KUOW has finally ended months of uncertainty around the decision for Seattle Police to abandon the East Precinct building at 12th and Pine and open the way for the formation of CHOP.
It turns out, the answer brings more questions as we await the results of the Office of Police Accountability’s investigation into SPD’s withdrawal.
In a sprawling, 3,000-word report, Seattle’s National Public Radio member station reports “We know who made the call to leave Seattle Police’s East Precinct last summer, finally” and hangs the blame on Assistant Chief Tom Mahaffey and his worries about a possible arson attack:
At a police office in Belltown, Mahaffey and his deputy, Capt. Grossman, meet in a small command room with four or five others. It’s here that they decide to leave the East Precinct. “It’s too dangerous to stay there,” Grossman says. It’s an unexpected pivot. Hours earlier, Mahaffey had shouted down a room over letting protesters walk by the precinct. Between then and now, he has changed his mind. Maybe it is the mayor’s staff, begging police to consider an alternative approach. Or Fire Chief Scoggins, who warned of disaster should the precinct burn. Or maybe it is his deputies, walking him through what it would look like if police removed themselves from this tense equation. He does not tell Chief Best about this plan.
The KUOW report lays out a scenario in Seattle featuring a stressed-out police department engaged in a logistical and political battle of wills with the mayor’s office and seems to make the case that both Mayor Jenny Durkan and former Chief Carmen Best were fully blind-sided by the decision to empty the building over concerns the auto row-era structure could be targeted in an arson attack. The story gives the who, how, and why to the scenario described by officials from the first hours of the abandonment and reported here by CHS in November of a tactical action by Best’s on the ground commanders that stemmed from Durkan administration efforts to reach out to Black Lives Matter demonstrators. “We took down the barricades because we really wanted to establish trust,” Best told media later that June.
The KUOW report does not address evidence that the decision should have been visible to Best as part of the department Incident Action Plan approved by SPD officials.
And the KUOW report does not explain the depth of the abandonment CHS reported in June as we looked back on the one-year anniversary of CHOP. For weeks after the withdrawal, SPD refused to respond to most incidents near the protest zone. Neighbors and businesses reported that SPD officers were not responding to 911 calls around the protest zone as the area took on a party-like atmosphere with speeches, rallies, music, and dancing as demands begin to crystalize around defunding SPD.
With residents and businesses near CHOP struggling with the day to day living and doing business in the midst of the protest zone, the inconveniences of the camp, the noise, and the difficulties with SPD’s reluctance to respond inside the zone would soon be overshadowed. Less than two weeks after the precinct was emptied, 19-year-old Lorenzo Anderson was shot and killed at 10th and Pine.
KUOW’s report comes as yet another Office of Police Accountability report is expected soon — this one on complaints related to the abandonment of the precinct.
In May, former Assistant Chief Steve Herjak was demoted — but not fired — for his role in sparking the notorious Pink Umbrella Incident during CHOP. Assistant chiefs, it turns out, represent an easier path to discipline for Chief Adrian Diaz as the assistants are not members of the powerful Seattle Police Officers Guild union. We’ll know more about consequences — if any — for Assistant Chief Mahaffey, soon.
As for the East Precinct, police moved back into the building following the July 1, 2020 raid on CHOP and clearance of the camps and began, once more, to patrol the area and respond to 911 calls. The more than 100-year-old building once home to the Willys-Overland Motors automobile company has stood through decades of change on the Hill thanks in part to its large x-shaped seismic braces. Those braces and the East Precinct headquarters inside are now partially hidden behind the large, probably permanent security fence put in place to prevent the fire attack that caused so much worry last summer.
CHS SUBSCRIBER DRIVE
This is about as intrusive as we’ll get. No pledge breaks. No tote bags. Just a call for readers to please consider subscribing to CHS to help us pay writers and photographers to cover the neighborhood. Become a subscriber at $1/$5/$10 a month.