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Originally published Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 3:41 PM

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City to appeal ruling that shields disciplined SPD officers

Seattle city attorneys said Thursday they will appeal a labor arbitrator's ruling ordering the Police Department to stop releasing the names of officers found to have engaged in misconduct.

Seattle Times staff reporter

quotes Without the names of the guilty few, there will be suspicion of all. Hardly conducive... Read more
quotes Keep fighting, they should not be able to hide behind their badges. Rich O'Neill is... Read more
quotes Good. There needs to be moore transparency, not less. Read more

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Seattle city attorneys said Thursday they will appeal a labor arbitrator's ruling ordering the Police Department to stop releasing the names of officers found to have engaged in misconduct.

The department will continue to release the names in response to public-disclosure requests as the city pursues the appeal in King County Superior Court, said Kimberly Mills, spokeswoman for the City Attorney's Office.

Mills said the appeal will argue that the arbitrator's decision violates public policy under the state's public-disclosure act.

The decision, which was made public Wednesday, agreed with the Seattle Police Officers' Guild that the release of the names violated language protecting the privacy of officers in the city's 2008 contract with the union.

The Police Department has argued it is obligated to disclose the names as part of providing internal-investigation records in response to public-disclosure requests. The department began releasing the names in 2009, reversing a long-standing policy in which it had redacted names from the records.

The policy change stemmed from the city's adoption of 29 recommendations of a citizens panel to hold officers more accountable in the aftermath of two highly publicized incidents that raised questions about the department's disciplinary rules. But the guild filed a grievance challenging the city's stance regarding the release of the names.

The arbitrator, Paul Grace, found the city didn't provide adequate notice during contract negotiations about its plans to change the policy. Grace also found that the city had presented no new case law supporting its position during the arbitration.

Mills said her office was preparing court papers challenging Grace's ruling.

She said she did not know when the court action would be filed.

Sgt. Rich O'Neill, president of the guild, couldn't be reached for comment.

On Wednesday, the guild praised the arbitrator's ruling, saying the union was defending its right to bargain the issue.

Seattle attorney Michele Earl-Hubbard, who handles open-government cases, said Wednesday the arbitrator's ruling contradicts Washington's public-disclosure laws and state Supreme Court decisions since the 1980s that require the names of public servants be disclosed when misconduct is found.

The arbitrator's ruling came at a time when the Police Department, under U.S. Justice Department investigation over allegations of misuse of force and mistreatment of minorities and facing criticism that it isn't transparent, has sought to provide more information about internal investigations.

The department argued to the arbitrator that the community expected openness.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com

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