Patience wears thin at City Hall; McGinn urged to reopen police chief search
Weeks of turmoil in the Seattle Police Department threatened on Thursday to engulf the hiring of a new police chief, with some City Council members privately urging Mayor Mike McGinn to reopen the search process, according to a City Hall source.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Weeks of turmoil in the Seattle Police Department threatened on Thursday to engulf the hiring of a new police chief as a majority of City Council members privately urged Mayor Mike McGinn to reopen the search process, according to City Hall sources.
On a day when the city's normal civility cracked, Seattle City Attorney Peter Holmes also raised the possibility of restarting the process as he assailed the Police Department's command staff over a highly publicized jaywalking incident near Franklin High School in which a police officer punched a 17-year-old girl after she shoved him.
The Seattle Police Officers' Guild, in a written statement, rebuked Holmes, but also said it might support reopening the search if Interim Chief John Diaz is not the mayor's choice. The Guild has previously said the other finalist for the job, Ron Davis, chief of the 39-member East Palo Alto, Calif., Police Department, lacks the experience for the Seattle job.
McGinn has yet to make his choice between Diaz and Davis, the two finalists who remain after the sudden withdrawal last week of a third finalist, Sacramento, Calif., Police Chief Rick Braziel. The council would have to approve the mayor's selection.
McGinn is believed by some observers to be leaning toward Davis, but it is unclear whether there is enough support on the council for Davis.
The Police Department has come under scrutiny over Monday's jaywalking incident, which was caught on video, and was already conducting a criminal investigation into the videotaped actions of two other officers seen kicking a prone Latino man on April 17, with one using ethnically inflammatory language.
City attorney rips police
At a media briefing Thursday, Holmes said the Police Department "is capable of far better than we have witnessed in recent months."
Though he filed charges against a 19-year-old woman involved in the jaywalking scuffle, Holmes said the incident represented a complete breakdown of department leadership. He said the Police Department failed to provide adequate training and planning for its officers to handle such situations.
"Incidents such as these underscore the void in leadership at the top," Holmes said, citing repeated recommendations by police auditors to bolster de-escalation training for officers.
"This dangerous intersection near Franklin High is a known public-safety problem, and despite that knowledge, SPD leadership essentially planned to fail because it failed to plan," said Holmes, who previously served as the head of a civilian-review board that monitored Seattle police internal investigations.
Holmes urged the mayor to "rectify the leadership void" within the Police Department, saying his personal view was that McGinn should select a new chief from outside or restart the selection process.
Reached for comment Thursday, Diaz said that he "vehemently disagreed with Mr. Holmes" and planned to meet privately with the city attorney.
Sgt. Rich O'Neill, president of the police guild, in a written statement Thursday called Holmes' comments "highly inappropriate."
O'Neill said Diaz has served the department for nearly 30 years, leading it as interim chief through one of the worst years in its history.
Diaz has overseen the department in a year that included an officer being killed on Halloween night, engendering huge public sympathy; the incident involving the Latino man, which drew harsh criticism; and Monday's jaywalking episode, which has sparked mixed responses.
O'Neill reiterated his support for the officer involved in the jaywalking incident. "For the City Attorney to call into question the chief's leadership over a justified use of force incident, is simply insulting," he said in the statement.
He said force was used because the officer was assaulted.
"Officers are trained to enforce the law and not to 'de-escalate' [walk away] simply because a violator objects to be being stopped," O'Neill said, referring to an alleged attempt by the 19-year-old to walk away after being detained.
McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus, reacting to Holmes' comments, issued a statement saying the police-chief search committee "did an excellent job, and we have two strong candidates for the next Seattle police chief. The mayor is considering the two candidates carefully and appreciates the City Attorney joining the discussion on this important decision."
Council's role debated
The council members who have urged the mayor to reopen the process decided to carry on those discussions in private, the City Hall sources said.
Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who was on the search committee, said it's not the council's place to weigh in on restarting the process.
"My take on it is, I would be open, but I'm not suggesting a third candidate is necessary unless the mayor believes it so," he said. "The mayor has to make his needs known. It's the mayor's decision, and if the mayor thinks he has two viable candidates, he needs to make a decision."
If a majority of the council is suggesting that neither Davis nor Diaz is fit to command, Harrell said, the council members should just come out and publicly say it. "Let's just be honest ... "
City Council President Richard Conlin said he was open to reopening the search process.
He said he liked Spokane Chief Anne Kirkpatrick and thinks she would be a good choice, if the mayor is open to selecting a candidate from outside the finalists.
Kirkpatrick, who was one of nine semifinalists for job, recently asked McGinn to be reconsidered, according to news reports.
OneAmerica, an immigration-overhaul group, and the Seattle-based African Communities Network released a joint letter to McGinn on Thursday, lamenting what they called recent "police brutality" and urging him to hire Davis. The letter cited a need for leadership to ensure police accountability, stop racial profiling and build trust with communities of color. If Davis is not picked, the group said, it "regretfully" supported looking for additional outside candidates.
Davis would be the department's first African-American chief if chosen and confirmed.
Police review ordered
Earlier this week, Diaz ordered a review of the department's training procedures after a videotape of the incident involving two teens was repeatedly broadcast on Seattle television stations and media websites. The police officer, Ian P. Walsh, 39, who joined the department in November 2006, has been temporarily placed in the department's training unit to review his tactics.
On Wednesday, Diaz said he had also asked for immediate recommendations from the training unit to improve de-escalation training. He acknowledged not enough was being done, despite some training that already exists.
James Kelly, chief executive officer of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, said Tuesday that Walsh's punch was an overreaction. "The provocation by this 17-year-old kid may have presented a confrontation situation, but the use of violence in the form of a full punch in the face was just plain wrong," he said in a statement.
The two teens, Angel L. Rosenthal, 17, and Marilyn Ellen Levias, 19, are black; Walsh is white.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or email@example.com
Seattle Times staff reporters Emily Heffter and Christine Clarridge contributed to this report, which includes information from Seattle Times archives.
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