Screenshot depicting community members gathered for a Community Police Commission Public Engagement meeting.

‘Like an Ambush’: Human Rights Commissioners Detail Pressure From Council, CPC, Not to Pursue Amicus Status

Two more commissioners resign

by Carolyn Bick

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

Seattle Human Rights Commissioners past and present say that since the commission announced its intention to seek amicus status with the federal court in the matter of the Consent Decree, they have faced repeated warnings of ethical and legal violations. 

These warnings have come from the Seattle City Attorney’s Office — the topic of this story — along with members of the Seattle City Council and the Community Police Commission, which is the focus of today’s story.

Two additional resignations from the Seattle Human Rights Commission (SHRC) have followed in the wake of months of what several SHRC commissioners have described to the Emerald as pressure they have faced from the Seattle City Attorney’s Office (SCAO) regarding the matter of the SHRC seeking amicus curiae status (amicus status) with the federal court in the matter of the Consent Decree, an agreement between the City of Seattle and the Department of Justice that has been in place since 2012. Amicus status would allow the commission to submit relevant documents to the court.

However, the pressure, according to commissioners, has not simply come from the SCAO. It has also come from the Community Police Commission (CPC) — and, to a lesser degree, the Seattle City Council (SCC). It came in the form of two different private meetings: one that took place on Sept. 29, 2022, and another on Feb. 9, 2023. 

Now-former SHRC Commissioner and Administrative Co-Chair Julia Ismael — who, along with three other commissioners, resigned in October 2022, due in part to the pressure she and other commissioners were facing from the SCAO — was on the commission when it publicly announced last April that it would seek amicus status. Almost immediately following this move, the SHRC began receiving warnings from the SCAO

According to both Ismael and current SHRC Co-Chair Matthew Mitnick, members of the CPC tried to dissuade the SHRC from seeking amicus status during a Sept. 29 meeting with the CPC, SCC Councilmember Lisa Herbold, and Councilmember Tammy Morales. Ismael, Mitnick, and another SHRC commissioner, Bryennah Quander, attended the meeting to speak with Herbold, the CPC, and Morales about the SHRC’s desire to pursue amicus status.

However, Ismael said, she and her fellow commissioners did not get much of a chance to speak. Instead, she said, “it was like an ambush.”

In relating the meeting to the Emerald, Ismael said that while she did not remember the exact words, she remembered the gist: “‘What were you thinking?’ … It was not like … super well-crafted, thoughtful diplomatic kinds of questions. It was basically like, ‘Why didn’t you communicate with us before you went out and did all of these things?’ … ‘Why have you been so absent?’”

“And then,” Ismael continued, “I got to remind them of all of the times that we have sent … our commissioners to their CPC meetings, have invited them to come to any single one of ours, to respond to any of our requests for us to meet. … They are the ones who never replied and responded.”

Past and present SHRC commissioners have told the Emerald that the SCC has been fairly unresponsive to the commission’s communications. Ismael said that emails would often go unanswered. 

Ismael said that during her yearlong tenure on the SHRC, despite invitations, neither SCC nor the CPC attended a single meeting of the SHRC. Ismael specifically cited invitations to Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Tammy Morales.

Herbold told the Emerald in an email that “[b]efore the meeting last September with SHRC and CPC together, I met with SHRC, but it was not at a regular meeting of the SHRC, in June of 2020.”

“I have no correspondence from SHRC that I can find between January 2022 to September 2022 asking to meet with me,” Herbold told the Emerald. She denied the claim that she had not been responsive to the SHRC.

Morales told the Emerald in an email that “I did not attend an SHRC meeting in 2022. For context, my office oversees 21 boards and commissions. This is almost 3 times more than any other Councilmember with [the] next most that a Councilmember oversees [being] 8. … Our office received one request to meet in April, which we missed due to the high email volume my office receives. The only other correspondence was regarding the September 29 meeting.”

A ‘Hostile’ Environment

Ismael describes the mood in the Sept. 29 meeting as “hostile,” with SCC and CPC members “interrupting me … contradicting everything that I’m saying.”

