Say what you will about the civilian director of the Seattle Police Department's OPA, Kathryn Olson obviously isn't dumb. And whether she'll say so publicly or not, that's probably why she announced Tuesday she'll step down next year from the post she's held since 2007, overseeing the department tasked with carrying out SPD's internal investigations. Like anyone who has followed the situation, Olson surely puckered a little at the thought of just how brutal her upcoming confirmation hearings in front of the City Council would have been.
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Of course, realizing as much didn't take a rocket scientist.
Greg Nickels appointed Olson her position with the OPA in May 2007, with her first term technically expiring in May of 2010. Civilian directors of the OPA serve three-year terms, and are allowed a maximum of nine years in the position. However, despite the fact Olson's term expired in 2010, McGinn - until late August of this year - delayed officially submitting her name to the council for reconfirmation. According to the mayor's office, "Olson's reappointment was put on hold in deference to the DOJ investigation of SPD and negotiations toward a mutually acceptable agreement."
During this time - May 2010 until Aug. 28 - and despite the fact her exact status was in limbo, Olsen continued to serve as the OPA's civilian director.
Many have said it could have been handled faster. Others have pointed out that Olson's term ended more than a year and half before the DOJ released the results of its investigation - in December 2011.
It was a delay that irked a number of Seattle City Council members.
While Olson's reappointment was likely to be dicey either way, the case of Donald Fuller likely didn't help her situation. Fuller, with lawyer James Egan by his side, has brought to light allegations that an OPA investigator lobbied the City Attorney's office to file charges against him that it otherwise wouldn't have - all set in motion when Fuller filed a complaint.
A "Certification of Completion and OPA Disposition" sent from OPA Civilian Director Kathryn Olson to Captain Mark Kuehn as part of Fuller's OPA investigation perhaps provides the case's biggest red flag -- indicating this isn't the first time a scenario like Fuller's has played out.
I note that after reviewing this case and at least one other in which OPA-IS had contact with the Prosecutor's Office with questions regarding charging decisions, the OPA Auditor expressed concern that a conflict of interest could arise through such contact. Though contact is sometimes necessary to gather information relevant to an investigation, care must be taken to avoid even the appearance that OPA-IS is attempting to influence a prosecution involving an OPA-IS complaint. After discussion with the OPA Director and Captain Gleason, it was agreed that at minimum, where there is a fling recommendation regarding the complainant, the recommendation should be reduced to writing and approved through the OPA chain of command.
Of course, as with most things, it depends on how you look at it. In September Aaron Pickus, spokesperson for the mayor's office, told Seattle Weekly Olson's note indicates the resigning OPA Director independently identified the issue of "the appearance that OPA-IS is attempting to influence a prosecution involving an OPA-IS complaint," and dealt with it appropriately. Pickus points out that Olson subsequently changed agency policies regarding how such situation are handled, recommending filing recommendations from the OPA "should be reduced to writing and approved through the OPA chain of command."
As Steve Miltech of the Seattle Times notes
As Steve Miltech of the Seattle Times notesin his story about Olson's departure, the city council's Tim Burgess met with Olson on Sept. 25 and discussed the problems the council was likely to have with her reappointment. According to the Times, Burgess told Olson her reappointment would be "problematic for me," and warned that she likely didn't have the votes it would take for the council to sign off on the move.
According to the Times:
"It unfortunately would signal maintaining the status quo and we have a lot of work to do to rebuild public trust," Burgess said, referring to the city's settlement agreement with the Department of Justice in July requiring reforms to curtail excessive force in the Police Department and curb biased policing.
Burgess praised Olson as an "outstanding individual and a true professional," but said she had been caught in what he called the city's slowness to adopt substantive police reforms.
Burgess wasn't the only city council member to express his concerns. Bruce Harrell, the chair of the council's public-safety committee, also spoke with the Times.
Olson faced "rigorous" review by the council through the end of the year, including two public hearings and the solicitation of views from community organizations, accountability advocates and the police union about her performance, Bruce Harrell, the chair of the council's public-safety committee said Tuesday.
"To me, it was not going to be a rubber-stamp process at all," Harrell said.
Despite the fact she's long overdue for reconfirmation already, Olson's resignation letter indicates she'd like to stick with the position until May of 2013. By the sound of things, Harrell would like to see her depart sooner.
More from the Times:
Harrell said he did not plan to move forward with the hearings and urged McGinn to begin an immediate national search for a new OPA director. He also said Olson should depart "closer to March," rather than by May as suggested in her letter.
*Segments from previous posts on The Daily Weekly were used in this story.