In findings for six demonstration-related cases released today, the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) has determined that some allegations were sustained in just two of those cases against Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers. One of the cases in which allegations were not sustained was the case against an officer who allegedly pepper sprayed a young boy, because, according to the OPA’s findings, “the boy was not individually targeted.” It sustained two out of three allegations against an officer for placing his knee on a demonstrator’s neck and making unprofessional statements.
The summaries include findings for the officer who allegedly pepper sprayed a child; the officer who put his knee on a protestor’s neck and made unprofessional statements, and a fellow officer who allegedly made unprofessional statements; the allegation that an officer pushed over an elderly man in a show of excessive force; for the officer who was allegedly quoting the movie “Top Gun” when he was overheard saying that he has “a hard on for this shit, and, if they cross the line, I will hit them”; for officers who allegedly used excessive force against protestors and allegedly violated policy by not turning on their body worn cameras; and for an officer who allegedly made unprofessional comments over police radio.
Black Lives Matter Seattle – King County (BLMSKC) has submitted a formal request to Seattle’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) to “immediately, transparently, and aggressively” investigate the Seattle Police Department (SPD) over questions that the department “at worst” possibly engaged in “unlawful practices” and “at best” failed “to uphold governing officer conduct policies” over the past three months. The letter links the questions it raises to concerns regarding possible alleged coordination with the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) and the Mayor’s Office.
(This article originally appeared on The C is for Crank and has been reprinted with permission.)
In his first appearance in his new role, Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz joined Mayor Jenny Durkan on Wednesday, Sept. 2, to explain his decision to transfer 100 officers from a variety of units to the 911 response team within the month.
Diaz announced the move in an SPD Blotter post on Tuesday afternoon, saying that his intent is to “better align department resources with our mission statement and community expectations” by emphasizing patrol roles (officers responsible for responding to 911 calls) which he called the “backbone” of the department.
Diaz said today that his goal is to move “at least half” of SPD’s officers to patrol positions, as well as half of the supervisorial staff (lieutenants and sergeants). He explained that about 40% of the 100 officers who will transfer to patrol by September 16th will leave units that currently serve patrol-like functions, including officers in the anti-crime unit, traffic enforcement ,and community policing. The rest of the new patrol officers will come from a variety of the department’s other specialty units,. Those units, Diaz said, were adopted over the past several decades “at the cost of [SPD’s] 911 response,” adding that “considering current personnel and budgets, these specialty units are a model we can no longer afford.”
The dramatic move came just a week after Durkan issued a sharp rebuke of the council’s vision for downsizing SPD by vetoing their midyear budget rebalancing package. That council package included several ordinances that would have cut 100 positions from the department—largely through attrition, but also including targeted cuts in several specialty units, including the harbor patrol, the mounted unit, and the misleadingly named homeland security unit (generally assigned to provide security at large events).
One of Durkan’s most consistent criticisms of the package was that the job cuts would lead to slow 911 response times to even the most serious crimes, including rape and home invasions. But the council responded by pointing out that 56% of all 911 calls in Seattle are for non-criminal situations; they recommended a more effective protocol for triaging SPD 911 response that would prioritize critical incidents and vulnerable populations, ensuring fast response times when they are most necessary. The council hasn’t yet voted on whether or not to override the mayor’s veto.
According to Durkan, the shift was largely spurred by demands she’s heard from “every neighborhood in the city,” both for faster 911 response times and for greater community engagement. “Officers don’t have the time they need to know the residents and businesses of the neighborhoods they serve,” Durkan said, “and many times it’s because they were responding from call to call.”
Diaz said it would also give officers more time to “identify the underlying issues [on their beats] and start relationships with renters, homeowners, the neighborhood watch, the business owner, and the person living outside.” And while some of the transfers would come from the community policing unit, Diaz’s indicated the new patrol officers would be expected to shoulder some responsibility for community policing themselves.