Ismael recalls that she had to leave the meeting — which started late due to CPC Commissioner Rev. Harriett Walden’s late arrival — before it ended, due to another appointment.

When the time came for Ismael to sign off, “… they’re still sitting there chastising me, Julia — not the commission, but me, specifically — in a role that I played and not communicating what our intentions were with the CPC, and with not informing the councilmembers about anything. … I have to remind them, like, ‘Look, we didn’t even create a document. We were in the phase of talking about this potential opportunity for us.’ … [T]hat phase of the conversation was when we were trying to reach out to them with no response.”

Additionally, both Ismael and Mitnick shared with the Emerald that at this meeting, the commissioners present learned that there had been some sort of prior communication between Herbold and the CPC the night before the Sept. 29 meeting.

Ismael recalled that, when Walden joined the meeting, Herbold said, “‘Oh, Rev. Walden, do you remember that when we were talking last night, and we had a meeting, and you had wanted to ask them some really specific questions. What were the questions you wanted to ask?’”

Rev. Walden has served on the CPC since her appointment by former Mayor Mike McGinn in 2013. Her term officially expired in December 2021, and she is ineligible for reappointment. She continues to serve as a commissioner because Mayor Bruce Harrell has not appointed anyone new to take her place.

“And I said, ‘Whoa, whoa, stop right there. Hold on a moment. You met last night to discuss this meeting today?’ [And they said,] ‘Oh, yeah, we did,’” Ismael recounted to the Emerald.

Ismael also references this prior meeting in two separate emails she sent on Sept. 30, 2022, both of which she shared with the Emerald.

One of these emails was addressed to Herbold, Morales, and the members of the CPC who were present at the Sept. 29 meeting. The relevant section reads, “And apparently you all had met the night before to talk about questions for the HRC?”

“That immediately eroded any trust I had brought with me. That you Councilmember Herbold and Rev. Walden met to talk about us beforehand and that is called ‘marginalizing’. I hate it. And, apparently you all have met from July until now, the night before last to discuss questions for us. What I also don’t like are falsehoods, to put it kindly,” Ismael’s email reads.

She also sent another email, addressed to then-fellow SHRC commissioner Natasha Bennett. In describing the course of the meeting, she tells Bennett, “Then, CM Herbold talked to Rev about their ‘meeting last night’ in which they discussed what to ask us. The question was, ‘Why didn’t the HRC communicate before voting on Amicus? OK. That’s called marginalization: to meet separately to discuss ‘what to do about so-n-so.’”

Herbold denied that she met privately with Walden or any other CPC members the night prior. She also denied that any commissioners privately communicated with her about the Sept. 29 meeting the night before.

“I cannot describe exactly how disrespectful the whole ordeal felt. It was retraumatizing to say the very least. And I’m done.

—Julia Ismael, former SHRC commissioner and administrative co-chair

Herbold sent the Emerald a screenshot of a Sept. 28, 2022, email from aide Newell Aldrich reminding CPC members of the meeting the following day. She suggested that was what Ismael and Mitnick were referring to.

However, when the Emerald wrote back to clarify and included the line in Ismael’s email to Herbold, Morales, and the CPC — “And apparently you all had met the night before to talk about questions for the HRC?” — Herbold sent the Emerald a Sept. 28 email she received from now-former CPC Executive Dir. Brandy Grant.

“With all due respect. I’m somewhat confused about the purpose of the meeting. I would be curious for an explanation regarding the reason the SHRC was seeking amicus status,” Grant writes. “We are prepared to ask for their reasoning for seeking amicus status and what appeared to be an unwillingness to reach out and work with us to collaborate on police reform and discuss concerns they may have had before taking it to the press and seeking said status.”

Herbold wrote to the Emerald that Grant’s email “makes it clear that up until then there was lack of clarity – much less a coordinated plan – about the origins of the meeting. 

“Do you really think it would be likely that I had a meeting after sending the 10pm email the night before the meeting?” Herbold wrote to the Emerald. “It seems to me that it should be pretty clear there was simply an error – much like the error in saying that I scheduled the meeting with last minute notice and that I didn’t respond to requests to meet for the months between January and September.”

