Assistant Seattle police chief cleared of improperly using influence
An internal investigation found no misconduct, but recommended Assistant Chief Mike Sanford undergo training on the potential hazards of charitable fundraising at work.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Assistant Seattle Police Chief Mike Sanford, who is overseeing the department's reform efforts, has been cleared in an internal investigation of allegations he exerted undue influence in a traffic accident involving his daughter and the solicitation of charitable donations from co-workers.
He also was exonerated of trying to improperly influence a promotion exam for prospective sergeants.
Sanford was referred for additional training on potential conflicts of interest associated with fundraising within the department, according to a summary of the findings posted on the department's website.
Sanford's star has been on the rise during the past year as he repeatedly stood with Mayor Mike McGinn and Police Chief John Diaz while the city reached a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice to address federal findings that officers had routinely used excessive force and shown evidence of biased policing.
Yet Sanford also has been a lightning rod for criticism in the department, including his role in planning for the May Day protests last year that erupted in violence and vandalism. During the protests, Sanford rushed into a crowd to make an arrest without protective gear, forcing other officers to divert from their duties and pull him from a hostile group.
At the time, Sanford headed the department's Patrol Operations Bureau but has since been shifted to full-time duties overseeing the department's "20/20" reform plan, which calls for 20 reforms within 20 months.
King County prosecutors cleared Sanford in May of criminal culpability in the influence case, which was investigated by the State Patrol. Seattle police then opened an internal investigation to determine if Sanford violated department rules.
State Patrol documents showed Sanford arrived at a minor traffic accident involving his daughter in 2011, where he played a role in persuading the other driver not to file a collision report.
A responding officer described Sanford's presence as a bit unusual, but that he appeared to be acting as a father helping his child. However, the officer's sergeant asserted Sanford acted in an intimidating fashion and might have influenced the outcome.
The sergeant also reported that Sanford, a couple of times a year at a goals meeting with sergeants, solicited donations to Special Olympics.
Sanford joked that the sergeants could go home early if they donated, and that for those who worked overtime he wouldn't sign their pay slips if they didn't contribute, according to the sergeant.
The sergeant said younger colleagues felt compelled to donate while older sergeants refrained, and that he believed Sanford's conduct was inappropriate.
In the third matter, a city civilian employee who oversees testing told the Patrol that Sanford pressured her into using a preparation book she didn't want to include in an exam for sergeant applicants. She also said she was pressed to include a computer-testing procedure she believed might compromise security.
The Police Department, in its internal investigation, conducted by the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), concluded that, overall, Sanford had not violated the law or misused his authority.
"The evidence showed ... that key personnel, both inside and outside of the Department, met, discussed and agreed what material would be included in a promotional exam, and no undue influence was involved," the OPA summary said without listing Sanford by name.
Sanford's solicitation of donations "could have created the appearance of conflict," the summary said. His referral for training means that while there may have been a policy violation, it was not willful and did not constitute misconduct.
Sanford's handling of May Day planning and preparations came under sharp criticism within the department, police sources have said. Sanford was warned that not enough officers had been assigned and made other missteps, the sources said.
Diaz acknowledged in July that he had received a memo raising "serious concerns" about the May Day planning. He declined to release the memo and said an after-action report was being prepared. The report has yet to be produced.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org