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‘At what point should people have known?’ — Larger questions about Seattle Police disinformation and ‘chain of command’ during protest response overshadow Proud Boy radio ruse — UPDATE

Former Chief Best at a press conference at CHOP in the summer of 2020 (Image: CHS)

A Seattle City Council committee meeting Tuesday morning included calls for training and policy changes but also opened the door to a wider ranging probe connecting the so-called “improper ruse” of the Proud Boys disinformation effort to the decision to abandon the East Precinct and other operations by the Seattle Police Department during the summer of 2020 in which investigators have identified and sometimes recommended discipline for lower ranking commanders and officers for their parts in the inappropriate and often dangerous actions while citing a lack of documentation and oversight at the department’s highest levels including then Chief Carmen Best and current interim Chief Adrian Diaz.

“People in the high command didn’t know about things,” Councilmember Andrew Lewis said during his questions to Andrew Myerberg, director of the city’s Office of Police Accountability. “At what point should people have known?”

Tuesday’s meeting of the council’s Public Safety and Human Services Committee was the first public hearing following last week’s delayed release of the OPA report on findings that former Assistant Chief Bryan Grenon, as head of the department’s Special Operations Center convened to manage the city’s response to the 2020 protest, signed off on a dangerous disinformation ploy targeting demonstrators as the CHOP protest zone formed on Capitol Hill.

Committee chair Lisa Herbold said her focus was on policies and the use of “ruses” that she said are legal under state law but “need additional oversight and must be documented.”

But the OPA director said, while he shared Herbold’s concerns about policy, he agreed with Lewis that the larger concern about the Proud Boy radio ruse in which officers were approved to broadcast false reports of an armed right wing group headed for Capitol Hill as the protest camp formed wasn’t about the use of a tactic that can be appropriate “in the context of a criminal investigation” but about Seattle Police officers deploying an intentional disinformation campaign.

Myerberg, whose appointment expires at the end of the year and has been reportedly considering a move to a similar office in another city, said the city should pursue tightening its controls on ruses — but also consider a ban on SPD disinformation.

UPDATE: Tuesday afternoon, the administration announced Myerberg will, indeed, be leaving OPA and taking a new role at City Hall as Harrell’s new Director of Public Safety:

Andrew Myerberg has served as the Director of Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA) since 2017. Myerberg came to OPA from the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, where he was the lead attorney for the City in the Consent Decree over the Seattle Police Department and provided legal advice to City departments on criminal justice and law enforcement issues. Myerberg also previously served as legal counsel to the Seattle Community Police Commission. Myerberg has a Juris Doctorate from American University’s Washington College of Law and a Bachelor of Arts from Hamilton College.

“Working with Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell, Myerberg will play a key role in developing new models of public safety, working collaboratively with Seattle Police and Fire Departments, and helping guide oversight and reform efforts,” the announcement reads. “Facing a changing landscape and so many new and ongoing safety crises, my administration is putting public safety at the top of the agenda,” Harrell said in the announcement. “Andrew Myerberg brings an expert’s understanding of the issues in front of us, along with a diverse set of professional experiences working toward a safer City for all residents. I have no doubt Andrew will enhance our efforts and help originate the bold ideas needed to make change as we enter negotiations on a police contract, stand up a new department of unarmed public safety officers, and build a Seattle Police Department with staffing levels and a culture to match our local needs and local values.”

Tuesday morning, Myerberg also said OPA cannot be the source for a broader investigation that would consider findings from a series of OPA reports identifying improper acts by SPD during the 2020 Black Lives Matter and anti-police protests.

“We don’t look at a series of incidents,” Myerberg told the council committee, suggesting a broader review from the Office of Inspector General or the Community Police Commission would be more effective.

Brandy Grant of the CPC participated in Tuesday’s committee meeting and raised questions about why Myerberg waited so long to release the findings about the ruse and called for more to be done to keep the public informed about investigations as they unfold. She also asked Myerberg what steps could be taken to address the “lack of evidence” in this case.

Meyerberg said Tuesday that Grenon retired from the force as the OPA investigation unfolded and was delayed for months due to what the director blamed Tuesday on contractual limitations that required a supervisor from his office to run the investigation due to the involvement of Grenon, Myerberg’s parental leave, and Myerberg’s heavy workload running the office, calling the delay “a simple reality.”

Myerberg also said the investigation was rare in his investigations of the bureaucracy of SPD for its lack of available documentation.

Myerberg said his office’s investigation found the buck stopped with the now-retired head of the Special Operations Center and there was no evidence “it went above Grennon.” But Myerberg also said his investigation started in December of 2020 could draw on no written reports, and no clear chain of command — there was none, Myerberg said, only the audio from police radio broadcasts in recordings provided by activists, and the testimony from officers the investigation could identify by voice in the recordings, or from the identification of other participating officers.

In all, ten officers were identified and interviewed, Myerberg said. Two supervisors including Grennon, and four officers were identified as having directly participating in the faked broadcasts. In the OPA report, Myerberg recommended the four officers not face discipline, technically “removing the allegation” from their records, because of what he said as a lack of appropriate supervision in the incident.

But councilmember Lewis pressed on the questions around chain of command, asking if, under standard procedures with the Special Operations Center, it would have been “common” for leadership including Chief Best and then-Mayor Jenny Durkan to have been made aware of this type of disinformation activities.

“Nothing about this case is common,” Myerberg said.

Best resigned as chief following CHOP and Durkan opted not to run for a second term, wrapping up her time in City Hall with the end of 2021.

Despite the lack of documentation and clear chains of command in department’s response to the protests, the framework of findings of inappropriate actions and discipline around the so-called ruse have not been unique.