SHRC commissioners have discussed the reasons why they have been seeking amicus status multiple times in public meetings. As stated by the SHRC itself and reported in previous Emerald stories, the commission wanted to pursue amicus status in response to community members’ repeatedly voiced concerns about the perceived failure of the CPC — the agency in the City of Seattle’s three-pronged police accountability system responsible for bringing community concerns, voices, and experiences to the fore — to act in the community’s best interests.

Grant closed her email to Herbold on Sept. 28 with the following — “All of our work, purpose and mission has been very public and transparent since the CPC was established. It feels troublesome to walk into a meeting where it feels as though we are coming to justify our work when it’s clear and available. I would hope that we would be meeting to talk about how do we move forward.”

Herbold wrote back: “The goal here is to attempt some bridge building so the SHRC can appreciate your good work. I offered in July to Rev. Walden to facilitate and she agreed that it was a good idea. I’m hoping to channel their interests to be allied with your work rather than oppositional.”

When the Emerald asked if this email exchange between Herbold and Grant may have been the source of the claim by the SHRC’s Ismael that Herbold had met with the CPC prior to the Sept. 29 meeting, thereby eroding trust with the SHRC, Herbold did not give a direct answer. Instead, she said: “Perhaps. That is why I sent it; so you can come to your own conclusion.” 

The Emerald also asked a follow-up question — specifically, what Herbold thought of Ismael’s Sept. 30 email, in which Ismael explained that she felt the SCC and CPC were marginalizing the SHRC, and of which Herbold was an original recipient. Herbold did not respond at all to this question.

A Heated Engagement

Some of the community concerns about the CPC that the SHRC proposed to respond to by seeking amicus status appear to have been on display in the CPC’s Community Engagement Meeting on Feb. 14, 2023, as well as its regular morning meeting on Feb. 15, 2023. The engagement meeting, in particular, became heated a little more than halfway into the meeting, with several community members — many of whom were young people — expressing concern that the CPC does not listen to the community towards the end of the meeting. 

Though the CPC had a camera on site at the Community Engagement meeting, and CPC Community Outreach Manager Felicia Cross herself had initially told the Emerald on Feb. 13 that “the meeting will be audio recorded and I will be happy to send you the information,” that information was not forthcoming, and CPC Communications Strategic Advisor Megan Clark — who had been copied on the email thread with Cross — denied the Emerald access to any sort of recording, by way of silence, when the Emerald specifically pointed out what Cross had promised.

Notably, at the engagement meeting, the CPC’s Cross also repeatedly appeared to prevent Castill Hightower, a community member, SHRC co-chair, and regular CPC meeting attendee, from speaking by talking loudly over her and instructing the sound person to cut her mic.

Before her mic was cut, Hightower said she was speaking “not just in representation of myself, my family, or my brother, Herbert Hightower, Jr., who was shot and killed by Seattle Police [SPD] in 2004 while experiencing a mental health crisis, and whose killer is still employed by Seattle Police — but for the impact to community at large in pushing back from the continued harms and hypocrisy perpetuated not just by SPD but the offices created under court order to hold them accountable, and today that is the CPC. That office has continued to stifle the voices of those most impacted by police violence …”

When Hightower attempted to continue, Cross continued talking over her, saying, “We’re not gonna do this,” and seemed to justify her actions by saying, “I invited you to this meeting,” and “This meeting was for you.” Cross continued talking over her mic as audience members pointed out that the meeting’s purpose was to hear from community members.

Cross, Walden, SPD Officer Mark Mullens, and then-CPC Policy Dir. Cali Ellis were the only members of the CPC present at the engagement meeting, which was set up to allow the community to speak about their concerns. Absent was Grant, who, according to an email the Emerald received from CPC Communications Strategic Advisor Megan Clark, resigned on Feb. 10 and attended her last CPC meeting on Jan. 4. Clark said that the CPC had 10 days from her resignation to make an interim director appointment, which the CPC did on Feb. 15, naming Cali Ellis as the interim director.

