Police clear 2 officers of lying about arrests
A probe into nearly 30 recent arrests made by two Seattle Police officers turned up no evidence of wrongdoing.
Seattle Times staff reporter
An investigation into nearly 30 recent arrests made by two Seattle Police officers who had been accused of lying in written reports has turned up no evidence of wrongdoing, Chief Gil Kerlikowske said Monday.
The probe found nothing to support claims that officers Greg Neubert and Mike Tietjen lied or planted evidence while arresting a man who later filed a complaint with the Police Department's Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), Kerlikowske said during a news conference.
That complaint and a discrepancy in their arrest report led to the investigation of the officers' recent arrests by the OPA — a civilian oversight group — and the department's internal investigations unit.
But it wasn't immediately known whether the police investigation would have any bearing on the criminal prosecution of several other people arrested by Neubert and Tietjen, bicycle officers in the department's West Precinct.
After the allegations were raised against the officers, the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office sent letters to defense attorneys in cases in which Neubert and Tietjen are potential witnesses, alerting them to the possibility of problems with the officers' integrity.
"We need to review the findings of the [police] internal investigation" before deciding whether any of the cases may be compromised, Dan Donohoe, spokesman for Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng, said Monday afternoon.
He said that just because the letters were sent "doesn't necessarily mean any of those cases would be dismissed." Some people already have been freed, and it's also not clear whether the cases against them will be refiled.
Kerlikowske said each court will be advised of the results of the investigation.
Kerlikowske said he personally reviewed case reports and watched a drugstore surveillance video that captured the night that, convicted felon George "Troy" Patterson alleged, the officers planted drugs on him and roughed him up. Kerlikowske said the video, which has not been released to the public, mostly showed the officers' backsides.
"It's not uncommon for officers who make a lot of arrests to be the subject of rumors," Kerlikowske said. "I do not want a police department that becomes intimidated by citizens' complaints."
Kerlikowske said the only problem the police investigation turned up was the officers' failure to follow a department policy requiring they report whenever a potential suspect is handcuffed and released. Before arresting Patterson on Jan. 2, Neubert and Tietjen had briefly detained and handcuffed another man but failed to include that in their report.
According to a sworn statement in Patterson's criminal case, Neubert said he and Tietjen watched Patterson through a telescope from a vantage point nine stories above Third Avenue and Pike Street. Neubert alleged that Patterson, who uses a wheelchair, sold drugs to a woman.
The officers descended to the street and found crack cocaine in Patterson's lap, Neubert alleged. Patterson has a history of drug abuse.
Patterson was arrested and jailed for a few hours before being released pending formal charges.
In an interview, Patterson said he immediately complained about the arrest to the Office of Professional Accountability. He alleged that the officers planted the drugs and roughed him up.
During his recitation of the events, Patterson said, he mentioned that the officers had briefly handcuffed and detained another man.
According to officials familiar with the case, that fact was missing from the officers' report. Detectives were assigned to investigate the discrepancy. Kerlikowske said the officers didn't lie to investigators but instead forgot to report that they had earlier handcuffed and released the other man.
Kerlikowske attributed the omission to the fact that the officers weren't questioned about the events of Jan. 2 until Jan. 15. The chief said the officers could face some type of administrative punishment for the lapse, such as a written reprimand.
Neubert and Tietjen have been reassigned to other duties.
On Monday, Patterson, 26, still maintained his version of the events and his belief that the officers' conduct was out of line. The criminal charges filed against Patterson from that night have since been dismissed "in the interest of justice," a prosecutor wrote in documents.
Mark Tackitt, a private attorney who represents another defendant arrested by Neubert, said the accusations against the officers cast doubt on his client's arrest.
His client, Terry Cameron, was arrested by Neubert while police were doing a narcotics surveillance operation near the corner of Second Avenue and Pike Street on June 17, 2006.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the King County Defender Association's Racial Disparity Project have called for an outside investigation into allegations of misconduct by Neubert and Tietjen.
On Monday, the groups still had questions about the officers' conduct as well as the police investigation.
"It's hard to be certain whether the conclusion that the Seattle Police Department came up with is correct," said Sunil Abraham, a staff attorney for The Defender Association who works with the project that analyzes the prevalence of racial disparities in the criminal-justice system.
"We don't really know what information they [police] relied on to conclude that," he said. "We haven't seen the interviews, heard the questions, we don't know how many times the officers were interviewed."
James Bible, chapter president of the Seattle NAACP, said several civil-rights groups plan to meet in the next week to decide which agency will be asked to conduct an outside investigation into Neubert and Tietjen.
"The NAACP is not surprised the Seattle Police Department would exonerate itself," Bible said.
Rich O'Neill, president of the Seattle Police Officers' Guild, who has said the accusations against the officers were blown out of proportion, was pleased with the results of the police investigation.
"Over 90 percent of police misconduct allegations are not sustained," he said. "These decorated officers have worked tirelessly to rid the downtown corridor of open-air drug dealing."
Seattle Times staff reporter Natalie Singer contributed to this report.
Jennifer Sullivan:206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org