by Tobias Coughlin-Bogue
In 2006, Seattle Police Department (SPD) detective Denise “Cookie” Bouldin started the Detective Cookie Chess Club, a program aimed to provide Rainier Beach youth with something positive to do in their spare time, exposing them to a game that, as the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA once said, “is good for everyday thinking, especially for brothers in the urban community who never take that second look, never take that second thought.”
In 2022, the City of Seattle honored Bouldin’s decades of effort with the opening of the Detective Cookie Chess Park, a corner park on Rainier Avenue South, 51st Street South, and South Barton Place, anchored by a giant chessboard, itself flanked by a semicircle of chess tables.
On March 10, 2023, Bouldin filed a $10 million claim against the city, alleging ongoing harassment and discrimination along racial and gender lines throughout her more than 40 years at SPD.
On Nov. 3, Bouldin sued the city, after it “failed to respond meaningfully” to her original claim, which it had 60 days to do.
The suit echoes Bouldin’s original claim, which laid out a number of troubling incidents over the course of her career, amounting to what she claims was an ongoing pattern of harassment.
A number of those complaints center around dogs in the workplace. Many of Bouldin’s coworkers brought their personal pets to work, including one coworker who installed a dog gate. Bouldin alleged that this dog gate was installed in such a way that she had to pass through it to access important work materials, and that she was forced to ask permission to open and close the gate even when the dog was not present. This, her suit alleged, “was degrading, humiliating, and shouted racial overtones.”
When she complained about the situation, both dog feces and dog food were left in front of her locker. She was also told that she would be transferred away from the South precinct, where she spent most of her career. She also alleged that her desk and personal items, including ones used for the chess club, were stuffed into a corner, and that her superiors suggested she conduct her work in a holding cell used for suspects. The suit also alleges that, as a result of reporting the above issues, she received her first-ever bad performance evaluation.
Her other complaints also involve racism, albeit of the more overt variety. In one instance, a bulletin showing a Black subject had the name of the suspect crossed out and replaced with a Black police officer. In another poster-related complaint, she took issue with a meme hung on a fellow officer’s locker, showing a heavily armed white man holding a cup of coffee, with the caption, “Some people require inspirational quotes to start their day. Me: Caffeine and Hate.”
Given the diverse communities patrolled by the South precinct, this poster struck Bouldin as demonstrating “a strong adversarial relationship with the community these police officers work with.”
The suit claims that Bouldin received “regular and continuous internal complaints about her relationship with the Black community.” But the suit also states the department used Bouldin’s “strong relationship with the Black community,” by portraying her relationship to the community as the same relationship “the Department itself has with the Black community.”
Instead, the department had disdain for the Black community, Bouldin’s suit claims.
In another instance, Bouldin placed pamphlets promoting the African American Advisory Council on her coworkers’ desk. Later, a white sergeant found one of the pamphlets and threw it on the ground, asking, “Who put this fucking shit on my desk!?” the suit alleges.
“Later, the sergeant made it clear that she did not want to work with any [B]lack people,” the suit continues.
Other highlights include fellow officers referring to protestors in a TV broadcast as “those people;” a superior asking Bouldin to issue more tickets because she patrolled a predominately Asian neighborhood; and a sergeant in the South precinct telling officers to “put on our hoods and sheets and clean up the valley of crime,” a clear reference to the Ku Klux Klan.
In response to Bouldin voicing concerns over these incidents, her suit claims, she was denied overtime and passed over for promotions. She was also denied a parking pass, her suit claims, despite all other officers and several civilian staffers having no trouble obtaining one, and had her locker taken away without warning. More seriously, her suit alleges that other officers declined to back her up in the field, potentially endangering her life.
The suit seeks an unspecified amount of damages, plus legal costs. Presumably, her lawyer will ask for at least the same amount requested in the original claim for damages. However, unlike that complaint, the new suit also requests injunctive relief “including but not limited to, implementation of measures that protect Detective Bouldin and other employees from further discrimination and retaliation[.]”
Sgt. John O’Neil, a spokesperson for SPD, declined to comment on Boudin’s suit, saying the department does not comment on ongoing litigation.
The timing of Bouldin’s suit comes at a tense moment for SPD. While the department recently achieved a resolution for the majority of the federal consent decree it has been under since 2012, it also came under fire in July for the discovery of a Trump flag and mock tombstone for a Black teenager killed by the department in one of its breakrooms. In September, it endured another scandal when an audio recording revealed Ofc. Daniel Auderer, a vice president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, had mocked the life of Jaahnavi Kandula, after she had been killed by an officer speeding in an SPD cruiser. Kandula, 23, was crossing the street when she was killed in January.
A trial date for Bouldin’s case is set for Nov. 4, 2024.
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