The most significant examples from CHOP are the findings around the abandonment of the East Precinct in which Assistant Chief Tom Mahaffey has been singled out for his role in the evacuation the 12th and Pine facility over FBI-stoked concerns of a possible arson attack. In another example, 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 Diaz as the assistants are not members of the powerful Seattle Police Officers Guild union.

Mahaffey, who did not face discipline over the OPA’s findings about the East Precinct’s clearance, is also at the center of the ruse investigation, with the report documenting that the assistant chief of patrol operations knew officers were broadcasting the fake reports.

Herbold also said Tuesday the city’s Office of Inspector General certified the OPA investigation as sufficient and has provided details of that decision to her office.

As for the larger questions, attention may next turn to a Sentinel Event Review report already underway at City Hall. Reports released in the months following the protests have already included findings on the use of weapons and crowd control tactics during the protests. CHS reported here on the findings in the first wave of investigation that found SPD’s response to the protests only made things more dangerous and recommended a larger, more technologically prepared police force with new directives including encouraging certain officers to speak their minds — if what the cops have to say doesn’t further inflame tensions.

But the appetite for discipline and consequences may have now been ratcheted higher.

What actions Chief Diaz might take regarding the latest OPA report aren’t yet known. Tuesday, Myerberg said the disciplinary proceedings in the case had begun this week.

For Diaz, the latest scandal from his department’s response to Black Lives Matter and anti-police protest comes as he is also facing a decision from the new Harrell administration on who will serve as its police chief.

Harrell and City Hall are also tangling with the battle over shaping the next SPD contract. As efforts to move spending on policing to increased spending on social and community programs have met strong pushback in Seattle, the city is facing a long slog of negotiations over a new contract with its police union. The most recent contract between the Seattle Police Officers Guild and the city expired December 31st — 2020. SPOG continues to fight efforts to change spending — and change the department — at every turn.

Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell represented her uncle’s new administration Tuesday in the city council session, complaining about having to find out about the ruse through the news media, and saying the episode further damages concerns about accountability in the department.

“This doubles down on our desire to dig deeper,” Harrell said, to reveal “things that we did not know were occurring” and to “fix what is rotten here.”

UPDATE 1/12/2022 2:35 PM: The South Seattle Emerald is reporting that an email sent the day of the Proud Boys ruse shows that information about the faked threat from SPD was disseminated through city government and that departments expended resources in response. According to the Emerald, an email from the Seattle Public Utilities emergency manager the night of June 8th described Seattle Office of Emergency Management and Seattle Police warnings of “a possible counter protest at Volunteer Park that could lead to significant volatility in the area” and “intelligence reports” about the possible presence of Proud Boys in the area.

“SDOT, SPU, and other departments” have been working this afternoon to make the area as safe as possible by clearing dumpsters, adjusting barricades, and reducing flammable materials,” the email continued.

 

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Phil Mocek
7 months ago

Bruce Harrell is completely outclassed when it comes to dealing with police, and having a high-level advisor who has made a career of making excuses for dirty cops is not going to help.

I watched SPD bamboozle Harrell into weakening Seattle’s surveillance equipment ordinance before it was passed nearly ten years ago. He’s a lawyer and a legislator–there’s no excuse for what happened. See “Seattle City Council pass ordinance restricting surveillance equipment after Councilmember Harrell slips in a gift for police,” March 19, 2013, for details.

Moving Soon
Moving Soon
7 months ago
Reply to  Phil Mocek

Please visit SPOG on twitter and witness the horror show of fear mongering being perpetrated by actual adults who hold public jobs.

They post news images and images of guns and repeat the mantra “Feel Safer Yet”… Seriously, wow. Also.. wouldn’t it be their fault?

https://twitter.com/SPOG1952

Phil Mocek
7 months ago
Reply to  Moving Soon

I’m very familiar. Note, also, that the guild president, a job currently held by Mike Solan, is a City of Seattle position. The fear-mongering you reference is publicly-funded.

https://www.thestranger.com/seattle/you-pay-this-sergeants-salary/Content?oid=7560566

hjgale
7 months ago

Great report, along with Bick at The Emerald (noted above), Trumm at TheUrbanist.org, & Beekman at Seattle Times who keeps updating the story & asking hard questions.

But many questions remain, like:

(1) In what universe should we NOT sanction officers who, even lacking guidance from superiors, carry out orders in foreseeably dangerous ways? “Well sarge, you told me to apprehend the perp, but you never said not to run him over“,

(2) Why weren’t all officers investigated for material dishonesty (which could lead to immediate termination): they all flagrantly lied about the reasons for the Proud Boy lies, since that lie would invariably draw protesters to the very location that the officers claim (lied) they were trying to disperse people from? (I know, lying about the lies you were lying about gets very confusing),

(3) In Tuesday’s Council hearing Myerberg revealed he did not look at txt messages! Why not? That could reveal the actual motivation for lying & who else was involved, &

(4) Myerberg claims this was a complicated investigation b/c of nothing being documented. Same problem with SPD officers at Jan. 6 insurrection. So why not have Diaz do what he did with that issue: tell officers to voluntarily come forth & admit partaking in the Proud Boys disinformation campaign or else face immediate termination if discovered later? Investigation would be done in weeks instead of months.

And, speaking of Assistant Chief Tom Mahaffey: I have dead-to-rights info. that he has engaged in “material dishonesty” (the basis in SPD for immediate termination) around the events of this particular week at CHOP. Any journalists that can convince me they can write a story that will get mainstream media coverage hit me up at SeattleSTOP.org.