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Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County calls on Durkan to launch investigation of SPD’s Office of Police Accountability and decision to abandon East Precinct

Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County is calling on Mayor Jenny Durkan to launch an investigation of Seattle Police and its Office of Police Accountability after a judge’s ruling this week found the city in contempt for violating an order restraining the use of crowd-control weapons and tactics.

At its core, the letter from the Seattle area chapter focuses on the OPA’s 2020 investigations and the lack of accountability in this summer’s decision to evacuate the East Precinct and the questions the episode raises about the chain of command and decision making inside SPD.

“There is a growing body of evidence to show SPD has failed to uphold its responsibilities, obey the law, and protect people over the past seven months,” BLMSKC said in its letter. “At worst, the evidence suggests SPD has, through its officers and in its capacity as an institution, consistently engaged in various unlawful practices. At best, the evidence suggests SPD has failed to uphold governing officer conduct policies.”

UPDATE: In a statement sent to CHS, the mayor’s office defended its police “accountability partners” but said Durkan will meet with the Black Lives Matter group.

:The accountability partners are nationally recognized, and their work is critical to the continued improvement and accountability of the Seattle Police Department and to build transparency and public trust,” spokesperson Kelsey Nyland tells CHS.

“The Mayor has previously discussed many of the issues outlined in this letter with SPD and the Office of Inspector General, who is conducting a major review of SPD and ensuring OPA is properly addressing complaints,” Nyland said. “The Mayor’s Office will be meeting with Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County to further discuss the issues outlined in their letter and to ensure the appropriate oversight, transparency, and accountability measures are in place.”


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CHS examined the question of who ordered the abandonment of the East Precinct in November including former Chief Carmen Best’s and Mayor Durkan’s opaque statements chalking the decision up to a tactical action made on the ground by SPD command staff.

Meanwhile, SPD’s use of restricted crowd control tactics received renewed criticism this week with a King County Superior Court finding that officers violated orders restricting the use of pepper spray and blast balls. Seattle City Council Insight reports that the next step in that legal process will be a legal fight over possible sanctions over the findings of contempt.

In its letter, BLMSKC has asked Durkan to launch an investigation examining OPA’s oversight and treatment of complaints against improper use of force by officers during 2020’s months of protests.

It also is asking for answers to five key questions about the emptying of the East Precinct, a move many saw as a dangerous escalation of the police response to Black Lives Matter protests in the city.

  • Who in the Seattle Police Department gave the order, officially or unofficially, or made the decision, officially or unofficially, to abandon the East Precinct.
    • Which officers participated.
  • Whether officers within SPD used City resources to coordinate a prolonged abandonment of the East Precinct.
  • Whether officers within SPD violated written or verbal orders or expectations to report to the East Precinct as assigned.
  • Whether officers violated their duties as assigned by failing to report to work at the East Precinct.
  • Whether public safety was jeopardized by increased call times because of this action.

The demand for a special investigation comes as Durkan announced this week she will not seek reelection and plans to finish as a one-term mayor in 2021.

Durkan last week pledged her support for an “urgent” effort to reopen Cal Anderson and remove the barricade wall from around the East Precinct. She has not yet publicly responded to the BLMSKC demands.

The group’s letter to Durkan is below:

FULL TEXT OF LETTER TO MAYOR JENNY DURKAN

December 8, 2020

Mayor Durkan,

Yesterday a federal court judge found the Seattle Police Department violated a court order banning the use of chemical and other weapons against Seattle protesters in the spring, summer, and fall of 2020. The judge also found officers used these weapons excessively and indiscriminately. This is just the latest decision regarding the conduct of Seattle police officers since first sued by you and the Department of Justice, which has led to ongoing federal oversight.

There is a growing body of evidence to show SPD has failed to uphold its responsibilities, obey the law, and protect people over the past seven months.1 At worst, the evidence suggests SPD has, through its officers and in its capacity as an institution, consistently engaged in various unlawful practices. At best, the evidence suggests SPD has failed to uphold governing officer conduct policies.

This is a shameful stain on a city poised to lead the nation in creating systemic change and accountability; lest we forget, this is about protecting and saving lives, and holding those who use their position to cause harm or death, accountable. As you well know, #Defund isn’t about arbitrary budget numbers; it is about shrinking the footprint of government in our lives, and removing its boot from our necks.

In September, Black Lives Matter Seattle King County sent a letter to the Office of the Inspector General requesting an investigation into alleged police misconduct during last summer’s protests (attached). While met with expressed enthusiasm, there has been no action that ensures the people of Seattle understand what happened over the past year, and that those who are accountable are held responsible.

