Clean sweep or cover-up?

WTO investigations by the City Council and the mayor give off mixed signals.

THE CITY'S INVESTIGATIONS into the WTO took a couple steps forward and a couple steps back last week: The mayor selected a firm to evaluate his own conduct, and the City Council dropped from its plans a key citizen fact-finding panel that was to have probed civil rights and civil liberties violations. This latter development surprised City Council member Judy Nicastro, who characterized it as "major."

As the City Council's incredible shrinking investigation into the WTO shrank further, it also took on more definition. Jim Compton continued to work "very hard to narrow the scope so [the investigation] doesn't get off the tracks." He wants the Accountability Review Committee and its citizen panels to compile "a compelling factual record" of the WTO. Compton says the council will not undertake to make moral or legal judgments, but rather create a document record that will help others do so: a "truthful and fearless statement of the facts."

He does expect the committee's work to result in a series of policy recommendations to the full council. He's already got a few in mind. "We're goddamned going to say we'll have badge numbers on cops," for example. Or that police will publicize the "rules of engagement" before protests begin, so there are fewer tactical surprises (three warnings, then—bonk!). He hopes specific questions will be answered, such as whether there really was a threat of Molotov cocktails on Capitol Hill or whether City Light created a "blackout zone" at Sandpoint so that, presumably, police could have their way with arrestees.

The City Council has been advised by the city attorney that it can use its subpoena power on behalf of the WTO committee to obtain documents or testimony if need be, which may be a useful tool in getting cooperation. Its other secret weapon, Compton says, is that they plan to buy some 300 hours of time from highly respected local private investigator Dick Clever, a former newspaperman who used to work for the committee's staff chief, Alec Fisken, at the Seattle Sun.

Citizen panels, each with a council member assigned to them, will do the bulk of the work, however, reading, sifting, and evaluating documents and testimony in the next three months. One, assigned to council member Jan Drago, will look into how the WTO came to Seattle. A second, Nick Licata's, will review the preparations leading up to WTO. A third, Compton's, will look at the events of WTO week. A fourth, which had been assigned to Peter Steinbrueck, would have looked into civil rights and civil liberties issues and violations. But Steinbrueck, who is not formally a member of the council's WTO review committee, is disenchanted with the way the council has chosen to organize the effort. "I will not be participating. I'm not because there's not the commitment or resources to do the kind of review that's called for."

Compton and others worry that Steinbrueck's panel would have gotten too involved in specific legal cases and individual grievances that are outside of the council's purview, and that they simply don't have the resources to do it. He says civil liberties reviews are already being undertaken by groups like the ACLU anyway. Steinbrueck says the council could find the money if it really wanted to, but it lacks the will.

Judy Nicastro, told that the panel had been bagged, asks, "If we don't do a thorough analysis of civil liberties, why would the public have any confidence in us in the future?" Steinbrueck, clearly frustrated, says he intends to do what little he can with his own office and budget.

Compton suggests his panel will pick up the slack, but it's doubtful whether he can really do double duty with the heavy assignment of sorting out WTO week itself.

Part of Steinbrueck's beef is that the council could be doing a much more extensive and much more independent investigation. Experts on the subject suggest that is the case. Samuel Walker, a professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, is an expert on police accountability, misconduct, and civilian review processes. He says, "Any investigation needs to be fully independent. To be credible, any investigation would have to be directed by a person or team from outside Seattle. Such a person or persons need to be nationally recognized experts and have reputations for independence and integrity." Prof. Eileen Luna of the University of Arizona, also an expert in the field, reiterates Walker's advice. She says the "fundamentals must include independence from any involved entity." But it isn't easy with an event that touched as much at the federal, state, and local levels as WTO did, and it isn't cheap. "I want to emphasize again what a big task this is—if it is to be done right, that is."

With the council having chosen not to do things "the right way," it will have to console itself with an attempt to do at least some things well. Even Steinbrueck agrees that the least the council can do is thorough documentation and fact-finding. It remains to be seen if that will satisfy those who brought their concern and outrage before the council, looking for answers.

MEANWHILE, LAST WEEK Mayor Paul Schell announced the hiring of R.M. McCarthy Associates of San Clemente, California, to conduct, at a cost of $100,000, what the mayor's office called an "independent, comprehensive review of public safety planning for WTO and the events that week in Seattle." Schell added that he has also "asked them to evaluate my role and the decisions I made."

That role will be viewed from law enforcement's perspective. The McCarthy firm is described as being expert consultants on civil disturbances and riot control, and there is little question about which side of the barricades they stand on. Ronald M. McCarthy is a retired LAPD sergeant. His team includes Robert J. Louden, a former New York City detective who is now a professor, and John A. Kolman, a retired Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department SWAT team leader.

Interestingly, all three have one thing in common: They were involved in postmortem investigations of the Branch Davidian disaster in Waco, Texas.

Will that experience help them in Seattle? Waco is hardly a study in how to conduct postevent investigations that will satisfy the public, politicians, or partisans. The fact that they've previously worked for the feds on a high-profile case may help them clarify the feds' role in the WTO debacle; or, as they worked for Janet Reno, who may also have played a role in the WTO crackdown, there could be a conflict of interest. The mayor's spokesman Dick Lilly says it's unlikely that law enforcement consultants wouldn't have crossed paths with various federal agencies in the past and is convinced the mayor has found an "independent-minded" group that will do the job. He says they'll have an interim report to the mayor in March and a final report at the end of June—just about the time the mayor hopes to be wrapping up the search for the new police chief.

 
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