McGinn, hopeful of avoiding a DOJ lawsuit, is blamed for delays
Mayor Mike McGinn sounded hopeful Tuesday that the city and the U.S. Department of Justice can avoid a lawsuit over police reforms as the latest litigation deadline looms, while two City Council members said the case could have been settled early on but for missed opportunities on the mayor's part.
Seattle Times staff reporters
Mayor Mike McGinn sounded hopeful Tuesday that the city and the U.S. Department of Justice can avoid a lawsuit over police reforms as the DOJ's latest litigation deadline looms, while two City Council members said the case could have been settled early on but for missed opportunities on the mayor's part.
McGinn held an impromptu news conference to address concerns over his dealings with the Justice Department that were raised in a strongly worded letter sent Friday by City Attorney Pete Holmes to the mayor and three key members of the council.
The letter was sharply critical of what Holmes said was a litigation strategy that so far had relied on delay and limited responses.
Now, according to Holmes, the DOJ has said it will sue the city if an agreement is not reached by the end of the month.
McGinn offered no new details of what the city wants and what the Justice Department is proposing, but said both sides continue to meet. He brushed off Holmes' warning of a pending lawsuit.
"They've had deadlines before and those deadlines have gone in the past," McGinn said of the Justice Department. "We're going to keep talking."
McGinn declined to address the specifics in Holmes' confidential letter, a copy of which was obtained Monday by The Seattle Times.
The mayor said that, despite the criticisms in the letter, he would continue to work with Holmes.
"It's my job to work with Mr. Holmes, and I will," McGinn said.
It has been almost eight months since the Justice Department found that Seattle police routinely engage in unconstitutional use of force. The investigation also found troubling, but inconclusive, evidence of biased policing. Federal attorneys have insisted the city enter into a court-monitored consent decree to address the issues.
In the early weeks after the federal report was issued in December, the three key council members — Bruce Harrell, Tim Burgess and Council President Sally Clark — joined Holmes in working with McGinn on responding to the Justice Department.
However, the council members withdrew after concluding McGinn had rebuffed their efforts to reach a negotiated agreement.
Holmes' letter asks McGinn to re-engage the City Council in the discussions and urges the city to identify a monitor to oversee changes in the police department. It also presses the mayor to assert himself as the commander-in-chief of the Police Department.
"We missed the opportunity immediately following issuance of the Report to pre-empt the DOJ with our own proposal to effect lasting reform of SPD," Holmes wrote in the letter.
Harrell and Burgess, the current and past chairmen of the public-safety committee, agreed Tuesday at a separate news conference that efforts to collaborate with McGinn had failed.
Burgess said the amount of time that has since passed has damaged the city.
"We attempted early on to collaborate with the mayor so the city would have a unified response to DOJ," he said. "Unfortunately, that did not pan out."
Harrell said, "The mayor, yes I guess he has blown certain opportunities when it comes to working strongly with the community, with the council, with Councilmember Burgess and myself and (with) ... business leaders. We are not under the tent, so to speak, on these negotiations, and that is an opportunity lost."
McGinn, while challenging the Justice Department findings, has said police reforms are needed.
But he has charged the Police Department with fixing itself through the implementation of 20 reforms over 20 months, addressing issues ranging from the use of force to biased policing and officer discipline. The so-called 20/20 plan unveiled in late March has been criticized by the Justice Department, Holmes and others as lacking substance and mechanisms to measure progress.
McGinn says he would not oppose a court-monitored consent decree, but he reiterated Tuesday that he must be sure the details provide the best outcomes for the city's tight budget, effective public safety and actual reform.
Last month, members of the Minority Executive Directors Commission — made up of many of the groups that called for a Justice Department investigation into alleged police abuses — said they would cease cooperating with the mayor on police reforms unless the negotiation process is opened and they are included.
But McGinn has remained in tight control of the city's response to the DOJ, and takes some credit for salvaging the talks. He said Tuesday that his visit last month with Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, who heads the Civil Rights Division, jump-started the negotiations after months of silence by both parties.
McGinn said he spoke by phone with Perez again Tuesday about further talks, but otherwise would not reveal what they discussed.
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or email@example.com
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org