City Council query elicits new account of SPD reversals
In a pointed letter, three Seattle City Council members are questioning whether proper procedures were followed when misconduct findings against six police officers were overturned.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Three Seattle City Council members have written a pointed letter to Mayor Ed Murray’s police adviser, raising questions about a review that found Interim Seattle Police Chief Harry Bailey had followed proper procedures when he reversed misconduct findings against six officers.
In particular, the two-page letter questions whether the previous interim chief, Jim Pugel, tentatively approved the controversial reversals, as asserted by Bailey in defending his decision.
In a reply letter, the adviser, Bernard Melekian, acknowledged he didn’t know whether Pugel attended a Sept. 15 meeting in which a decision was purportedly made to lift the misconduct findings as part of talks to resolve appeals planned by the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild.
But Melekian said circumstances surrounding the meeting suggest Pugel concurred with the decision — a less-firm stance than Melekian offered in an interview last week with The Seattle Times, when he said his review showed Pugel had approved the reversals.
Pugel, in a written statement last week, denied he had approved them and said city officials have not asked him whether he had.
Pugel’s retirement from the Police Department was announced Thursday.
The letter, dated Tuesday, was signed by Councilmembers Bruce Harrell, chairman of the council’s public-safety committee; the vice chairman, Nick Licata; and Mike O’Brien.
In it, they noted that Melekian, in his review, stated that the Sept. 15 meeting took place “under the direction” of Pugel with a decision to settle the six cases.
“You list several people that were not at the meeting, but you do not say who was at the meeting,” the letter said. “Nor do you say who made the decision. We infer from this that Chief Pugel was neither at the meeting, nor did he make the decision to settle the cases. Is this correct?”
The letter asked who was at the meeting and who made the decision.
It also asked whether the chief, according to standard practice, would be the person to approve the settlements.
“If so, and if then-Interim Chief Pugel did not approve these settlements, then how can it be said that the handling of these cases reflected standard practice?” the letter said, alluding to Melekian’s conclusion that the misconduct findings should not be reinstated.
In his reply letter, dated Wednesday, Melekian, a former Pasadena, Calif., police chief and ex-U.S. Justice Department official, said the department’s legal adviser described the Sept. 15 meeting as a normal part of the labor-relations process.
Of 16 disciplinary decisions on the table, six were proposed for settlement in lieu of arbitration, Melekian wrote. “Whether Chief Pugel physically attended the meeting, I cannot say,” he wrote. “What is beyond dispute is that after a three-month delay, these cases were sent to the Law Department in December for advice on whether the department could/should settle the cases.”
The Police Department’s legal adviser indicated he briefed Pugel on these matters, Melekian wrote, “and I would find it very unusual if such cases could be proposed for settlement without the chief’s concurrence.”
The Law Department, also called the City Attorney’s Office, responded with a Jan. 13 memo, five days after Murray replaced Pugel with Bailey, a former Seattle police assistant chief who came out retirement.
The memo, which laid out varying views on settling with each of the six officers, was presented to Bailey with the understanding that the previous administration had agreed to the settlements with concurrence from the Law Department, Melekian wrote.
Bailey gave his approval to reverse the misconduct findings, changing reprimands and short suspensions to referrals for more training.
Since then, the Law Department has taken the position it provided input, not approval, according to Melekian’s review.
The reversals were revealed last month, after The Seattle Times initially reported Bailey had overturned a misconduct finding against an officer who threatened to harass a journalist observing a police event last summer for The Stranger, a weekly Seattle newspaper. That case had not been part of the earlier discussions.
In response to public outcry, Murray directed Bailey to reinstate the finding against that officer and asked Melekian to review the other cases to determine whether all or some of the misconduct findings should be reinstated.
In his reply to the council members, Melekian said his major concern was not how the other six cases were handled, since he concluded Pugel and Bailey both followed normal practices, but with flaws in the overall appeals process. He cited the practice of allowing disciplinary findings to be changed to training referrals and permitting the department to initiate the settlement process.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter @stevemiletich