Police chief: No regrets, but I'm open to change
Gil Kerlikowske says that while he stands by the controversial decisions he's made on Seattle police discipline, it may be time to take another look...
Seattle Times staff reporters
- Police chief exonerated officers in violent arrest
- Once tough on cops, is chief now too easy?
- Who's on the board that wrote scathing report
- Oversight of the SPD
- Investigation of officers jeopardizes 17 cases
- Cops' alleged lie leaves 17 cases in jeopardy
- Cop furor: Nickels orders probe of a probe
- Report by the citizens review board (PDF)
- Expert review of arrest (PDF)
- Incident Report (PDF)
- Nickels' letter to the OPA (PDF)
Stung by recent criticism over his handling of officer discipline, Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske defended his actions Tuesday, but also said it may be time to change the way the department polices itself.
"I feel that I have been absolutely consistent," he said. "I'm confident about the decisions I've made and how I run the department."
The criticism that's been leveled at him over the past several weeks for not disciplining officers accused of misconduct gave him pause, he said during an interview Tuesday afternoon with The Seattle Times. He looked carefully at his files, searching his own conscience, he said.
In every case, he stands by his decisions.
In a leaked report, Kerlikowske was harshly criticized by members of the Office of Professional Accountability Review Board (OPARB), who concluded the chief interfered with an internal investigation that led to the exoneration of the officers.
The board has also authored another report -- not yet released because of legal issues -- that board members said examines the chief's decisions not to impose discipline recommended by the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA).
One federal court case involving a violent arrest in 2005 has drawn more attention to Kerlikowske's record on police discipline. The OPA recommended two officers be disciplined for excessive use of force in the arrest of an African-American man on Capitol Hill, and a sergeant be punished for dereliction of his duties as a supervisor.
Instead, the chief exonerated the officers and a deadline for disciplining the sergeant expired.
In that case and others, he did not explain his reasoning in writing, drawing criticism. Kerlikowske said Tuesday he did not do so because the review system does not require it -- but he's open to a complete review of the process by which police are held accountable.
"I'm totally not opposed to reviewing the system as it is, and quite frankly, maybe it's time," he said.
Peter Holmes, a member of the citizen review panel that monitors OPA's findings, said he was "extremely heartened" to hear the chief is considering making written findings.
"It's exactly what we recommended to him in April 2004, and at that point what he said was, 'Why would I do this?' My answer then is the same as my answer today: transparency," Holmes said.
For several years, Holmes and others have called on the chief to explain in writing when he disagrees with discipline recommended by the OPA director.
Kerlikowske, who was appointed chief in 2000, has long resisted the idea, saying it would force him to disclose highly personal information officers reveal to him in their own defense.
On Tuesday, James Kelly, president of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, also suggested the chief explain in writing when he disagrees with the OPA director's recommendations.
"I think the public has a right to know," Kelly said.
Kelly said he and the Urban League were waiting for more information on the chief's record before reaching broader conclusions on his performance. The NAACP has called on Kerlikowske to resign, citing a crisis of leadership.
Issues of police-officer credibility and discipline have simmered for years. A public outcry in 1999 over a homicide detective's alleged theft of $10,000 from the apartment of a man killed by officers resulted in a citizen panel recommending the establishment of the civilian-directed OPA in place today. The handling of that case by then-Police Chief Norm Stamper was a factor in his retirement.
This year, the issue erupted again with the videotaped arrest of a known drug dealer on a downtown sidewalk. The man complained that officers roughed him up and planted drugs on him. While those charges could not be proven, the department determined the officers failed to document the detention of another man, and they were disciplined for that.
But King County prosecutors found the discrepancies on the videotape serious enough that dozens of cases involving the two officers, Gregory Neubert and Michael Tietjen, have been jeopardized because of concerns about their credibility. Charges against the drug dealer were dismissed, along with two other felony cases involving the officers.
On Tuesday, the chief also spoke about the violent arrest of the African-American man on Capitol Hill.
Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, who apparently questioned a police sergeant over the arrest of one of Alley-Barnes' friends, was taken to the ground by four officers, according to witnesses and police reports. Some of the officers said they kicked and slugged Alley-Barnes, then arrested him for obstruction and assault on an officer.
The charges were dismissed because the department withheld from defense attorneys a dashboard-camera videotape that captured audio of the arrest and revealed "inflammatory statements" made by police, according to a municipal court judge.
OPA documents indicate internal police investigators recommended the officers be exonerated, but the office director at that time, Sam Pailca, recommended they be punished.
Kerlikowske was set to accept her recommendations despite having no statement from Alley-Barnes, he said, when he met with the officers.
"They explained what happened, how they rushed to the call and the sergeant told them what to do," he said Tuesday.
"I felt the supervisor had far more blame in this situation."
But he said his hands were tied where Sgt. Greg Sackman was concerned because, as a Seattle Police Officers' Guild representative pointed out, a 180-day deadline for discipline had expired.
Kerlikowske said that was the OPA's fault.
"OPA did not properly start the clock on that investigation," he said.
"No matter how I felt, what I wanted to do was precluded by the contractual obligations," he said.
Pailca, contacted Tuesday evening, declined to comment.
In the case involving the January arrest of a drug dealer, Kerlikowske said he did no more or less than he does on any other such case.
Kerlikowske said there was no evidence, video or otherwise, to support 26-year-old George "Troy" Patterson's claim the officers planted drugs on him or used excessive force. He is certain, he said, the officers "did not plant dope and did not abuse him."
His decision not to discipline the officers on the most serious charges was also based on his personal determination of the credibility of various witnesses and participants.
The review board, in its leaked report, said the chief relied heavily on a witness whose credibility was a problem.
Kerlikowske said there have been a number of cases in which he has imposed discipline on officers where the OPA has recommended exoneration, and only a handful of incidents in which he has backed officers against the OPA's recommendations.
Kerlikowske said the recent criticism has bothered his supporters and friends, especially his 83-year-old mother, who just moved to Seattle from Florida. Kerlikowske said he's been a police chief long enough to know that criticism comes with the job.
"I don't relish being in the eye of the storm," he said. "But I've done this a long time and I've been through it before. ... I know I have nothing to feel unsure, uncomfortable or embarrassed about."
Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Information from Seattle Times staff reporter Steve Miletich is included in this report.
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.
(Courtesy of LeMay — America's Car Museum) New LeMay exhibit to look at NASCAR LeMay — America's Car Museum in Tacoma will look at the wil...
Post a comment