Clark sent only partial executive session (not public) meeting notes to the Emerald, where Grant’s replacement was discussed, so it is unclear whether the CPC also discussed other issues in executive session.

Clark did not answer the Emerald when it asked why Grant had stopped attending meetings more than a month before her resignation and also did not answer when asked why Grant resigned, instead saying, “You need to contact Brandy for an answer to that question.”

When the Emerald asked whether Grant still has access to her City email, and what the best way to contact Grant might be, Clark responded, “Brandy no longer has access to her email. For privacy reasons, I am not allowed to give out her personal contact information.”

When the Emerald asked how it could be expected to contact Grant, if it does not have her contact information, Clark did not respond.

At the CPC’s regular morning meeting, which took place the day after the Community Engagement Meeting, Hightower refuted Cross’ words to her the previous night and took to Twitter in real time to call many of the CPC’s claims “lies.” 

Hightower also shared with the Emerald her email conversation with Cross, the contents of which appear to further refute Cross’ claims regarding Hightower and their communications. The correspondence, linked above, has been minimally redacted for privacy. 

In response to Hightower’s statements at the meeting, SPD Officer Mark Mullens said that Hightower had actually refused to come to the engagement meeting in prior emails with Cross, and that her decision to show up was a surprise for the CPC. He said that in order for him to speak with her, Hightower needed to “calm down” and that he understood “her point” and why she wanted to “yell and scream.” 

Mullens also claimed at the CPC morning meeting that regular CPC attendee Dr. Howard Gale walked around the room the previous night and “instigated” strife. Gale’s own video from that night disputes Mullens’ claim.

Both Hightower and Gale have filed an OPA complaint against Mullens for his claims.

Ethics in Question

Both Ismael and Mitnick told the Emerald that members of the CPC claimed that the SHRC was violating the ethics code by pursuing amicus status. 

“Everyone ganged up on Julia, basically,” Mitnick recalled. “They were referring to the Human Rights Commission as ‘operating out of turn,’ as not understanding the accountability ordinance, and that we were violating ethics rules, as described by the City Attorney’s Office. … It was disturbing.”

However, it is unclear how the SHRC could be violating the ethics code, particularly when the City made clear in its response to the 2021 whistleblower complaint against the Office of Inspector General (OIG) that it only considers conflicts of interest or financial impropriety to be violations of said code.

The City’s ethics code itself as it is written also primarily deals with financial gain and impropriety, even in matters of conflicts of interest. While it does state that “[i]mproper use of official position” would be considered an ethics violation, the section clearly states that this only applies in use of the position “for a purpose that is, or would to a reasonable person appear to be, primarily for the private benefit of the covered individual or any other person,” instead of for the benefit of the City. It is unclear how seeking amicus curiae status as a collective group to advance community concerns could be construed as being motivated by any private, individual benefit.

“As a previous human rights commissioner myself, I’m definitely open to hearing righteous anger and respect Julia’s decision to leave a space that was not serving her needs.”

—Councilmember Tammy Morales

The day after the Sept. 29 meeting, Ismael also wrote an email to Councilmembers Herbold and Morales and the CPC, in which she touched on the threat of legal action suggested by the SCAO, writing that “just talking about amicus yesterday put me at risk of violating ethics rules as described to me by the city Attorney’s Office. 

“I put myself at personal risk just to share what I know,” Ismael continues in her email. “Please contact the city attorney’s office should you need to discuss amicus as we as Commissioners are disallowed under literal threat of reprimand. I hope it’s finally understood how thoroughly our voices were and remain shut down. I’m not even supposed to talk to you all.”

Regarding all the Emerald’s questions about the CPC’s interactions with the SHRC and the private meetings detailed in this story, Clark replied to the Emerald on background (meaning not for attribution or quote) with partial answers, but refused to say whether she was declining to provide answers on the record, despite the Emerald’s multiple attempts to clarify the matter.*

When the Emerald asked Morales — who is not cited in the meeting notes as having spoken — why she did not say anything during the meeting, and what she thought of the email Ismael sent to her, Herbold, and the CPC the following day, Morales replied, “I made brief remarks at the beginning of the September 29 meeting, but my role was primarily to listen and attempt to understand the scope of the conflict. 

