Cops lied, hindered probe, says watchdog
Two Seattle police officers lied after the arrest of an alleged drug dealer, the civilian auditor of the police department's internal-affairs...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Two Seattle police officers lied after the arrest of an alleged drug dealer, the civilian auditor of the police department's internal-affairs unit has concluded, and she believes one of them pocketed marijuana taken off a suspect.
"It was more than just sloppy," said Kate Pflaumer, the former U.S. attorney in Seattle, on Tuesday. She is the first official involved in the investigation to openly challenge Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske's decision to clear officers Greg Neubert and Michael Tietjen of serious ethics and honesty charges.
Responding to Pflaumer's comments, Kerlikowske said Wednesday that he and the auditor had agreed on the key findings: the officers didn't use excessive force and didn't plant drugs.
Pflaumer said she thought they should be "tagged for lying and failing to cooperate with the investigation."
As the former chief federal prosecutor in Western Washington, she has opinions that carry particular weight.
But the chief characterized the officers as having a recall problem when they were interviewed as part of the investigation.
"No, I don't believe they lied," he said.
The investigation into the officers started because an alleged drug dealer complained that the officers had used excessive force and planted drugs on him. He pointed detectives to a drugstore surveillance tape to prove his case. The tape contradicted the officers' reports in several areas.
Pflaumer said she voiced her opinion to Kerlikowske last month in a "spirited" and "frank" e-mail exchange. Within days of that exchange, the chief called a news conference and announced that an extensive internal investigation had turned up no evidence of wrongdoing by the officers after the January arrest.
Questions into the officers' credibility have been building ever since: A forensic expert has challenged the officers' version of the incident, a superior court judge has agreed with the expert's conclusions and the FBI has opened a preliminary civil-rights review of the case.
The officers have previously refrained from commenting. Rich O'Neill, president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, has said that the issue has been "blown out of proportion."
Pflaumer's job as civilian auditor is to review all Office of Professional Accountability investigations "for completion, thoroughness and findings." She often works in "real time" with internal affairs detectives to ensure all avenues of an investigation are pursued.
In the Neubert and Tietjen probe, Pflaumer sent investigators to try to find another witness and reviewed the entire case.
The surveillance tape also revealed a series of other issues that called into question the officers' credibility and their version of events.
According to the officers' reports, filed an hour after the arrest, they first spotted 26-year-old George "Troy" Patterson through a telescope from the ninth floor of a parking garage. They said they watched as Patterson, who uses a wheelchair, sold crack cocaine on the corner of Third and Pike.
When they arrived at the corner on their bicycles, they said, Patterson rolled by. The officers said they observed crumbs of cocaine on his lap and arrested him. But the officers didn't include other details that the videotape captured.
For example, the videotape showed that the officers had detained and handcuffed another man at the scene, but then let him go. Department policy requires that they clear the suspect's release with a sergeant and note it in their reports. They did neither.
Kerlikowske disciplined the officers for failing to report the detention.
The video also shows that the officers tried to get Patterson to spit something out of his mouth and that Tietjen used a "wristy-twisty" pain-compliance hold on Patterson for several minutes. There is no reference to either of those details in their reports.
The man who was detained and released -- a New York native who had never met Neubert or Tietjen -- told internal affairs detectives that when he was frisked, Tietjen found a "dime bag" of marijuana in his pocket. He said the officer put it in his pocket and never gave it back. No marijuana was booked into police evidence. Tietjen denied in an interview with detectives that he had confiscated any marijuana.
But Pflaumer concluded that the suspect's story was credible. "Why would he lie about having drugs?" she said.
She found it significant that both officers "deep-sixed the whole event" about the unreported detention and the marijuana. "I think the exclusions were purposeful," she said.
Pflaumer joins a growing list of officials who have questioned the arrest after viewing the 22-minute incident on the tape. A King County Superior Court judge ruled that the tape and the officers' reports "don't square"; a forensic video analyst hired by The Defender Association pointed out dozens of discrepancies. Meantime, the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office dismissed charges against Patterson after viewing the tape, and has sent letters to defense attorneys in at least 17 other cases alerting them to the investigation into the officers' credibility.
"Nobody disagrees that they should have written a better report," Kerlikowske said Wednesday. At the same time, he said, the apparent inaccuracies and omissions don't surprise him, given the large number of drug arrests in which the officers are involved.
The Office of Professional Accountability makes recommendations in disciplinary cases, and its auditor reviews those findings. Kerlikowske can uphold, stiffen, reverse or reduce recommended discipline.
In her e-mail exchange with the chief, Pflaumer said, she told the chief that she thought the officers were lying.
Neither the chief nor Pflaumer could provide the e-mails. The police department said the e-mails have been deleted. The deletions are an apparent violation of city policy and state document-retention laws.
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org