Reversal of discipline puts interim SPD chief under spotlight
Harry Bailey’s decision to change an officer’s one-day suspension to additional training for threatening to harass a journalist for The Stranger newspaper drew sharp criticism from the journalist.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Interim Seattle Police Chief Harry Bailey has overturned a disciplinary action imposed on an officer who threatened to harass a journalist, reducing the officer’s one-day suspension to the lesser penalty of additional training.
Bailey said he concluded that rather than have the officer serve a day without pay, mandatory training provided a better opportunity to teach the officer he did something wrong and show him how to deal with citizens.
“So why not get the officer trained?” Bailey said in an interview Thursday in which he questioned the long-term benefit of a suspension that can be substituted by forfeiting a vacation day.
In replacing the suspension with a so-called “training referral,” Bailey’s action served to remove a misconduct finding against the officer, John Marion. Training referrals are not viewed as discipline stemming from official misconduct.
Bailey, who was appointed interim chief last month by Mayor Ed Murray with a directive to carry out federally mandated police reforms, said he took the action as part of a sweeping review of more than 25 backlogged grievances arising from past disciplinary actions.
Those actions were imposed by former interim Chief Jim Pugel, who was replaced last month, and former Police Chief John Diaz , who retired last year.
Bailey, who noted the grievance process carries a risk of being overturned, said he wants to “get all of these things cleaned up before the new chief comes,” a reference to Murray’s goal to find a permanent chief by the end of April.
Bailey, a retired assistant Seattle police chief who once served as vice president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG), rejected any suggestion he was returning a favor for the union’s support of his appointment to interim chief.
“So if the question is if this is payback, no it isn’t,” he said, adding, “That is not a road I would travel.”
But his action immediately drew sharp criticism from the journalist who had been threatened by Marion, Dominic Holden, news editor of The Stranger weekly newspaper in Seattle.
“This demonstrates that Mayor Murray has selected a chief who is not committed to police reform or disciplining bad apples and as a result further undermines the already tenuous trust that the public has in a troubled police department,” Holden said.
In a statement, Murray said, “Technically, a day of training is considered a ‘lesser’ punishment than a day off, but Chief Bailey felt that mandating a training and education day for the officer in question would be a more constructive use of time — and a better way at addressing the issue not just to penalize behavior but to shape the kind of behavior we want to see from our police force.”
Bailey said he was working with the City Attorney’s Office and SPOG to resolve some of the cases.
Among the matters he is reconsidering is the high-profile case of Officer Garth Haynes, who, during an off-duty incident in 2010, stepped on the head of a handcuffed man after a fight outside a Ballard nightclub. Diaz found Haynes used excessive force, although he decided to withhold imposing a 10-day suspension providing the officer stayed out of trouble.
Marion’s one-day suspension was ordered last month by Pugel, who has since returned to the rank of assistant chief. Pugel found Marion acted unprofessionally during a July 30 encounter in the Chinatown International District with Holden.
Holden wrote that he was on his bicycle when he saw a half-dozen officers surrounding a man at a transit station near South Jackson Street. Holden stopped to take notes and pictures on public property.
Holden reported that a King County sheriff’s deputy threatened to arrest him and that when he questioned Marion about who was in charge of the scene, Marion “became furious” and began threatening to harass him at his place of employment.
Pierce Murphy, director of the Seattle Police Department’s Office of Professional Accountability, said in January that Marion had been held accountable for “indefensible” conduct. Noting that discipline can range from oral reprimands to termination, he said “once you get into taking money away from a person, you are moving into the area of more significant discipline.”
Earlier this month, Sheriff John Urquhart fired the deputy who threatened to arrest Holden, Patrick Saulet, a 27-year veteran with a troubled disciplinary history.
Holden blasted Bailey’s action Thursday, saying the one-day suspension itself was “weak and ignored evidence” that Marion was trying to suppress his right to report on police conduct.
“But now, the new interim chief is placing the arguments of police officers and their union over the legitimate complaints of citizens,” Holden said.
Holden said the department always has the opportunity to train officers how to de-escalate conflict, noting Seattle police are under a federal court order to do so as part of a 2012 settlement agreement with the Department of Justice to curtail excessive force and biased policing.
“So the claim that he simply needs more training and this is the only way to do it is transparently specious,” said Holden, whose publication has been critical of Murray and endorsed ex-Mayor Mike McGinn.
Ron Smith, a SPOG officer and incoming president, defended Bailey on Thursday, saying a one-day suspension is “like a $400 fine,” while training reiterates the department’s expectations and provides direct supervision to the officer on how to better handle a situation.
Smith said Bailey is seeking to address a backlog of grievances related to discipline and workplace issues.
Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this story.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter @stevemiletich.