“My vision for not only the human rights commission but all the commissions is that they’re able to meaningfully create change and inform the policies the City pursues,” Morales wrote. “As a previous human rights commissioner myself, I’m definitely open to hearing righteous anger and respect Julia’s decision to leave a space that was not serving her needs.”

Commissioner’s Mic Also Muted

SHRC Co-Chair Matthew Mitnick also described to the Emerald a recent meeting he and a fellow SHRC commissioner had with CPC Commissioners Jeremy Wood and Mary Ruffin on Feb. 9, 2023. 

Mitnick says the meeting was not necessarily supposed to be about the SHRC’s pursuit of amicus status. Instead, the impetus was an incident during the CPC’s Feb. 1 meeting via the virtual meeting platform Zoom, when Commissioners Joel Merkel and Rev. Harriet Walden told attendant CPC staff to demote Mitnick to a non-speaking role via an app setting that would mute his mic, despite the fact that Mitnick is the SHRC liaison to the CPC. According to an email Mitnick shared with the Emerald, this happened at 9:48 a.m., during the meeting and without warning or verbal acknowledgement. Mitnick said that he was subsequently unable to clarify something that the CPC had said about the SHRC, despite asking to be allowed to speak.

Mitnick said that at the start of the Feb. 9 meeting, after a brief introduction, Wood jumped right into the matter of the SHRC pursuing amicus status and attempted to get the SHRC commissioners to agree that the SHRC should “consolidate” its efforts to seek amicus status with the CPC’s own efforts to seek amicus status with regard to the Consent Decree. Wood said that it would likely be difficult to get Judge James L. Robart, the federal judge overseeing the Consent Decree, to agree to grant the SHRC amicus status, echoing what the SCAO had posited to the SHRC in a recent private meeting.

Mitnick told the Emerald that Wood appeared to frame the suggestion that the SHRC should not seek amicus status and should instead hitch its efforts to the CPC — effectively putting itself under the CPC’s control in matters relating to the court — in such a way as to make it seem like the easier route, terming the road to amicus status for the SHRC a “fight.”

Mitnick replied that he believed the SHRC would be open to working together with the CPC but that he would like to see the commission pursue amicus status independently, concurrently with any joint efforts between the CPC and the SHRC.

The Feb. 9 conversation also briefly involved discussion of reconciliation between the CPC and the SHRC, but after a short discussion and attempted meeting wrap-up, Mitnick says Wood attempted to get more information about the SHRC’s next moves. Mitnick told the Emerald that Wood specifically asked where the SHRC’s efforts stood and whether the SHRC had yet talked with a lawyer. 

Mitnick told Wood that the SHRC would be determining next steps after its upcoming Criminal Justice Task Force (CJTF) meeting — which happened on Feb. 13 — and would keep the CPC in the loop.

The Emerald reached out to the CPC for comment regarding what had happened at the Feb. 9 meeting. As previously stated, Clark replied to the Emerald on “background” with partial answers but refused to say whether she was declining to provide answers on the record, despite the Emerald’s multiple attempts to clarify the matter. 

Perceived Lack of Reciprocity and Respect

Now-former SHRC Commissioner and Administrative Co-Chair Julia Ismael told the Emerald that, in addition to the abrasive and offensive tone of the Sept. 29 meeting, the entire affair was scheduled fairly last minute.

Herbold shared with the Emerald a portion of an email that she appears to have sent in response to Ismael’s claim: “In late August, Alex in my office sent an email with various options for meeting times, giving 3 different days as options. Later, in September, he sent another email with options across 2 different days. Finally, on September 20th he emailed to offer the following days and times …”

Ismael had shared a similar email with the Emerald, and explained to the Emerald that she had replied that it takes a bit to schedule a meeting outside regular SHRC meetings with volunteers (the SHRC is made up of volunteers, not paid City employees).

“While I was waiting for my Commissioners to reply (9/21 to 28th), they sent the meeting notice on the 28th for the 29th,” Ismael told the Emerald. “As volunteers it’s always a challenge to schedule multiple calendars.”

