SEATTLE—Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County (BLMSKC) today sent a letter to Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan calling for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the city’s police department and the Office of Police Accountability (OPA). The full text of the letter follows this release.
Specifically, BLMSKC demands an investigation into the Seattle Police Department’s abandonment of the East Precinct during summer 2020 protests:
- who gave the order or made the decision to abandon the precinct;
- whether public resources were used to coordinate it; and
- whether public safety was jeopardized because of it, among other questions.
It also demands an investigation into OPA’s decisions in all investigations undertaken by that office in 2020.
“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 the 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.”
“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.”
FULL TEXT OF LETTER TO MAYOR JENNY DURKAN
December 8, 2020
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.
About Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County
Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County is a grassroots, volunteer-run, social-justice nonprofit organization focused on the empowerment and liberation of Blacks and other people of color through advocacy and direct action. BLM Seattle centers leadership on Black femmes, women and queer people organizing and taking direct action to dismantle anti-black systems and policies of oppression.