Despite contract going into effect in August 2022 and expiring in December, SPD did not file with the City Clerk’s Office until April 2023.
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 the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) retained Seattle-based firm the Seabold Group to investigate former Seattle Police Department (SPD) Chief Carmen Best over her actions and decisions during the 2020 protests, including the abandonment of the East Precinct, alleged improper deployment of tear gas, and allegations of dishonesty in the media.
The Emerald broke the news in February that the City had hired an outside firm, but that former Mayor Jenny Durkan may have pushed the OPA to delay investigating Best. In February 2023, the OPA was reviewing documents and would not tell the Emerald the name of the firm or additional details about the investigation, including when the results would be released.
Documents in the above-linked story also revealed that officials may have been waiting for the Office of Inspector General (OIG) to conclude the Sentinel Event Review (SER) before pursuing investigations involving Best. Per a March 28 press release from the Mayor’s Office, the SER recently concluded. According to the OIG’s webpage, the process reviewed “‘critical incidents,’ looking at SPD systems to determine how they can avoid future harmful outcomes and better serve the community.”
The filing revealed that the firm and SPD signed the consultant agreement contract no later than last August, with the contract as signed expiring on Dec. 31, 2022. The $45,000 contract was not filed with the City Clerk’s Office until Wednesday, April 26, 2023, after the Clerk’s office asked about it, since consultant contracts are supposed to be filed with the Clerk’s office. The Clerk’s office confirmed to the Emerald in an April 28 email that it reached out to the OPA, after the Emerald made public disclosure requests for the contract in mid-April 2023.
Notably, too, it took the OPA two years to retain Seabold Group, even though the cases involving Best and conversations about investigating her began in the summer of 2020. As outlined in the Emerald’s February story linked above, City officials appear to have been waiting for the OIG to finish the SER, before starting an investigation into Best. The two-year delay between these conversations and the commencement of the investigation further suggests officials may have decided to slow roll investigating Best, targeting the release of the investigation to after the SER’s conclusion.
When the Emerald asked the OPA why it had not filed the contract with the Clerk’s office, communications manager Jessica Schreindl told the Emerald that the OPA’s “filings are routinely done by SPD’s Grants & Contracts Unit, not us. Once OPA was alerted by the City Clerk that the contract was not in their files, OPA produced the document directly to them.”
It is unclear why SPD’s grants and contracts unit did not immediately file the contract and why it took two years to retain the firm. The Emerald asked SPD about both of these issues over the weekend, and will update this story, if the department responds.
The Emerald recently learned the name of the firm through a public disclosure communication regarding its still-open public records requests to the OPA for any records concerning the outside investigation into Best. It filed further public records requests for the Seabold Group contract within the last few weeks accordingly with both the City Clerk and Finance and Administrative Services, and emailed the Clerk’s office. At the time of those records requests, neither department had the contract.
According to the firm’s website, Seabold Group is a firm that specializes in “conducting workplace investigations, forensic accounting, and civil and criminal litigation support.” Kris Cappel, whose Seabold biography lists her as a former federal prosecutor and a civil litigator, appears to be the lead investigator on the case. SPD’s Chief Operating Officer Brian Maxey signed the contract on behalf of SPD, through which the OPA functions. The contract is titled, “Seabold Group Review of OPA Investigations.”
When the Emerald asked the Clerk’s office whether it’s usual for agencies to wait to file contracts, the office replied that while it was “not uncommon for them not to be filed right away,” the office “hope[s] that departments will file their contracts promptly.”
According to the contract — which, as filed with the Clerk’s office, comprises only 14 pages and does not contain any specific information past page 8 — “the City hires the Consultant to provide independent legal services of the analysis and evaluation in connection to OPA/City designated investigations. Consultant shall provide those independent expert services reasonably required for the City in the review of the OPA investigations.
“Consultant shall take reasonable steps to keep Client informed of significant developments in connection with Consultant’s work on the Case and to respond to Client’s inquiries, and provide milestone updates,” the contract continues. “Client shall be truthful with Consultant, cooperate with Consultant, keep Consultant informed of developments, perform the obligations which Client has agreed to perform under this Contract, pay Consultant’s bills in a timely manner, and keep Consultant apprised of Client’s address, telephone number and whereabouts.”
The OPA’s Schreindl told the Emerald that the contract had not been renewed, and that the OIG is currently reviewing Seabold’s investigative reports. Schreindl told the Emerald to reach out to OIG for updates regarding the status of the investigation.
The Emerald has reached out to the OIG for comment, and will update this story, if the OIG responds.
📸 Featured Image: Seattle Police face protestors on Capitol Hill, Seattle, Washington, on June 2, 2020. Photo via Real Window Creative/Shutterstock.com
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