Email records show that while Ismael was CC’ed on an email on Sept. 27 regarding a meeting on Sept. 29 — which would end up being the meeting date — Ismael had not actually replied with a date that worked for her and other commissioners.

Notably, the title of the meeting event was, “CPC & the Human Rights Commission, regarding the work of the Community Police Commission.”

The following day, on Sept. 28, Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) Commissions Manager Meredith Stone emailed Ismael: “CM Herbold’s office scheduled their meeting for tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. 

“Please let me know if you can or can’t make it,” the email continues, suggesting, as Ismael contends, that she never confirmed whether Sept. 29 would work for her. “Call in information is below. Also feel free to invite another (or others) commissioner to the meeting.”

Stone then sent an email to the SHRC the day of the meeting on Sept. 29: “This is a meeting scheduled for today Thursday 9/29 with CM Herbold and the Community Police Commission. Julia sent me your emails in hopes that at least one of you can attend. 

“Thank you and we hope for more notice in the future!” Stone’s email closed.

Ismael also shared emails with the Emerald showing that there was originally a meeting scheduled for Sept. 16 that Herbold’s office canceled just a few days prior, before sending out a new slate of dates.

Ismael said that the meeting followed months of silence from both Morales’ and Herbold’s offices in response to the emails Ismael and her fellow SHRC commissioners would send them regarding meeting privately with them. She also cited Herbold’s and Morales’ non-attendance at SHRC meetings, despite what Ismael said were repeated invitations to those meetings.

In the email she sent to the councilmembers and the CPC the day after the Sept. 29 meeting, Ismael references this: “Also, Councilmembers Herbold and Morales: we’ve been reaching out to both of your offices since January with no (zero) response from Morales and minimal response, often weeks later and with last minute requests/demands from Herbold (such as yesterday). It’s September.”

Ismael sent the Emerald several email threads in which it appears she and her fellow commissioners repeatedly attempted to schedule meetings with both Morales and Herbold, beginning in April 2022. Two of these threads contained invitations to the SHRC’s regular monthly meetings, and one thread regarded a request from Herbold to meet with the SHRC

However, it was not until September 2022 that any such meeting happened, and, as mentioned earlier, the date appears to have been decided upon the day before and without confirmation that any SHRC members were available.

Similarly, Ismael said, not a single CPC commissioner attended an SHRC meeting during Ismael’s tenure, despite Ismael herself and other SHRC commissioners attending CPC meetings. She also references this in the aforementioned post-Sept. 29 meeting email, writing, “Commissioner Quander did share that CPC is finally considering sending one of the 20+ members to one of OUR meetings. That’s literally a first I’ve ever heard of in my one year and going through years of minutes, and it’s past time.”

Ismael also told the Emerald that CPC Dir. Brandy Grant scheduled a follow-up meeting with her and several others, following the Sept. 29 meeting, only to cancel five minutes prior to said meeting. 

Ismael sent the Emerald an Oct. 12, 2022, response she sent to SOCR Commissions Manager Meredith Stone and now-former SOCR staffer and SHRC liaison Marta Idowu regarding Stone’s notes of the Sept. 29 meeting with Herbold, Morales, and the CPC. In this email, Ismael mentions Grant’s last-minute cancellation, as well as surprise and dismay over Stone’s note-taking:

“Wow,” Ismael writes, before quoting the notes: “‘HRC representatives spoke to wanting to work together moving forward’ is not how I felt leaving the meeting at 5:10 (the meeting went much longer in my absence). What was the ACTUAL end time?”

“It’s amazing how much of the CPC and Hebold’s [sic] position was documented and ours literally 3 sentences. It’s as if I never spoke,” Ismael writes. “But our limited capacity was mentioned? One half sentence out of a chapter of speech. …[I]f this isn’t a perfect example of bias in documenting.”

Ismael then continues, adding what she also felt Stone’s notes should have reflected: “‘CPC and CM accuses HRC of not communicating even though the HRC holds public meetings, none previously attended by either CPC or CMs,’” and “‘CM Herbold and CPC met previously to discuss what to do about the HRC,’” before closing: “By the way, Brandy Grant scheduled a meeting for yesterday and cancelled 5 min before.”

