Cop vs. cop

Theft accusations point to SPD's internecine warfare.

The Seattle Police Department's probe into the alleged theft of $10,000 involving two veteran detectives reveals more about long-simmering conflicts within the SPD than about a possible police crime—which some officers say never took place. Accused Detectives Sonny Davis and Don Cameron are among many old-guard types who have regularly clashed behind the scenes with a "politically correct" new guard under popular sixth-year Chief Norm Stamper, according to rank-and-file officers. And the suspect timing of last week's announced theft investigation of the homicide duo—coming two years after the alleged incident, and just as Davis and Cameron were contemplating retirement—has brought those ill feelings and nasty rivalries bubbling to the surface.

"Somebody has got to hold these jerks in administration accountable," says longtime street cop Mike Severance, who has been a bitter critic of police supervisors. "They're really nothing but a bunch of crooks in uniforms."

Personal conflicts are hardly uncommon in high-stress metropolitan police work where cops are confronted by crime, the vagaries of justice, citizen complaints, and assorted in-house reviews, often with lives and careers in the balance. But the culture clashes, turf disputes, and tales of backstabbing in Seattle's department have taken place mostly out of public view, even though serious issues of public safety have been raised, such as in the case of Detective Gene McNaughton.

A 19-year veteran, McNaughton says an assistant chief under Stamper has persistently held a "private grudge" against him "even if it meant ignoring information that a crime was going to occur." In 1992, McNaughton caused a rift that continues today, he says, by passing along an informant's drug-deal tip to federal DEA agents after SPD drug officers showed no interest. The DEA subsequently confiscated an amazing 32 kilos of cocaine, McNaughton continues, that led to eight grand jury indictments and embarrassed the SPD. When he tried to pass along other tips to other units, those tips were ignored, McNaughton says, because "an intentional policy had been instituted within the department" to discredit him. In one case, a possible threat against an officer's life was ignored, he claims. McNaughton has now filed a lawsuit to prevent further retaliation and clear his name.

Officers also say they're frustrated by petty, unnecessary feuding, citing for example the transfer last week of a longtime officer by an antagonistic commander: The officer learned of his sudden shift from daytime plainclothes to a nighttime uniform job via a message left on his answering machine.

Chief Stamper says he doesn't sense such tumult beneath him. "There is no evidence of any kind of new-breed, old-guard tension in [the Davis-Cameron] case," SPD's leader says. While there's natural resistance to the passage of tradition, "As chief, I see change and innovation as necessary, desirable, even inevitable. But I also have great respect for traditional practices that have served us well for years.

"'Political correctness' has a very negative connotation for me, by the way. And whether one is embracing or ridiculing it, hiding behind it or attacking it, it just gets in the way of people being real with one another."

Yet the beat goes on. Dozens of officers in recent years have filed suit against the department and/or fellow officers over working conditions, injuries, and lost promotions or benefits. Dozens more have filed claims with the city or initiated Internal Investigations Section (IIS) complaints against co-workers, according to internal and public documents.

The cop vs. cop disputes reflect some of the same complaints that civilians level against police: harassment, discrimination, false charges, and even an allegedly wrongful shooting. In the latter instance, Officer Stephen Kauhane was winged in the foot by partner Lawrence Jackson while trying to corral a pit bull. Kauhane sued, and in a court deposition last year said he dreaded his fellow officer more than the dog, commenting, "The only time I was in fear of bodily injury was when Officer Jackson began firing." (A jury upheld Jackson's actions, but awarded Kauhane $11,000 from the dog's owner.)

In the swaying atmosphere of a department striving to be politically pure as well as free from its scandalous history—a widespread SPD payoff and kickback system was broken up in the 1970s—officers say the smallest slight gets reported. IIS files include complaints about a headquarters official found sleeping under his desk, a police staffer who writes short stories on her police computer, and a police dispatcher dispatching messages about her "dickhead" boss.

While trivial to some, such complaints are encouraging to others, suggesting the department strives to be squeaky clean. And there are serious cop vs. cop complaints to be sure: Recent IIS investigations include allegations of an officer sexually assaulting another officer, and of cops committing thievery while on patrol. One complaint charges an officer with stealing stereos and electronics, then running serial numbers to see if they were listed as stolen. "If the item came up clear," the IIS complaint alleges, "the officer would then take some of the items and sell them to people on the street and sometimes to his neighbors."

But some cops worry the department's misconduct policy is overreaching. Skeptics see the investigation of old-school detectives Davis and Cameron as motivated mostly by personality conflicts. Assorted versions of the alleged incident suggest Davis took money from a South Seattle shooting scene and that Cameron helped him return it after a change of heart. Another version, says an officer, is that nothing happened: "The allegations were looked into at the time [1996] and found to be baseless. I'm not aware of any delay in placing the money into evidence after it was discovered."

The allegations were raised anew, some officers say, by rivals who felt the two detectives were anachronisms and wanted to replace them. Davis, 55, and to some extent Cameron, 63, are critics of Stamper's contemporary policies that come down hard on procedures and conduct.

"It's no secret the department wants to get rid of veterans," says uniformed cop Mike Severance, "and they go out of their way to make things uncomfortable for the veterans." He recalls one longtime sergeant who "was given two days off without pay because one of his officers had not turned in a daily log sheet."

Severance himself has been in the thick of disputes including sexual harassment complaints by and against him. Like some older male officers, he thinks female officers get breaks male cops don't, although a review of IIS files shows female officers feel it's just the opposite. Either way, outside forces are having their effect, to wit: the little-noticed January decision by the state Court of Appeal in the case of former Seattle police officer Rebekah Subido. She accused several male supervisors of sexual harassment and emotional distress and claimed one of them was "calling her at home asking and suggesting that she resign from the force, discussing her private life in terms of her being a woman who should not be a police officer, making comments about her marriage, suggesting she withdraw her petition for dissolution and criticizing her for not forgiving her husband's infidelity . . . " records show. The court upheld Subido's claim, a lesson that cost the department $450,000.

Stamper is optimistic the conflicts will smooth out in time. "The key is to create a climate where traditionalists and advocates of change work well together," he said last week. "I see that happening more and more within SPD."

Research assistance by John Hoffman.

 
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