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Scrutiny of SPD assistant chief exposes rift within department
The King County Prosecutor's Office said Tuesday it will not file criminal charges against Seattle Assistant Police Chief Mike Sanford after reviewing the result of a criminal investigation into allegations of official misconduct. But Police Chief John Diaz said the department's Office of Professional Accountability will open an investigation into the allegations.
Seattle Times staff reporters
An assistant Seattle police chief was cleared by King County prosecutors Tuesday of criminal misconduct allegations that grew out of his handling of a traffic accident involving his daughter, donations he solicited for a charity and preparations for a promotion exam for prospective sergeants.
But the assistant chief, Mike Sanford, now will face an internal investigation and possible outside review by the city's ethics board, even as the department went to great lengths Tuesday to cast his actions as proper.
The case also has exposed deep rifts and finger-pointing within the department, at a time when it has come under intense scrutiny over December findings by the U.S. Justice Department that officers regularly use excessive force.
Sanford, 51, who commands the Patrol Operations Bureau and oversees five police precincts, is leading the department's response to the federal civil-rights investigation, devising a detailed plan to address the Justice Department's concerns as the city and federal attorneys negotiate a settlement.
The State Patrol, which conducted the investigation of Sanford at the request of federal prosecutors, submitted its report to the King County Prosecutor's Office on Thursday.
Shortly after a patrol spokesman confirmed the investigation Tuesday, the Prosecutor's Office announced that, after reviewing results of the inquiry, it would not file a charge of official misconduct, a gross misdemeanor.
In a letter sent Tuesday to State Patrol Chief John Batiste, Mark Larson, chief criminal deputy for the Prosecutor's Office, wrote the investigation uncovered "no evidence to support a conclusion that there was a criminal law violation."
Later in the day, Police Chief John Diaz said the department's Office of Professional Accountability will open an internal investigation into the allegations against Sanford, which he called a normal procedure after the conclusion of a criminal review of an officer.
Wayne Barnett, executive director of Seattle's Ethics and Elections Commission, said he plans to consult with prosecutors and consider whether to examine the case for possible ethics violations.
State Patrol documents made public Tuesday show Sanford arrived at a minor traffic accident involving his daughter last year, and played a role in persuading the other driver not to file a collision report.
An officer who arrived at the scene told the Patrol that, while it was a bit unusual for an assistant chief to appear, Sanford also was acting as a father helping his child.
But the officer's sergeant told the Patrol it was his impression from talking to the officer that Sanford had acted in an intimidating fashion, and that his conduct might have influenced the outcome, according to the documents in which names were redacted.
Pass the hat
The sergeant also reported that a couple times a year, Sanford, at a goals meeting with sergeants, passed around a hat for donations to Special Olympics.
Sanford jokingly said the sergeants could go home early if they donated, and that for those who worked overtime, he wouldn't sign their extra-pay slips if they didn't contribute, according to the sergeant.
Younger sergeants felt compelled to donate, but older sergeants would refrain, the sergeant told the State Patrol, adding it was his opinion Sanford's conduct was inappropriate, even if in jest.
In the case of the exam for sergeant applicants, a Seattle civilian employee who oversees the testing told the Patrol that Sanford pressured her into using a preparation book she didn't want to include and a computer testing procedure she believed might compromise security.
State Patrol spokesman Robert Calkins said Tuesday the dispute involved "robust debate" normal for an organization.
As for the other two allegations, Calkins said it would be up to the Seattle Police Department to determine whether they warrant an internal investigation.
The investigation into Sanford began after several Seattle police captains expressed concerns to the U.S. Attorney's Office about Sanford's conduct, according to a source familiar with the inquiry.
Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Bates said the Justice Department gathered information from many sources during its 11-month civil-rights investigation into the Police Department. The information relevant to the federal investigations "found its way into our report."
"Other information information did not, and was forwarded to other agencies for review," he said.
Sanford has become a lightning rod for criticism in the department over his handling of various matters, according to other sources in the department.
Diaz and Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer said Tuesday that as the department has dealt with the Justice Department investigation, some in the department might resist change and attribute that to Sanford.
"He did not shy away from the fact he could become a target," Kimerer said at a news briefing, where he repeatedly characterized Sanford's actions as appropriate.
State Patrol investigators began looking into the matter after receiving an April 10 letter from Larson.
He related that the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle had contacted the Seattle City Attorney's Office, saying federal attorneys had uncovered allegations of possible wrongdoing by a commanding officer in the police department.
Larson wrote that, because of a possible conflict of interest, the City Attorney's Office was not in a position to oversee an investigation.
The U.S. Attorney's Office then requested the State Patrol investigate the allegations and that the Prosecutor's Office provide assistance and review, Larson wrote.
Sanford joined the department in 1984. His regular salary in 2011 was $174,282, according to city payroll records.
Seattle Times staff reporter Jennifer Sullivan contributed to this story.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302
Information in this article, originally published May 8, 2012, was corrected May 9, 2012. A previous version of this story stated that the U.S. Attorney's Office had declined to comment.