Readers can find the full text of those notes here.

Ismael also wrote on Oct. 12 to now-former SHRC Chair Natasha Bennett, who left in mid-December. The email — which Ismael shared with the Emerald — contains further documentation of what happened at the Sept. 29 meeting. 

“On the 28th, I got a meeting request to meet with CM Herbold and CM Morales, and the CPC. FOR THE NEXT DAY,” Ismael begins, apparently referencing Stone’s Sept. 28 email. “I rescheduled a Dr appt I had waited on for 3 months to attend.”

While she was able to invite Mitnick and Quander to attend, and the three were on time, Walden was not. According to Ismael’s email, Herbold insisted that they wait on Walden, whom she said was having login trouble. Ismael writes in the email that it took a good 15 minutes for Walden to sign on.

Ismael tells Bennett that Herbold then referenced a prior meeting between herself and Walden, and that Herbold invited Walden and Cross to speak. However, Ismael wrote, the way they spoke to her made it feel like “getting sent to the [principal’s] office.”

Ismael said that when she got a chance to speak, “I brought up the limits placed on us to discuss in public amicus at all under literal threat of ethics violations sanctions,” Ismael continues, referencing the ongoing warnings from the SCAO. “I cannot describe exactly how disrespectful the whole ordeal felt. It was retraumatizing to say the very least. And I’m done.

“It’s so clear to me they cannot overcome a conflict-based default relationship and there is and [sic] abject absence of trust,” Ismael writes. “I did manage to say it’s them lacking communication … And, they to this very day still have no idea why we considered amicus. No idea even what we had proposed to say. Absolute lack of trust.”

She writes, too, that “[t]hey wanted to go over time. But I had a hard stop at 10 after. So I left. They continued. WITHOUT ME (obviously not as crucial as Rev Walden …).”

Ismael closes the email by stating that she can no longer stomach how the City is treating the commission, and announces her intent to leave the commission. The Emerald broke this story last year, the day Ismael and several other SHRC commissioners left the commission en masse, citing poor treatment.

“I’m a Black woman and I gotta protect myself. This is a highly toxic relationship with the City and I physically cannot manage. It’s making my stomach turn. I’m spending 15-20 hours a week away from my own start up business just to be berated, marginalized, and then ignored while I do their event planning?” Ismael writes. “So, Tyrone, Guneeta, and I are all leaving this week. I offer the option to you as well.”

“Anyone who hears that we have a $2000 budget for Human Rights and $12,000 for an event laughs out loud. How is this not anything other than a literal performance?” Ismael continues. “I love you dearly, and what I don’t want is to leave you in a bind which is what will happen.”

Bennett left the commission in mid-December 2022. Her email — addressed to the SHRC, SOCR Commissions Manager Meredith Stone and former SOCR staffer and SHRC liaison Marta Idowu — does not cite a reason for leaving.

The Emerald has also learned that two more commissioners, Jo Bechtold and Jeff Abdullah, have recently resigned, due to continued pressure from the SCAO. The SHRC’s Twitter account mentioned this recent resignation in a Feb. 15 tweet.

*Author’s Note: Clark also said that she was not an official spokesperson for the CPC, and that that role belongs to the executive director or CPC co-chairs, none of whom has responded to the Emerald for comment. Thus — in a curious instance of physics meeting journalism — there now exists a Shrödinger’s cat-like situation, whereby the CPC both has and has not responded, and may or may not have declined to comment.

Editors’ Note: This article was updated post publication to add a link to Castill Hightower’s public comment at the Public Safety and Human Services Committee meeting on Feb. 28, 2023, and to more completely represent Castill Hightower’s words at the Feb. 14, 2023 community engagement meeting. Read Hightower’s complete comments as she intended to deliver them that night.

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: CPC Community Outreach Manager Felicia Cross (far left) instructs a sound operator to cut Castill Hightower’s (far right) mic in the middle of her remarks. Screenshot from live video shot by Dr. Howard Gale, used with permission.

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