City Attorney Hires Consultant for Secretive Battle with DOJ; SPD Still Not Sold on Findings

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Even while the city prepared to announce SPD reforms prompted by the U.S. Department of Justice's scathing report, City Attorney Pete Holmes was prepping for possible litigation with the feds. As The Seattle Times disclosed yesterday, Holmes' office hired a consultant for that purpose, one whose secretive mission says a lot about how police view the federal lashing they've received.

The 10-page contract with consultant Joseph Brann, also obtained by Seattle Weekly, makes repeated use of the word "confidential." Brann isn't supposed to talk about his work for the city. Indeed, even the contract itself is designated by a header as privileged information.

The City Attorney, however, decided to hand it over when it was requested, and while staffers refuse to say any more about it, the contract does offer a broad outline of what Brann will be doing for a fee of $300 an hour.

A former DOJ official himself, Brann is to help get ready for the litigation likely to result if the DOJ and the city can't agree on what the contract says is the "extensive programmatic and policy changes" the feds want in response to their report. (The city's announcement yesterday was merely its opening bid to the DOJ.)

Equally interesting, the contract also specifies that Brann will be "verifying the results of the DOJ investigation."

Kevin P. Casey
It's a clause that hints at the skepticism and bafflement with which the SPD has greeted the DOJ's sweeping findings, released in December. In an extensive interview with SW for this week's cover story, Assistant Chief Mike Sanford, named yesterday to oversee the new reforms, took issue in particular with the lack of details justifying the report's conclusion that, in 20 percent of cases in which officers used force, they did so excessively.

"How did the DOJ come to that?" Sanford asks. The feds have said their conclusions are based on a review of "thousands of pages of documents, including written policies and procedures, training manuals, internal reports, data, video footage and investigative files" as well as interviews with officers and community members. But they have not listed the specific cases that substantiate their findings. (See both press release and entire report.)

"It's like saying, 'you have a very high robbery rate but we won't tell you where,' " Sanford continued.

What's more, Sanford said the "huge statement" regarding use of force was "based on two retired guys' opinions." He's talking about the DOJ's consultants tasked with investigating Seattle. One of them, Michael Graham, is a former Los Angeles assistant sheriff. (The DOJ declined to provide information about the other investigator.)

So, it seems, that even while offering possible remedies, the city wants Brann to dig into whether the DOJ can prove its case. Too bad his work is being kept secret, because that's something the entire city should know.

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