Durkan brushed off questions from the press about the contrast between the increase in patrol officers and the concerns of the Defund SPD movement about interactions between SPD and the public, arguing that she’s heard more consistent calls for efficient 911 response. “We know we still need police,” she argued. “We rely on them to provide public safety.”
Durkan and Diaz also said the shift will help cut the department’s overtime costs by scaling down the more overtime-heavy specialized units and increasing the number of patrol shifts.
Durkan pointed to this year’s spike in homicides—up 44% from last year in King County, according to the King County Prosecutor’s Office—as another justification for the reshuffling. She said the move will “help…officers arrive at scenes more quickly, give victims the help they need, help first responders and find perpetrators.” However, she acknowledged that “policing alone cannot and will not solve” the rise in gun violence. She said “upstream” investments in education and diversionary programs were a key part of the solution, as well as “trusted community partners who can deescalate situations and provide alternatives to the criminal justice system.”
For the time being, Diaz said, he intends to move at most two detectives per specialty unit, such as Domestic Violence or Sexual Assault; those detectives’ caseloads will be transferred to the staff remaining on those specialized units. He said one of his goals is to minimize the effect of these transfers on the department’s case closure rate and the speed of investigations. (Patrol officers do not conduct investigations).
In keeping with the conditions of the Seattle Police Officers Guild contract, Diaz said the first detectives to be reassigned to patrol will be those who most recently joined specialty units, and therefore those who have the most up-to-date training as patrol officers. However, Diaz added that detectives who haven’t been on patrol duty for several years will receive “updated” training during the coming two weeks to learn new patrol rules and procedures.
But Office of Police Accountability Director Andrew Myerberg doesn’t think that last-in, first-out approach to transfers will last, and in fact, could exacerbate a potential officer shortage. “The OPA expects to see SPD staffing shortages for the next year, if not longer,” he said. “And we think we might see a rise in senior officers retiring instead of going back onto patrol,” he said.
That would mean more patrol vacancies, and potentially more transfers from the specialty units to fill those vacancies, which, in turn, would leave the remaining detectives in the specialty units with much larger caseloads. He said his office will play a role in retraining officers for patrol, “understanding that there are going to be officers who come onto patrol for the first time in years.”
Despite her recent veto of the council’s proposed 2020 budget revisions, the mayor said she thinks the council will “respond very positively.”
Lisa Herbold, the chair of the council’s Public Safety Committee, told The C is for Crank that she had the chance to discuss the shifts with Diaz after his announcement. She said she supports his authority to make deployment decisions, and she “appreciate[s] that he wants to do more to improve 911 response time.”
However, she sees some bumps in the road ahead. For instance, Herbold said she supports the idea of increasing the number of shifts, but added that “it was [her] understanding that contract negotiations with SPOG will be necessary” to make those changes.
Herbold said she hopes Diaz’s yet-to-be-disclosed decisions about which specialty units will use officers align with the council’s proposals this year for downsizing some SPD units. “It would have been great to know more about whether the executive and Chief Diaz looked at the specialty units the council identified to be reduced,” she said. “And even if there’s disagreement between the Council and the Executive about whether the Navigation team should exist, I’d hope the mayor and the chief would consider moving some officers off that team.”
In the coming week, SPD is giving officers the opportunity for officers to indicate their preferred assignment before ultimately deciding which officers to reassign to 911 response.
Ever since she found out the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) had paused the investigation into her complaint, Aisling Cooney has been trying to get an estimate of when the office might once again resume the investigation.
Though Seattle Police Department (SPD) Sgt. Aaron Keating, the investigating officer on Cooney’s case, finally answered her question just before 10 a.m. on Sept. 1, he said her investigation would not be resumed until April 2021, because one of the officers named in the complaint would not return from military service until then.
