The Emerald’s Watchdragon reporting seeks to increase accountability within our city’s institutions through in-depth investigative journalism.
The City’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA) has determined that neither former Police Chief Carmen Best nor Assistant Chief Thomas Mahaffey of the Seattle Police Department (SPD) is at fault for SPD’s decision to leave the East Precinct in Capitol Hill last June. The decision and its root cause have been the topic of significant public discussion and speculation, particularly since the East Precinct was a major focal point in the George Floyd protests last year.
Following more than a week of escalating tensions and violence between police officers and protesters, on June 8, 2020, someone within SPD made the decision for the department’s officers to leave the East Precinct. This contentious decision came on the heels of SPD refusing to allow protesters to walk past the precinct, even erecting a barrier around the precinct to protect it against perceived threats from protesters. The decision to remove personnel — allegedly made by a small group of officers led by Assistant Chief Thomas Mahaffey, according to KUOW — was allegedly not shared with then-Police-Chief Carmen Best. Just before officers left the building, Mahaffey told officers in a June 2020 email obtained by Crosscut that he wanted to “address a rumor” about SPD plans to abandon the building and that “[i]t is the strong position of both Chief [Carmen] Best and myself that we will not abandon one of our facilities to those who are intent on damaging or destroying it.” According to KUOW, Mahaffey and this small group of officers at some point determined that remaining inside the precinct wasn’t safe.
While the basis for that decision has been widely speculated upon for the last year, the OPA today released a Closed Case Summary (CCS) that appears to shed some light on the matter. An investigative OPA interview with Mahaffey and an email the OPA obtained and used as evidence also raises the possibility that Best knew exactly what Mahaffey had decided to do, contrary to what she has claimed to both police officers and the public in the 16 months that have passed. However, this very same investigative interview appears to show that Mahaffey was not entirely forthcoming in his first interview with the OPA — an issue the OPA does not discuss or touch upon, despite explicitly saying in the CCS that SPD employees may face termination if their statements to OPA investigators are not “truthful and complete” or if they are “withholding or misrepresenting information.”
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Morning Update Show — Tuesday, October 20
Today on the Morning Update Show:
Black Voices Matter – SABJ Event; Chief Best lands new role at KING 5; Durkan to cut $30M Equity Fund; People’s Budget vs. Solidarity Budget; Diddy launches new political party; and Stimulus Watch.
We asked two community members to weigh in on Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best announcing her retirement from SPD. Their two viewpoints follow.
by George Griffin III
Carmen Best is a friend. Good people. Classy, strong. She deserved better.
After everyone gets through scapegoating the Seattle City Council and Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests for her resignation, maybe we should take a good hard look at Seattle’s years of inactivity when People of Color and other people said the department needed some serious reform and restructuring. This lack of attention to the concerns of People of Color and allies contributed to the Seattle Police Department ultimately being placed under the current consent decree after an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2012. Do we need to be reminded how, when Best was interim chief in 2018, she was disrespected and passed over by the current mayor in the initial interview process and how she only got the job after communities of color and allies spoke up? Many prominent people were quiet at that time because they didn’t want to criticize their friend, the new mayor.
“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Klu Klux Klanner [sic], but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically feels that he can set the time-table for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
—Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail
As a longtime Jewish activist for racial justice I was appalled, embarrassed, and saddened by Rabbi Daniel Weiner’s op-ed in the Seattle Times, which, echoing the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., reeks of devotion to order over justice. Supported by other local religious leaders, the op-ed misuses the legacy of John Lewis to attack and chastise brave local activists in the Movement for Black Lives here in Seattle.
(This article originally appeared on The C is for Crank and has been reprinted with permission.)
Advocates for an immediate 50% cut to the Seattle Police Department’s budget may have walked away unsatisfied Monday evening, when the City Council passed a midyear budget package that lopped just 7% off SPD’s remaining 2020 budget. But the Council majority left no question that they consider the short-term cuts a down payment on a more substantive proposal next year — one that, importantly, has a shot of making it through labor negotiations with the powerful police officers’ union.
In a surprising turn, Seattle’s Police Chief Carmen Best will announce her retirement on Tuesday in the wake of the Council’s decision. This was confirmed with multiple sources including the mayor’s office. The C is for Crank was also able to obtain a copy of Chief Best’s letter to SPD announcing her departure on September 2.
Joined by several community leaders, Mayor Jenny Durkan and Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best addressed two weekendshootings that claimed the life of a 19-year-old Black teen and wounded two others in the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP).
In the June 22 press conference, Durkan and Best committed to working with different Black-led community organizations, including Community Passageways and Not This Time. Durkan said that she will be introducing a 2020 budget rebalancing plan that will make a point to invest in the Black community, in order to enhance public safety. In the name of both equity and public safety, Durkan also committed $5 million for mentoring and summer learning for Black youth.
She also said that police officers responded to almost 17,000 emergency calls within the last nine months, and that her budget process will examine the police budget. She said that police only respond “because the other systems in society have failed,” and that what the city needs is for certain services, like mental health workers or community-based workers, to be available to respond to some emergency calls.
A young woman was reported to have almost lost her life in last night’s protests on Capitol Hill after Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers allegedly threw several flash bangs into the volunteer medic tent in which she was being treated for a chest injury from “a police projectile” — delaying treatment by attendant volunteer medics, according to one of the street medics who said they had been attending her.
The Emerald and other media organizations received a letter signed by more than 20 different local representatives calling on both Chief Carmen Best and Mayor Jenny Durkan to “take urgent and sustained action to de-escalate the police tactics used in daily protests.”
The Emerald was able to verify the authenticity of this letter, as it came from Rep. Nicole Macri (D-43rd). The letter is reprinted in its entirety below.
UPDATE: According to an Instagram post by The Stranger, the Seattle Police Department told The Seattle Times’ Lewis Kamb that it did not use tear gas against protestors Saturday night. SPD said that its officers used pepper spray, or OC gas. The Emerald has created a new story with an accordingly updated headline.
However, according to a Timesstory published June 5, health experts still worry that use-of-force tools like pepper spray that act as respiratory irritants can contribute to the spread of the novel coronavirus, because they could cause people to spit or cough, releasing virus-containing droplets.