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    Police discipline: Trying to quell a crisis

    Mayor Ed Murray and his staff take a bumpy ride as they respond to controversy in the Seattle Police Department.

    Second of a two-part series

    As Mayor Ed Murray has learned more about the Seattle Police Department his views about hiring a new police chief have changed. "I would not have said in the campaign that we could consider an inside person [for the job], knowing what I know now,” Murray said in an interview this week.

    One of the mayor's first lessons about the department began unfolding in mid-February after interim police chief Harry C. Bailey signed so-called "settlement agreements" which rescinded misconduct findings for seven Seattle police officers. The fallout over those disciplinary cases gave Murray and his staff a taste of the police department's byzantine policies and politics.

    Murray took office with the search for a new chief and the city’s federally mandated police reforms at the top of his to-do list. The controversy over the disciplinary cases, which has ties to both items, hit the mayor less than two months into his term.

    The seven settled cases surfaced through a process that allows officers and their unions to contest disciplinary findings handed down by the Chief of Police in misconduct cases. These appeals and "grievances" take place outside of the department’s Office of Professional Accountability, which handles investigations into misconduct complaints. A successful challenge by an officer or their union results in a settlement agreement, which can either reduce or eliminate the original discipline the chief has imposed in the case.

    When Bailey signed settlement agreements for seven officers in mid-February he downgraded their “sustained” findings to less severe “training referrals.” (A sustained finding is imposed when an officer is found to have engaged in misconduct, and can result in a reprimand, a suspension, a demotion or firing. A training referral is typically imposed for lesser infractions, or when an officer violates a department policy unintentionally.)

    One of the seven cases involved The Stranger editor Dominic Holden and officer John Marion, who, according to the Mayor's Office, has an otherwise clean record. The publicity around the Marion case shed light on the other six settlement agreements Bailey had signed. Those agreements stemmed from older misconduct cases involving a range of department policy violations — a collision between two patrol cars, a lost container of cocaine, an officer who failed to make an arrest in an alleged domestic violence incident, and another who did not detain a trespassing suspect.

    Mayor Ed Murray and Interim Police Chief Harry Bailey at a Feb. 21 press conference recorded by Seattle Channel.  

    After news of the agreements leaked, the Mayor’s Office moved assertively to quell the emerging controversy. One of their first steps was to call a press conference late on Friday, Feb. 21. In his remarks that day, Murray supported Bailey’s decision to change the misconduct findings. But the following day, the mayor reconsidered. After a meeting at his home with key staff members, Murray decided that the disciplinary finding in the Marion case should be reinstated. His staff and consultants worked through the weekend to craft a statement that Bailey read the following Monday.

    Emails obtained through a public disclosure request, and an interview with the mayor, offer a glimpse into this turbulent early chapter in his term. Crosscut has also pressed the police department and the Mayor’s Office to clarify conflicting details about the rescinded misconduct findings, particularly about the role of former interim Chief of Police Jim Pugel in the six older settlement agreements. Some of the answers they provided offer new insight into the events surrounding the cases. But gaps remain, particularly in how exactly those six cases moved through the system that allows officers and their unions to challenge disciplinary findings. 

    The mayor and other officials have since criticized that process and called for reforms. “It's an issue,” Murray said, “I now understand to be extremely flawed.” 

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    Posted Sat, Apr 12, 1:18 p.m. Inappropriate

    The mayor and federal mandate crowd all lack the necessary and proper training that is required in order to understand the police and their union. Murray is a one issue novice and the feds are full of political patronage with poor discretion from the top on down. Add to that a monitor who tried to expense a bottle of wine and satin pillow case and you end up with a longstanding mess. The one union that the local politicians can't stand appears to be winning the day. A poor choice for new police chief will only make matters worse.


    Posted Mon, Apr 14, 7:27 p.m. Inappropriate

    I find it highly ironic that an officer who made such a boneheaded choice when he was dealing with the public is supposed to "teach" his colleagues, but this:

    "In a follow up email sent three minutes later Melekian makes a suggestion regarding Holden.

    'One other thought; the journalist in this case has stepped over a line of journalistic ethics – he has allowed himself to become the story he is covering,' he wrote. 'While we should not attack him on that point, we should find a way to work it into the conversation with other journalists.'"

    is outright sleazy.


    Posted Mon, Apr 14, 8:07 p.m. Inappropriate

    Kudos to Bill Lucia for these detailed accounts. Some takeaways for me: Murray is still too reliant on his campaign staff for dealing with management crises. Murray's staff is still stumbling for its footing. There are too many police advisers in the Murray kitchen. A prospective police chief reading all this is likely to be discouraged about Seattle.

    Posted Tue, Apr 15, 9:33 a.m. Inappropriate

    Reliance on campaign staff might be part of the problem but Murray's mis-handling of SPD's issues seem to go deeper than mere process. Bringing on Bailey, with his history with the SPOG, was either a serious lapse in judgment or part of some larger understanding made with the SPOG for their endorsement. No meaningful reform will take place until the city can reduce SPOG's influence over police discipline.

    The efforts to discredit Holden don't give me reason to believe that Murray will move forward in good faith.


    Posted Wed, Apr 16, 8:04 a.m. Inappropriate

    One thing is clear is that people's ability to understand policing today is clearly minimal, and it is clear that politics today involves agendas that are more about power than common sense. This mayor is playing the power game and his agenda will create a lot of interesting articles in a year or more about the continuing absurdity rampant in this community.

    Posted Wed, Apr 16, 12:23 p.m. Inappropriate

    This isn't about second-guessing decisions that officers make in the field. This is about accountability for the people to whom we have granted broad powers. This is about having a clear, coherent and balanced process for addressing misconduct. As it stands, the process is not only byzantine and opaque, but the officers get repeated chances to appeal or bargain while the same opportunity is not available on the other side.


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