April 2021 is almost an entire year after the incident alleged in the complaint took place. The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) contract prohibits remote interviews of officers, but notably does not do so for civilian complainant interviews. It is unclear why this provision has not changed, particularly in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
It also took Cooney making phone calls every day for more than a week and sending numerous emails. Nevertheless, during that time period. top officials at the OPA appear to have ignored her requests for such an estimate and officials at both the OPA and the Office of Inspector General (OIG) — the duties of which involve overseeing the OPA — seem to have skirted her questions as to why they won’t give her an answer. The OPA appears to have barred Cooney from speaking on the phone with the civilian investigator who had previously been working as the intermediary between Cooney and the Seattle Police Department (SPD) officer in charge of her case, as Cooney had declined to speak directly with an SPD officer.
As she listened to the civilian investigator from the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), Aisling Cooney wondered why she was being offered mediation.
“I was thinking, ‘Okay, this complaint definitely can’t be mediated.’ … I have video proof of [Seattle Police Department] officers dragging me through the gravel on my face and throwing me around like a ragdoll,” Cooney said. “If there wasn’t a policy violation [in those videos], I don’t know what they could possibly think is a violation. And after my complaint alleges abuse, false arrest, dragging, hitting with a baton — all of that was included in my initial complaint — and I was still offered mediation.”
According to an OPA flyer on the topic, mediation “is an alternative to traditional complaint resolution. It offers an opportunity for a community member and a Seattle Police Department employee to discuss a disagreement with the guidance of a neutral third party.” The process is supposed to be offered only to complainants whose cases are “deemed appropriate” for such a process, according to the flowchart showing the mediation process, the entirety of which appears to last up to 60–65 business days. The webpage with the flowchart describing mediation says “that mediation delivers the best results when conflict is moderate.”
According to the notes Cooney took on the call with the civilian investigator, Chelsea Whittler, mediation is “more appropriate for non-policy violations.” An example Cooney said Whittler gave was someone filing a complaint against an officer because the complainant felt the officer could have been nicer in the course of their interaction with the complainant.
“At that point, I asked her, ‘Does that sound applicable in my case?’ And she said, “Oh, uh, you know, if these allegations are sustained, then that’s definitely a policy violation,’” Cooney recalled. “But then, I’m asking, ‘Well, why are you offering mediation?’ And she didn’t really answer that.”
To Cooney, the fact that Whittler seemed to just be asking a “list of questions” without any regard to what her case actually entailed, and the fact that Whittler never explained mediation to her — she just asked if Cooney wanted it — is a problem. Cooney said that had she not known differently or had fewer resources and less support, she might have chosen mediation. Such a choice would have likely cleared the officers of wrongdoing and cut off all chance of an investigation, due to the language in the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) contract — something that Judge Anne Levinson (Ret.) recommended be changed during her six years serving as an official outside auditor of the OPA and the City’s police accountability practices, including making recommendations for the SPOG contract. Moreover, it is unclear whether Whittler should have even offered Cooney mediation in the first place based on Cooney’s complaints.
The SPOG contract states on page 18 that all the officer has to do to avoid an investigation — and, therefore, any form of discipline or the complaint on their record — is participate in mediation in a broadly-defined show of “good faith.” This only means that “[t]he officer actively listens to the perspective of the other party; and … [t]he officer fully communicates his/her own position and engages in the discussion.”
“Good faith does not require the officer to agree to any particular resolution of a complaint,” the contract states. The flyer — which is not a binding contract — offers similarly vague language, listing “[s]eek an outcome of mutual understanding” as one of the expectations of participants during mediation.
The SPOG contract also states that officers are paid as though they are working when they go through a mediation process. The meeting portion of mediation appears to last 10 days based on the OPA’s flowchart.
Moreover, the SPOG contract language is unclear and appears to suggest that even if Cooney hadn’t agreed to mediation, but the officer had agreed to mediation before Cooney declined, the officer would escape discipline and the complaint going on their record, according to the SPOG contract. The flowchart — also not a binding contract — does not clarify this.
The Emerald reached out to the OPA with this and multiple other questions for clarification, but only received the following message from Deputy Director of Public Affairs Anne Bettesworth in response: “OPA has a webpage and a 2-pager about mediation that should be able to answer your questions.” She also sent a sentence defining “tolling,” which will be addressed later in this article.
