Cops talk about cops

Review board gets an earful: parties, prostitutes, and personality tests.

IT WAS TELL-ALL TIME for more than a dozen current and former Seattle cops who were among the 80 people recently offering private testimony before the mayor's police review board. While the public reiterated earlier allegations of officer misconduct, the cops told tales of departmental feuding and firings and some nasty police secrets: Former City Council members weren't arrested when they took drugs or hired prostitutes; officers used to rent a Chinatown pad to meet their girlfriends and party while on duty; budding cops in the police academy were taught not to write tickets to state troopers; cops sometimes write "AH" for "asshole" on the back of tickets so others down the line will know the offender has failed a "personality test"; Chief Norm Stamper is thought to cast a "magic spell" over his troops; and former chief Patrick Fitzsimons was seen as Seattle's J. Edgar Hoover.

The accusers weren't asked to prove their assertions, and names are blacked out of just-released board documents (though some identities can be determined by the events detailed). But copies of statements and comments by board investigators indicate the claims were accepted at least as honest perceptions. As a result of the cops' and public's testimony during the board's three-month probe into Seattle Police Department misconduct, the review panel has recommended the SPD Internal Investigation Section be replaced by a new civilian-ruled Office of Professional Accountability.

Importantly, most cops meeting with the board agreed that while the current department isn't perfect, corruption is nothing like it was 30 years ago, when the department was rocked by a widespread kickback and payoff scandal. "There is the odd vice cop getting sex from a hooker instead of arresting her," one veteran detective says, "but nothing much more than that."

Typically, officers who came forth with accusations against, or support for, the embattled department had only their own cases in mind or they spoke about the incident that sparked both a scandal and a misconduct review: the allegation that former Homicide Detective Sonny Davis took and returned $10,000 or more from a crime scene (following his recent mistrial, Davis is set to be retried this spring).

But at least four current or former officers and detectives, in separate board interviews, cited a lesser-known incident as a prime example of the department's inner turmoil. They agreed that officer Teresa Abbott, who was fired from the department in 1997 following a 1996 shooting incident in Fremont, was railroaded by a police review board that purposely ignored exculpatory evidence.

According to the statements (including one obviously given by Abbott), the shooting review board concluded Abbott unwarrantably shot and wounded fleeing assault suspect Jacob Workman III, 36, in the back even though a forensic expert showed Workman was wounded in the front—supporting Abbott's contention that she and Workman were struggling over her gun. "The review board hammered her," said a veteran cop. "They didn't like her," apparently for having testified against the department in a sexual harassment case. A current SPD supervisor told the board that a top police official withheld evidence in the case. Abbott said that despite two board reviews the forensic evidence was withheld or disregarded, and a witness who could have proved the shooting was accidental wasn't interviewed. Abbott also told the board she had developed post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the shooting and the department's subsequent actions.

Here—in a paraphrase of testimony, with X denoting deleted names—is some of what officers had to tell the board (documents indicate that some of the accusations are being further investigated):

*Former SPD detective: There have been City Council members who took drugs or visited prostitutes; the cops all knew about it, but wouldn't do anything [no dates given]. And the prosecutors don't pursue police misconduct, because the cops have dirt on the prosecutors.

*Former federal agent: Former police chief Patrick Fitzsimons was Seattle's J. Edgar Hoover. Like Hoover, Fitzsimons had no tolerance for openly gay officers and was a stickler for ethics and propriety.

*Current SPD detective: Stamper can talk—he puts his magic spell on you, then you leave and think, "What difference does it make what he said?"

*Former SPD detective: There used to be a war between the SPD and the state patrol about giving tickets to each other. At the police academy it was mandated that officers not give tickets to troopers, no matter what the troopers did.

*Former SPD officer: In the 1980s, veteran cops would go into Pioneer Square bars while on duty and ask for the "special coffee," the coffee with alcohol in it. They drank a lot. They had an apartment in Chinatown where they would take their girlfriends while on duty. They wouldn't respond to calls—they'd say their car batteries were dead.

*Official with 30 years in law enforcement: SPD officers may write "AH" on the back of a ticket. It means the person ticketed is an asshole, and if there's an internal investigation complaint, it won't be given attention.

*Former SPD detective: Detective X was always drunk and he also downloaded pornography on his computer. X didn't want members of the prosecutor's office to come to crime scenes because he didn't want them to see how inept the SPD are—the unit still uses hand-drawn sketches and other outdated techniques.

*Current SPD civilian employee: At roll call supervisor X had a time set aside where she would share personal news, such as what her cats or her neighbors did, and she encouraged others in the group to do the same. If they didn't share, she would badger them. Once, when no one wanted to share, X looked at [the employee] and said, "Well, we could talk about O.J."

 
comments powered by Disqus