We are not interested in form letters filled with empty promises, nor newspaper exposes designed to garner sympathy for an OPA that is either ineffective or complicit in police misconduct; either way, the people have long-since lost faith that the OPA or the OIG has (1) a fundamental commitment to objectivity and accuracy, (2) empathy for community concerns and perspectives on policing, and (3) an understanding of law enforcement principles, laws, and tactics for safe and effective policing.

Because of this, we demand that you use the authority of your office to appoint a Special Council who has investigative and prosecutorial authority to uncover those responsible, and prepare these matters for a lawful resolution to investigate and report publicly:

Abandonment of East Precinct

According to public media reports “two days before the Seattle Police Department abandoned its East Precinct, Assistant Chief Tom Mahaffey sent an email to officers, pledging the department would not abandon its Capitol Hill building… According to two police sources in the East Precinct, they never received any written command to not come to work on Capitol Hill. Instead, they were told by text or phone call from colleagues to head instead to the West Precinct on the north end of downtown Seattle..” —Crosscut, June 19, 2020

The Special Counsel must investigate and document publicly:

  • Who in the Seattle Police Department gave the order, officially or unofficially, or made the decision, officially or unofficially, to abandon the East Precinct.
    • Which officers participated.
  • Whether officers within SPD used City resources to coordinate a prolonged abandonment of the East Precinct.
  • Whether officers within SPD violated written or verbal orders or expectations to report to the East Precinct as assigned.
  • Whether officers violated their duties as assigned by failing to report to work at the East Precinct.
  • Whether public safety was jeopardized by increased call times because of this action.

In addition, the Special Counsel must investigate and document publicly:

  • A review of all investigations, actions, and determinations by OPA regarding officer conduct in 2020.
  • Whether the director of OPA or any staff, civilian or sworn officers, within the Office of Police Accountability unlawfully or unethically shared otherwise internal or confidential information with members of the media in “off the record” discussions where they are not identified by the publication as a named source for information regarding the actions of police officers or disciplinary decisions handed down by SPD, from August 1, 2018-September 2, 2020.
  • Whether these contacts or information shared were done to positively or negatively impact media or public perception of disciplinary decisions or actions taken by SPD during the same time period.
  • Why the conversations were not on the record.

The protests may have quieted for the time being, but demands for accountability will not until people are actually held accountable. This investigation is essential for the community’s understanding of police conduct during protests—and it adds much needed transparency to the urgent process of creating authentic accountability for police in Seattle.

1 See generally Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County et al. v. City of Seattle, Case No. 2:20-cv-00887-RAJ (Jun. 9, 2020), granted in part Jun. 12, 2020.


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The Ghostt Of Capitol Hill
The Ghostt Of Capitol Hill
1 month ago

What a shameful failure of our collective imagination. A violent organization built to harass citizens and licensed to kill. Can you imagine voting to start an organization like that? How would that read on the ballot? This is madness. Police are a chaotic and violent system of oppression from a bygone era that we are simply too unimaginative to reinvent. We live in an era of civil passivity and greed with zero acknowledgment of the shared society we must all inhabit together. Many more civilians will be hurt and killed by the police in the decades to come. What a shameful world we live in. Shame on us all.

Moving On
Moving On
1 month ago

Welp, I certainly agree with all of this!

I find it another sad reminder of all the momentum that was squandered this summer, as well as the resulting tragic loss of life.

Thanks BLMSKC for helping to refocus on core issues of accountability.

LinkRider
LinkRider
1 month ago

The BLMSKC complaint that this led to increased call times makes sense to me, even if it’s a bit euphemistic, given the lack of police presence in the CHOP/CHAZ entirely. I’m wondering if there’s another take on it, since CHS says here that it was “a move many saw as a dangerous escalation…”

My perception at the time was that leaving the East Precinct was intended to deescalate the situation. Instead of defending it by setting up a line on the north side where police were facing down protesters with umbrellas, the protesters would be allowed through, and the city would trust that they would not destroy the building. I can see how that would have been demoralizing for the police, who I imagined would have viewed it as a surrender, but it seemed likely that someone was going to get hurt the way things were going.

James
James
1 month ago

Please ABOLISH the police already

NuclearMarc
NuclearMarc
1 month ago

Who thinks this was NOT the trigger for Durkan to issue a statement that providing a vaccine was too tough for her to campaign, ergo, she is outta here?

She knew this a week before the journalists could hope to, is my guess.
—snip
The demand for a special investigation comes as Durkan announced this week she will not seek reelection and plans to finish as a one-term mayor in 2021