The webpage and online two-pager Bettesworth referred the Emerald to are the flyer and flowchart referenced earlier in this story.
Cooney had been offered mediation for a different complaint once before but declined it even then. The same civilian investigator, Whittler, had offered mediation for Cooney’s June complaint about an SPD officer pepper spraying her directly in the face from about a foot away at a June 7 protest in Capitol Hill.
The act sent Cooney to the emergency room.
The videos of this event, which Cooney submitted in support of an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)-led group lawsuit and shared with the Emerald, appear to show SPD officers “kettling” Cooney and other protestors — herding people into a confined space from which they cannot leave — before pepper spraying and throwing flash bangs at them.
In her official testimony about the event for the group lawsuit, Cooney said the officers gave the demonstrators no warning about the pepper spray or blast balls — which goes against SPD policy — and that a flash bang exploded near her, disorienting her.
“In the video [of this event], you can see me stumbling in a circle for over 25 seconds. … More police approached us from behind and trapped us between the two groups of police. There were more police than protesters,” Cooney’s testimony reads.
Then, Cooney said, officers grabbed her and began shoving the still-disoriented young woman “from officer to officer.” A short time after this, she was pepper sprayed directly in the face. As the stinging spray drenched her, Cooney tried to turn away, but the officer continued to spray her back and neck.
“I was in extreme pain and went to the medic tent. They assisted me in washing off the pepper spray off my skin. I developed a large rash in response to the pepper spray. I was coughing a lot and also had trouble breathing,” Cooney’s testimony reads. “The medics thought my reaction was severe and one of them drove me to the emergency room. I was monitored for several hours at the emergency room for anaphylaxis. When I was discharged, the doctor said I had had a very severe reaction and prescribed me an epi-pen.”
It should be noted that using pepper spray — also known as “OC spray,” which stands for the neurotoxin oleoresin capsicum — from a foot away is against recommendations for safe deployment of all but the smallest cans of pepper spray, like a those that attach to a keychain for personal protection and typically contain less than one ounce. For example, Sabre — a widely used pepper spray manufacturer — recommends a minimum of 10 feet for its 16-ounce cans. The SPD manual does not list what manufacturer produces the pepper spray it uses — all it says is that it must be department-issued or approved — but in all of these videos, it is clear that officers are not using keychain-sized cans of pepper spray that civilians are allowed to carry.
When Cooney spoke with Whittler the first time, she let the question about mediation go. Even though Cooney declined, she didn’t ask for information about mediation, and chalked up the question to the slim chance that this was the kind of thing that could be mediated.
But after Whittler asked her if she wanted mediation for her complaint involving allegations of multiple forms of physical abuse and false arrest on July 25, Cooney did not let the question go. To her, it seems “manipulative” to offer mediation without explanation to people who are probably already nervous about putting in a complaint about an officer and might also be traumatized from the event about which they are putting in a complaint.
“I think that OPA is taking advantage of victims, and taking advantage of them not understanding legal jargon, and taking advantage of … what [complainants] don’t know, and maybe that they aren’t going to question OPA as much,” Cooney said.
The process of mediation is one of many Judge Anne Levinson (Ret.) — who has a long history of work in the realm of police accountability — suggested be changed in her analysis of and recommendations for the SPOG contract in 2013 in her capacity as an outside auditor of OPA from 2010–2016. In her recommendation, Levinson contended that “[c]omplainants who make use of a mediation or other alternative resolution process should not be limited to the results of that process and be able to elect that the case proceed to an OPA investigation.”
While the City adopted one of her other recommendations into the SPOG contract — that officers be required to participate in mediation in good faith — it ignored the recommendation that the complainants be allowed to elect for an OPA investigation, once they accept mediation. Once a complainant chooses mediation, there is no way they can ask for an investigation instead. The SPOG contract dictates that that decision is left up to the mediator, who must report that the officer did not act in “good faith,” in order to initiate an investigation.
