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unfolding in mid-February after interim police chief Harry C. Bailey signed so-called "settlement agreements" which rescinded misconduct findings for seven Seattle police officers.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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