Reversals of 6 SPD misconduct cases face new review
Officials have been unable to find proof that the findings were tentatively reversed by the prior interim chief, Jim Pugel.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Two days after Interim Seattle Police Chief Harry Bailey said he would not reopen six cases in which he lifted misconduct findings against officers, city officials announced Wednesday they will re-examine the cases to determine if all or some of the findings should be reinstated.
The reversal was revealed during a special City Council committee meeting called to examine Bailey’s handling of disciplinary cases, where a top aide to Mayor Ed Murray acknowledged that officials have been unable to find proof the misconduct findings were tentatively reversed by the prior interim chief, Jim Pugel.
Murray previously had insisted there was documentation that Bailey simply signed off on Pugel’s decisions, a factor Bailey cited Monday when he said he would not reopen the six cases.
Bailey said those cases were different from a seventh case of officer misconduct he reinstated Monday, when he admitted he personally had mishandled his review of the officer’s threat to harass a journalist observing a police incident.
Wednesday’s developments further widened a crisis that has kept Murray’s staff scrambling to contain the damage since last week, when The Seattle Times revealed Bailey’s reversal of the misconduct finding involving the confrontation with the journalist.
The announcement that the six cases will be re-examined included the disclosure that Anne Levinson, the civilian watchdog who oversees the Police Department’s accountability system, sent a letter to the department Monday asking for a full accounting of the actions.
Murray’s office realized Tuesday it did not have absolute evidence that Pugel approved the six other cases, Tina Podlodowski, a senior policy adviser to the mayor, said after the meeting of the council’s public-safety committee.
Podlodowski said based on “different pieces” of meetings, phone calls and emails, the city was “99 percent” certain that Pugel had endorsed the reversals before Murray appointed Bailey interim chief last month.
Pugel did not appear at the meeting and it is not known if he has provided a statement about his intentions.
Without clear evidence of what Pugel did, Murray has asked his special adviser on police matters, Bernard Melekian, a former Pasadena, Calif., police chief and a former U.S. Justice Department official, to oversee a thorough review of the six cases along with other city officials, Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim told the council.
Kim said Melekian also will conduct the review in consultation with the Justice Department, which in 2012 reached a settlement agreement with the city to adopt reforms to address excessive force and evidence of biased policing in the Police Department.
Melekian will also work with Merrick Bobb, the federal monitor appointed to oversee the reforms, Kim said.
She said Murray and Bobb held a 45-minute meeting late Tuesday afternoon in which they agreed on a plan to review the six cases. The meeting, Kim said, came shortly after Murray’s staff met with Bobb and the Justice Department and reached consensus that the review should take place.
Bobb “pushed” for the re-examination of the cases, according to a source with knowledge of the events.
The six cases, which date to 2010 and 2011, had been appealed by the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, forming a backlog of potential arbitrations Bailey has said he was trying to clean up before Murray hires a new chief later this year.
All the misconduct findings were changed to referrals for additional training, a lesser penalty that does not carry a misconduct finding.
Bailey, who briefly described his actions during the committee meeting Wednesday, said last week he thought a misconduct finding of unprofessional conduct would remain intact when he ordered additional training for the officer who threatened to harass the news editor of The Stranger, Dominic Holden, at his place of work.
Bailey, who came out of retirement as an assistant Seattle police chief to take the interim job, has repeatedly said he believed training was a better way to teach the officer, John Marion, what he did wrong instead of the original punishment, a one-day suspension without pay.
The misconduct in the other six cases varied, ranging from a sergeant who failed to arrest a domestic-violence suspect, forcing a victim with cancer to sleep in her car and with friends, to an officer who after training her police dog to track drugs, lost 15.6 grams of cocaine that fell from her car when she drove off and forgot about the cocaine.
In all six cases, the discipline imposed ranged from written reprimands to a two-day suspension.
Podlodowski, speaking after the council meeting, said Melekian’s review would be done swiftly. She said he likely would try to interview Pugel, who was returned to the rank of assistant chief after Murray replaced him.
But Podlodowski coupled her remarks with the disclosure that Pugel had asked to take a leave.
She did not elaborate, but The Times previously reported that Bailey had given Pugel the option to return to his civil-service rank of captain or retire. Negotiations have been taking place over a separation package, according to sources familiar with the matter.
In addition to the review of the six cases, the city has placed 15 other appeals on hold until the review is completed, and all cases with pending settlements also will be held in abeyance.
The meeting, overseen by Councilmember Bruce Harrell, included discussion on how to resolve grievances in a more timely fashion, an issue likely to touch on the collective-bargaining agreement with the police guild.
Councilmember Nick Licata said during the meeting that the lack of time limits on appeals was a “fatal flaw,” prompting Podlodowski to note that California puts a one-year limit on such appeals.
Licata also said the settlement process for appeals “corrupted” the intent of the police-accountability system “to be transparent.”
There also was discussion that training referrals aren’t viewed as misconduct, which Podlodowski called a “classification problem.”
In its 2011 report that led to the settlement agreement with the city, the Justice Department noted that the Police Department had “overused” what then were called supervisory interventions. It also cited flawed “counseling.”
During public comment at the end of the meeting, council members listened silently as Sgt. Rich O’Neill, the outgoing president of the police guild, assailed city officials for their “appalling” and disgusting second-guessing of the city’s first African-American police chief, calling it a “power grab.”
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org