It is not entirely clear who can be chosen as a mediator, but the SPOG contract requires that OPA choose a mediator from the King County Office of Alternative Dispute Resolution [KCADR], which says in its FAQ section that mediators “[m]ost of the mediators in our cadre are employees of the public agencies and labor unions that are members of the consortium who have been trained and certified as mediators. We also have many professional mediators who volunteer their services to the consortium.” It also lists what unions and public agencies belong to the group. Neither the SPD nor SPOG is among them.
It is unclear exactly how mediators are chosen for each case. As far as how the OPA selects mediators for its mediation program, the OPA flyer reads, “[m]ediators are selected, in part, because of their restorative justice lens and ability to balance the difference in power between participants.” However, it does not offer any more explanation than this.
According to the August 2019 OPA Mediation Guidelines, mediators must meet several qualifications, such as “[e]xperience holding space and fostering a productive environment that allows participants to speak candidly and reveal their underlying issues and interests,” “[e]motional intelligence and has experience navigating highly intense or uncomfortable dynamics and conversations,” and “[c]ompletion of at least one OPA-observed mediation session.” Things “holding space” and “emotional intelligence” are further defined in the guidelines.
When the Emerald asked if the selection of mediators is random or specific from a pool of predetermined applicants whose eligibility is based on the above criteria, or if they are chosen in another way, Bettesworth did not reply.
Moreover, if the OPA wants to “pursue an alternative contractor or method of obtaining mediators, OPA will consult with SPD labor unions per the collective bargaining agreement, to form a mutual agreement,” as set forth in the guidelines. According to the language in the SPOG contract, short of a separate agreement process, this effectively removes any ability the OPA has to choose different mediators other than the ones the county hands them.
These same guidelines also lay out types of violations that are “potentially eligible” for mediation, including violations of constitutional protections, such as free speech; and “Type 1 use of force,” which includes blast ball usage, “transitory pain,” and disorientation. This would suggest that Whittler was treating Cooney’s case based on the guidelines — but the guidelines also state that “not all of the listed allegation types will be suitable for mediation due to the severity and specifics of the case.” This caveat appears to suggest that investigators need to treat each case on an individual basis, and not simply rattle through a list of questions, as Cooney believes Whittler did.
The guidelines also state that allegations that are criminal violations or “[i]ntentional or reckless violation of policy” are not eligible for mediation. It does not define what “intentional or reckless violations of policy would be,” and the SPD manual’s wording on appropriate use of force — like deployment of pepper spray and blast balls — appears to suggest officers have quite a bit of leeway when making those decisions.
It is also unclear how a mediator determines if an officer is acting in “good faith” or “bad faith,” the latter definition of which is noticeably absent in the contract. The term “good faith” is up for interpretation and appears to be highly subjective within the context of the law, according to several legal writings. As the American Bar Association points out in a column concerning limited liability companies, “the term indicates a test that is either entirely subjective or has both subjective and objective aspects.” It references this 1997 case that states “‘[g]ood faith’ clearly suggests a subjective element.” That 1997 case references a 1968 case that says that “good faith, as used in the case law, is best understood as an ‘excluder’ — it is a phrase which has no general meaning or meanings on its own, but which serves to exclude many heterogenous forms of bad faith.”
Because of the highly subjective nature of determining good faith and the broad brush with which the SPOG contract defines it, it was unclear to the Emerald how mediators could apply a standard of good faith, outside very specific guidelines. When the Emerald asked exactly how mediators determine whether an officer is acting in “good faith,” Bettesworth did not reply.
Though the guidelines offer a little more clarity on the matter of “good faith” in the Mediator Post-Mediation Survey, it should be noted that, again, unlike the SPOG contract, the guidelines are not a binding agreement. Moreover, the guidelines are brief, and outline things like, “[m]odifies their behavior during mediation,” “[d]iscusses ideas for an improved future,” and “[s]hares relevant information.”
