The U.S. Department of Justice says that the Seattle Police Department has so warped and misused a 44-year-old rule involving a sworn officers' rights to avoid self incrimination that cops accused of wrongdoing have an all-but-foolproof way out of trouble.
The rule in question is the so-called "Garrity Rule", which was named for the 1967 case Garrity vs. New Jersey, and says that any potentially-incriminating statement that an officer makes during an internal investigation cannot be used to prosecute him or her if that officer says that the statement was made under the threat of losing his or her job.
It's a seemingly-understandable rule given the extreme nature of police work, but the DOJ says that SPD has extended that rule to virtually every officer that's investigated, making it extremely difficult to prosecute officers who may have violated the law.
Indeed, it was the Garrity rule that Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes cited earlier this week when he announced that he was dropping charges against Ofc. James Lee, who was caught on video kicking the crap out of a compliant teen.
From the DOJ letter:
"SPD's inappropriate blanket invocation of Garrity may result in the exclusion of important evidence from an investigation. The practice makes it too difficult to quickly exonerate officers who have followed policy, and to properly discipline officers who have not."
The DOJ, in a letter sent to Mayor Mike McGinn, is asking the department to tamp down its use of the Garrity Rule. In response, SPD says the request is being "carefully reviewed."