The Seattle cop who threatened to "make stuff up" - fabricate felony robbery charges - after arresting two Seattle men for a misdemeanor, was only "bantering" with them, police now say. His comment was deemed by SPD as merely "inappropriate" since he never actually made up any charges.
Though Richardson's police incident report says the two "took off on a dead sprint down an alleyway," Franklin says he and Lawson immediately "got on the ground and froze." Lawson says Richardson kicked him in the head during the arrest and handcuffing; Richardson admits to kicking Lawson, but in the chest.
According to a video recorded while the officer and arrestees were enroute to jail, Richardson said the two were going to be charged "for robbery."
"For robbery?" asks Franklin.
"Yeah," says Richardson, "I'm gonna make stuff up."
In a response to news reports about the tape, SPD issued an online statement indicating the department still believes it had the right suspects, saying the case was dropped "because the assault victim did not wish to pursue this matter in court."
But the department's response does not do much to clarify the officer's threat to make up a felony charge. The response fails to mention that the victim never alleged he was robbed. The officer's report also makes no mention of robbery. The two suspects were booked for misdemeanor assault, and never charged.
The duo did file an internal investigations complaint about the actions of Richardson and other officers, but all were cleared by the department's Office of Professional Accountability (OPA).
Under questioning by City Council member Nick Licata at a public safety committee hearing last week, OPA director Kathryn Olson said her office's exoneration of Richardson was justified. She also noted that the OPA complaint finding was posted online (see page 17) by SPD so the public could see it. But it makes no mention of the officer's taped comments about fabricating charges.
This case, said Licatta, "gets to the heart of what is bothering a lot of people, including myself." When a cop threatens to manufacture charges, he said to Olson, "that to me seems to cross the line of reasonable expectation of professional conduct. And then it goes into OPA - it goes to your office, and the officer is exonerated. So...how does that happen?"
Olson, OPA's civilian auditor, who reviewed the case after KOMO-TV aired the dash-cam vid, said the short clip didn't tell all. As the cop and suspects are riding along, she said:
There was bantering. The officer did say something along the lines of 'I could make up stuff,' but that was taken out of the context of a larger conversation that he was having. He was bantering, you know, not necessarily the best way to interact, but it had - what was involved actually was an assault, and so there was a reference to a robbery and jaywalking and it was very clear that he wasn't intending to make up anything. Instead it was a bantering that was going on with the suspect - not necessarily the best practices - but there was no issue of dishonesty...
The council committee was weighing a new Seattle Human Rights Commission report that urges reform of OPA and its quasi-public process where disciplinary decisions are ultimately made by police chief John Diaz.
The "make stuff up" tape, said Human Rights chair Chris Stearns, an attorney and Navajo Indian, "really does bring into question how much can the public trust the system."