Rights groups, union enter police chief fray
Two civil-rights groups have lined up on opposite sides of the controversy swirling around Seattle police Chief Gil Kerlikowske for intervening...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Two civil-rights groups have lined up on opposite sides of the controversy swirling around Seattle police Chief Gil Kerlikowske for intervening in the internal police investigation of two officers.
On Friday, the NAACP called on Kerlikowske to resign while the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle came out in support of the chief.
On Friday morning, James Bible, president of the Seattle-King County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, also called on the city to fire the two officers involved in the disputed arrest of a drug dealer that prompted the internal-affairs probe.
Bible said a "crisis of character" exists within the department and claimed officers have violated the civil rights of citizens including George "Troy" Patterson, the man whose arrest sparked the internal-affairs investigation. "We have a leadership problem in Seattle," said Bible.
Hours later, James Kelly, president of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, and Carl Mack, a former president of the Seattle NAACP, held a news conference to voice their support for Kerlikowske.
Later Friday, Kelly said his group has decided to wait until "all the facts" about the case are available before passing judgment on Kerlikowske.
"Reasonable people, reasonable organizations can differ," Kelly said of his group's and the NAACP's contrasting positions.
Kelly went on to say the Urban League has a good relationship with Kerlikowske, and has always been able to get an appointment with him "in minutes, not days," whenever there are issues.
"I'll be damned to allow any draft report, any incomplete investigation, to ruin the relationship we have," he said.
Mack said the call for Kerlikowske's resignation "is absolutely asinine. I consider him a brother in the strongest sense."
On the night of Jan. 2, Seattle police officers Gregory Neubert and Michael Tietjen arrested convicted drug dealer Patterson, 26, for allegedly possessing drugs. The arrest was caught on videotape, and the tape conflicted with the officers' written reports of the incident and raised questions about their credibility.
Hours after his arrest, Patterson complained to the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), which oversees internal police investigations, that the officers roughed him up and planted drugs on him.
Kerlikowske later exonerated the officers of the most serious claims, but disciplined them for a relatively minor policy violation: not documenting the arrest and release of another suspect at the scene.
In reviewing the case, the department's Office of Professional Accountability Review Board (OPARB) accused Kerlikowske of taking extraordinary measures to protect the officers. The report also said he took advantage of a vacancy in the leadership of the OPA to pressure those investigating the two officers.
Kerlikowske criticized the report's co-author, review-board Chairman Peter Holmes, accusing him of playing politics with the police department. The chief has said it's his job to monitor investigations.
On Wednesday, Mayor Greg Nickels asked Kathryn Olson, the new president of the OPA, to review the Patterson case, including the chief's role in its investigation.
The Seattle Police Officer's Guild has also jumped into the fray.
On Friday, the union's attorney faxed an unfair-labor-practice claim against the review board to the Seattle City Attorney's Office.
Union President Rich O'Neill said the board exceeded its authority when it reviewed Patterson's arrest. He said the board is supposed to be limited to examining a random "sampling" of cases when reviewing the police department and not focus solely on one case.
"They're not supposed to be doing investigations," O'Neill said. "They were never meant be an appellate body, an investigative body, or meant to have this expanded authority. It almost seems they want to push the envelope."
O'Neill said he believes the chief has done nothing wrong.
Also on Friday, Seattle City Council President Nick Licata dropped a measure from the agenda that would have allowed the council to review the police chief's performance.
Licata first proposed the idea, which would have required voter approval, when he directed the city's law department to give copies of the draft-review-board report to all council members on Monday. Few council members supported such a review.
"People are getting the issue of accountability with the police chief's personality or attributes confused," he said. "We're not talking about the facts of the case."
Licata said he plans to wait until the council gets more information from the review board before discussing how the council can strengthen police accountability.
Information from Seattle Times staff reporters Brian Alexander, Christine Clarridge and Sharon Pian Chan is included in this report.
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