Cooney said that the overall complaint process with OPA is about as clear as mud. She only learned through the OPA Demonstration Complaint Dashboard that her case was being “tolled,” which, according to Bettesworth, means “that the investigation ‘clock’ stops running for a certain period of time.” Cooney was not told how long her investigation would be suspended or why it was suspended.
A few minutes after the original version of this article was published, Cooney received a message from the OPA, which said that the “case has been tolled due to the unavailability of two of the involved officers.”
“One officer is out on leave with an injury and another is on military leave,” the message read, going on to say that an SPD sergeant working with the OPA will attempt to contact the injured officer, once the officer returns to work, but that the OPA is “not certain when, exactly, that will be.”
“However, [the sergeant] will not be able to speak with the officer on military leave until his return. As such, OPA and the police union have agreed to place the case ‘on hold’ … so that we are able to complete the investigation without running afoul of our due dates,” the message reads, referencing the 180-day deadline for investigations.
But despite these problems, Cooney is “dedicated to seeing the complaint process through.”
“But if I were a Black woman filing a complaint against an officer who had assaulted or arrested me — without the support that I have, because I am a protestor, and the privilege that I have, because I am a white woman — would I be able to see this process through? Probably not, because I may not have any counsel, or any experience with this,” Cooney said.
Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You can reach them here and here.
Featured image is a screengrab from the video showing an officer pepper spraying Aisling Cooney at the June protest in Capitol Hill.
Footage from a video circulating widely on Twitter appears to show Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers on bicycles chasing down, beating, and arresting a small group of three people in what appears to be the Chinatown-International District (CID) on the evening of Aug. 16. Earlier that evening, a protest took place in front of the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild (SPOG) headquarters in SoDo. It is unclear if the officers believed the individuals were protestors who had moved from SoDo to the area shown in the video.
In early 2016, Micah Smith found himself interested in a particular American Medical Response (AMR) ambulance service employee. So, he texted her a few times to see if she was interested in going on a date.
Problem was, Smith — a Seattle Police Department (SPD) officer — had gotten her phone number by “inappropriately using his law enforcement access to obtain her cell phone number from a police report in which she was listed as a witness and in which the Named Employee [Smith] had no involvement,” according to the official summary of the case by the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), which was called the Office of Professional Accountability when the report was filed in 2016. Two of four other allegations against Smith were also sustained.
For all of this, then- Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole handed down an eight-day suspension. OPA’s Director of Public Affairs Anne Bettesworth said in an email to the Emerald on the morning of Aug. 21 that all suspensions are without pay, but that “[w]hether or not the employee gave up vacation time during that suspension is not something OPA could answer.” This means Smith could have used vacation time to cover what would have been unpaid days.
The video begins with what appears to be a GMC lurching from a dead stop onto a sidewalk full of people at the intersection of 11th Street and East Pine Street in Capitol Hill on the evening of Aug. 12. As the big blue pickup barrels towards them, people scramble out of the way screaming. One person dives through the bushes to get away from the car.
Later in the video — which appears to show a separate video shot a short time later, and appears to be cut part way through — the person driving the car appears to claim to be a Seattle Police Department (SPD) officer, listing off his badge number as 6645. However, because the video — which was posted to Twitter soon after the incident took place — is not visually clear, the Emerald could not confirm if this person was indeed an officer employed with SPD.
Seven days after Aisling Cooney filed a public records request with the Seattle Police Department (SPD) to get her own arrest records and associated materials from her arrest at the Capitol Hill protest on July 25, the records department succinctly informed her in an email that these records wouldn’t be available to her until late February 2021.
Cooney isn’t alone. At the advice of lawyers with Smith Law, at least four others who have also filed for their arrest records — as well as associated documents, recordings, and more — as part of several civil lawsuits they hope to bring against SPD have received similar messages: the SPD’s Legal Unit is “operating under an extreme backlog of requests, staffing shortages, the redeployment of supporting units to SPD’s frontline COVID-19 response, and, pursuant to CDC recommendations and City direction, reassignment to remote access.”
(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.