The mayor's office obviously wasn't happy last week when former U.S. Attorney Mike McKay told the Seattle Times he thinks the Department of Justice should fully investigate the Seattle Police Department. Though Mike McGinn says he welcomes such a probe, he and his staff didn't particularly appreciate McKay's claim that Police Chief John Diaz was engaged in a "full-blown cover-up" within the department. As the mayor's attorney Carl Marquardt put it in a Jan. 13 e-mail to McKay and his firm, "You called him [Diaz] a liar on the front page of the paper . . . "
McKay and his brother John, also a former U.S. attorney, had just officially joined the call for a federal civil-rights investigation into the policies and practices of SPD in the wake of police-related beatings and a shooting. Also seeking a U.S. review is the American Civil Liberties Union and 34 community organizations.
The FBI is set to start a preliminary probe next month, which the McKays hope will widen into a lengthy investigation to cover some of the issues they've raised, including an alleged pattern of SPD stonewalling: refusing to release public records involving internal investigation cases. The McKay firm represents a man allegedly threatened by an armed off-duty police officer during a 2009 incident.
After the Jan. 13 Times story hit the streets and web, Marquardt contacted Mike McKay to ask about his claims. He then sent an e-mail to another of the firm's attorneys, Pat Preston:
In my discussion with Mike McKay a few moments ago, I asked what he was referring to when he said Chief Diaz "grossly mischaracterized" facts in his declaration. Mr. McKay said it referred to a portion of the declaration where Diaz claimed that a "non-sustained" finding indicated that the alleged misconduct "did not occur."
I do not see that in the declaration. I see a statement in paragraph 9 that non-sustained means "the allegation was not found to have occurred," which is accurate. Can you tell me what is the basis for your claim that Chief Diaz grossly mischaracterized facts?
Four hours later, during which McKay says his firm hadn't had time to respond, Marquardt sent another e-mail, obtained by Seattle Weekly: "John Diaz is an honorable guy. You called him a liar on the front page of the paper, and you've got nothing?"
Clearly, Marquardt was ticked off. So was Mike McKay. "We've been working on this case 18 months," McKay said today, "and he [Marquardt] gets his back up because we don't respond in four hours? As you can see, this [the internal investigations] is an institutional problem in Seattle."
Said Marquardt: "I think it was over-the-top what they are alleging about senior command and a coverup. The case he's talking about has gone to court and is on appeal. That's not unethical. His claim was far beyond the pale."
One person familiar with the spat says the mayor's office weighed filing a bar complaint against McKay, but neither side would confirm that. Marquardt says the mayor's office will soon formally answer McKay's claims "with a full written response."