Photo depicting protestors in Seattle holding up smartphones to film while Seattle police use flash bangs and pepper spray to disperse them.

Unreleased Investigation Sheds Light on Police Use of Tear Gas on Protesters in 2020

The Draft Report’s Attachments

As indicated above, SPD’s public disclosure team did not provide any of the draft report’s attachments, despite the fact that the Public Records Act (PRA) does not appear to provide an exemption in this case, particularly since none of Seabold’s draft report was redacted, including names of officers and full case document numbers. SPD also did not provide an exemption log for any records.

Beginning on May 12, the Emerald has also asked SPD’s Public Disclosure Request (PDR) team several times for these attachments. It asked again for all cited attachments on May 15, and SPD responded that the Emerald would have to file another records request for those documents.

However, the Emerald’s original public disclosure request to SPD from Jan. 31, 2023, asked for “Any and all records regarding the outside agency hired to investigate allegations against and/or the actions of former Seattle Police Department (SPD) Chief Carmen Best during the 2020 protests. … These records include, **but are not limited to**: Emails, memos, investigatory documents, receipts, meeting notes, and reports. I prefer to receive these records in their original electronic format.”

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “regarding” encompasses “about,” “concerning,” and “in relation to.”

The original, Seabold Group-created documents cite those records as part of its investigation, which means it does, in fact, regard Seabold, as they are specific investigatory documents that relate to the agency in its capacity as a contractor for this specific investigation. 

But regardless of how the word “regarding” is parsed, it does not appear to matter: As stated earlier in this story, Seabold states in no uncertain terms in footnotes throughout its draft reports that the attachments accompany said draft reports and it does not take extra searching to find them — or a new records request — because they all exist together as a complete package. It appears SPD separated this package and thus deliberately handed over only partial documentation to the Emerald.  

Specifically, one of the documents noted as attached to the draft report that SPD’s PDR team will not release to the Emerald is the Seabold Group’s interview of Mahaffey. This interview would seem to be covered under the Emerald’s specific public disclosure request outlined above, since it — like the Seabold-generated invoices provided to the Emerald under this public disclosure request — was generated by the Seabold Group.

Additionally, as recently as late April, SPD had tried to “group” the Emerald’s outstanding requests, pushing out any projected dates of records turnover to Dec. 29, 2023. If an agency groups a requestor, it means it can claim the number of a single requestor’s outstanding requests impede public disclosure officers’ ability to treat fairly all other outstanding requests. Specific City public disclosure request policy language can be found here, in section 5.2.3. 

It is unclear whether SPD has violated the PRA by withholding these documents from the Emerald, but violating the PRA is an ongoing issue for the City of Seattle. The City recently made national news for having to pay out just north of $2 million in an ongoing suit regarding Durkan’s deleted text messages.

The Emerald will continue to try to obtain these documents.
The Emerald also asked the OIG on May 18 for status updates regarding the Seabold investigations into Best, but the OIG did not respond.

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: Seattle police disperse demonstrators with flash bangs and pepper spray near an SPD precinct. June 6, 2020. Photo via Mauro Pedro da Silva/

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