oftelie or Ward (or both) had looked for data in the OPA’s contact log files. While Oftelie initially did respond to the Emerald‘s original phone call via email, he said that he did not “have any more information other than what was detailed in the monitor’s statement. However, please feel free to send me any questions you may have and I’ll see if there is anything I can clarify.”

Oftelie ceased responding after the Emerald requested a phone call, given that it was not requesting additional information, only clarification on two items. Despite the Emerald following up with Oftelie multiple times via phone call and email, he did not respond — even after the Emerald sent him these yes-or-no questions: 

  1. Did you look for the contact log files Sarah Lippek referenced in the March meeting?
  2. Did you know that the CPC either lost or destroyed the data regarding sexual abuse allegations that Lippek and the team she was on collected for the agency’s inaugural survey?

This is not the first time Oftelie has appeared to draw conclusions after opting not to review critical documents. The Emerald has repeatedly written about accountability problems plaguing the OPA and the OIG, some of which were revealed in a whistleblower complaint filed against the OIG last August. But Oftelie told the Emerald in October 2021, months after the whistleblower had filed their complaint, that he had not read said complaint or any of its associated documents and that he had instead relied on “accounts relayed to me” by City personnel when he determined that the complaint had “no merit.”

It should also be noted that because Lippek, too, is a former OIG employee, this would make her the second former OIG employee whose concerns Oftelie has dismissed without reviewing available — and, for the monitoring team, immediately obtainable — evidence.

Even after the publication of the above-linked article and several others that appear to point to issues of concern in the accountability system — again, several of which were highlighted in the whistleblower’s complaint — and monthly meetings with the community, at which community members repeatedly spotlighted red flags, Oftelie has refused to address these issues. But he is not alone. City government as a whole has also repeatedly refused to address them. This is despite the fact that it was revealed that an OIG auditor certified OPA cases without opening a single file (he is now under investigation) and later that the former director of the OPA, Andrew Myerberg, is under investigation by an outside agency. No City agencies have come forward to independently update the public regarding these investigations.

Additionally, as noted previously, it appears that the Community Police Commission has either lost or destroyed the records pointing to sexual abuse allegations by Seattle police officers discussed in another article on this matter.

As the Emerald noted at the beginning of this story, during the course of this meeting, Ward also admitted that the accountability system “is not functioning at the optimum level that it was hoped or that we aspire to, collectively” — a notable statement from someone who has been serving with the federal monitoring team since the federal government placed Seattle under the Consent Decree.

As with Oftelie, the Emerald was similarly unable to get ahold of Ward, though unlike Oftelie, Ward did not respond to the Emerald at all, even after the Emerald sent him questions via email. Those questions were as follows:

  1. Why did you tell Sarah Lippek in the March meeting that the accountability system was not functioning as hoped for or intended? What exactly did you mean by this?
  2. Why did you place the onus on Sarah Lippek to effectively reproduce the CPC’s inaugural survey data collection effort?
  3. Why did you insinuate to Sarah Lippek that if she could not round up people who would come forward with what are effectively lawsuits regarding sexual misconduct by officers, there was no point?
  4. What did you mean when you referenced people who came forward as potentially being “in jeopardy or danger or whatever”? Why did you tell Sarah Lippek that she would be “best positioned” to protect them and from what?
  5. Did you know that the CPC either lost or destroyed the data regarding sexual abuse allegations that Lippek and the team she was on collected for the agency’s inaugural survey?
  6. Did you look for the contact log files Sarah Lippek referenced in the March meeting?

The Emerald will update this story with any responses or new information it receives.

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: Collage by the Emerald team based on a screenshot from a virtual CPC meeting on May 19, 2021.

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