After reviewing six months of police scandal allegations, logging 400 hours of work, receiving 130 calls and letters, conducting 80 interviews, and issuing a 37-page report, the mayor's police review panel decided citizens should be involved in the police internal investigations process.
Was that a collective "Duh!" from the audience? Again?
As recently as 1992, newly named police auditor Judge Terrence Carroll made the same recommendation in his first review of SPD's internal investigation procedures. His proposal was based on similar recommendations in the 1980s by the American Civil Liberties Union and citizen activists, some who fruitlessly floated citizen-involvement initiatives (just as a new one is being attempted today). Those proposals echoed earlier recommendations stemming from student-police antiwar clashes in the 1970s.
For at least 30 years, Seattle citizens and even some cops have sought changes to assure their complaints against police were getting a fair shake—to no avail. So why think the umpteenth time will be the charm?
"Mayor [Paul] Schell and Chief [Norman] Stamper seem motivated," says Harriett Walden, the founder of Mothers for Police Accountability who has long backed changes to the police system, "and I think the City Council wants to do something." But the recommendations won't matter, she says, "unless the police union agrees to changes. That's always been the problem. They've got more power than the chief or the mayor."
Seattle police seem to be at least trying to raise the bar on conduct even now, last week announcing they were investigating the actions of a detective who resigned for medical reasons connected to a cocaine habit. Also recently, a Seattle police officer was charged with a felony sex crime for having fondled two women.
But as a vehicle for change, the new review panel's report offers little in the way of motivation or documentation. With a narrow focus and generalized data, the report lacks specific case studies or even the anecdotal evidence that could be persuasive in the upcoming debate.
For example, whatever happened to a Seattle rape victim's 1996 claim to the SPD Internal Investigations Section (IIS) stating that she was raped a second time by the police detective who was investigating her case? At our request, police and the county prosecutor reviewed their files last week seeking answers.
In a sworn statement filed with the city, the woman claims the detective "under the pretext of police business . . . took me to his apartment and 'date-raped' me." The anguish caused her to lose her job and undergo counseling at Harborview Medical Center's Sexual Assault Center, she states.
The alleged rape as well as unspecified "actions taken" during the IIS probe "made me feel Seattle was not safe" and resulted in her moving to another area, the woman adds. She eventually filed a damage claim with the City Attorney's office, which paid $7,500 to settle in 1997.
"There was no criminal case referred to us" by police regarding the allegation, says Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the King County prosecutor's office. "We were never asked to review it."
So far, however, Seattle police have been unable to tell us the outcome of the woman's IIS complaint or whether there was any criminal investigation into her allegations. Lieutenant Ron Leavell of IIS says they expect to conclude their review of the case within two weeks.
Did a serious felony allegation against a cop simply settle to the bottom, unresolved? The woman's attorney, Peter Cowles of Redmond, says he can't discuss specifics without permission from his former client, who has been out of reach for several years and has an unlisted number in another state. "But, speaking in general terms," he says, "my experience in these cases is that they're handled like an insurance claim, liability is determined, and any criminal allegations are never dealt with. The victims want a criminal investigation but they become disillusioned by the process and end up just walking away from the whole thing."
the mayoral panel's report does not mention the case. There's also no indication that the group looked into other unresolved misconduct issues whose documentation could buttress campaigns for change—such as Detective Gene McNaughton's claim he was told by superiors not to investigate some felony drug crimes. Even the infighting surrounding the case that led to formation of the mayoral panel— revelations of an alleged $10,000 theft by now retired Detective Sonny Davis (set for trial next week)—gets short shrift. There's reference to a problematic "police culture"—the blue walls of silence and the struggles over a changing police ethic. But without elaboration, the reviewers conclude that is not a serious problem. Officers have told us, however, such a culture is behind a raging departmental philosophical and turf war. Exhibit one, they say, is former veteran burglary detective Jerry Bickford, wrongfully dismissed for, among other reasons, telling dumb-blond jokes. One of his supervisors said that's not allowed in Stamper's department, "where you need to be more politically correct"—a policy statement seemingly in need of outside review.
Still, Harriett Walden is happy to at least see the civilian-involvement recommendation back on the table. In 1992 after Judge Carroll made his proposal (ultimately ignored), Walden told a reporter that "it's a good first step." Asked by another reporter two weeks ago about the latest recommendations, she was quoted in the paper as saying, "It's a good first step."
"I still think it is," Walden said last week, sounding a little tired. "But it took a black man to get shot to get this ball rolling again," she adds, referring to elderly Bodegard Mitchell who, in a 1996 shootout, wounded a Seattle Housing Authority electrician and a cop before he was killed by police. The $10,000 allegedly taken and returned by Detective Sonny Davis was from the Mitchell crime scene.
"If the Mitchell situation hadn't presented itself, we'd be going along like we always have," says Walden. "Let's make something of it. I'd like to see a good second step someday."