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Originally published Thursday, June 21, 2012 at 3:37 PM

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Groups want say in Seattle police-DOJ talks

Community groups demanded a greater say and more transparency Thursday in negotiations between the city of Seattle and the Justice Department over police department reforms, saying they're concerned that the talks are taking so long and worried that any agreement might not reflect their wishes.

Associated Press

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SEATTLE —

Community groups demanded a greater say and more transparency Thursday in negotiations between the city of Seattle and the Justice Department over police department reforms, saying they're concerned that the talks are taking so long and worried that any agreement might not reflect their wishes.

The DOJ issued a report last winter saying that Seattle police had a pattern or practice of using excessive force, often in response to minor offenses, and it's threatening to sue Seattle in federal court unless the city agrees to make a wide array of changes, including requiring officers to report all uses of force, no matter how minor, and hiring more sergeants to be front-line supervisors.

Discussions aimed at reaching a consent decree that would avert a lawsuit have proceeded in fits and starts, behind closed doors, and some community groups are concerned because they don't know what the scope of any agreement might entail. They're also concerned about public indications that the talks might not be going well - such as the city's decision to defend in court an officer's use of a racial epithet just before stomping on a prone robbery suspect of Mexican descent, Martin Monetti Jr.

In that lawsuit, the city's lawyers referred to the DOJ's findings as "inadmissible hearsay opinion" and added: "There are many negative factors that weigh against the reliability and trustworthiness of the DOJ report." The groups said that position contradicts statements by Mayor Mike McGinn and Police Chief John Diaz that such bias has no place in police work.

Although the DOJ did not find evidence that Seattle police engaged in a pattern of biased policing, it did find what it described as "troubling practices" that could have a disproportionate effect on minority communities. The groups said they want the consent decree to address those.

The groups said they've made their views clear to the DOJ and the city, but have heard little back.

"We're concerned that if we're not part of the discussion, we don't know what we'll get," Jennifer Shaw, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said at a news conference Thursday. "There's a saying: If you're not at the table, you're on the menu.

"We as a community are going to live with this consent decree for years. We should have a say."

The U.S. attorney's office declined to comment, and a spokesman for McGinn - who has separately promoted the city's own plan to complete 20 reform initiatives in 20 months - wasn't immediately available for an interview.

The news conference was called by the police accountability task force of a collection of community groups called the Minority Executive Directors Coalition, including Estella Ortega, executive director of El Centro de la Raza; Chris Stearns, chairman of the city's Human Rights Commission; and Harriett Walden, president of Mothers for Police Accountability, among others.

The groups were among nearly three dozen organizations that in 2010 called for the DOJ to review the Seattle Police Department's use of force following a number of incidents in which officers used force against civilians. Most notable was the fatal, unjustified shooting of Native American woodcarver John T. Williams after he crossed the street in front of a Seattle police cruiser.

The groups said Thursday that while they had previously supported the city's "20/20" plan, they don't consider it adequate, and a court-enforced consent decree is needed to ensure reforms take hold.

"Twenty-20 right now has no enforcement piece, and as long as it has no enforcement piece it doesn't have any teeth," Walden said. "We need a firm and written commitment from the city to make the plan enforceable."

The DOJ and the city have exchanged proposed consent decrees. Although they remain confidential, The Associated Press has reviewed a copy of the DOJ's proposal, which included a number of the measures being called for by the community groups.

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