Cop out

Police legal adviser may have quit over lawsuit.

The recent scandals within the Seattle Police Department have reportedly produced their first resignation: Police legal advisor Carol Newell Pidduck has quit over the handling of a misconduct lawsuit against the department, according to sources inside and outside SPD.

“She gave medical reasons” as cause for departure, says police personnel director Janice Corbin. Others say Pidduck felt increasingly conflicted over legal defense strategies used by the department to thwart inquiries from citizens and attorneys.

Pidduck was recently criticized by the attorney for Paul Vang, a former Seattle police officer who is suing the department and has accused the SPD of racial and sexual discrimination.

As part of that case, ex-officer Vang says he witnessed three fellow officers beat a black youth in a police holding cell in 1996, but that his complaint was ignored by internal investigators.

Pidduck, who could not be reached for comment, fought against release of internal documents in the case. A police source says Pidduck now has misgivings about the policy of resisting release of critical details to opposition counsel, a strategy designed to frustrate outside inquiry.

Seattle attorney William M. Taylor, who last year won a $1.5 million wrongful-termination verdict against the city for ex-cop Jerald Bickford, had to file an additional lawsuit just to pry his client’s own records from the department. Taylor, an ex-cop and former head of the SPD Internal Investigation Section (IIS), says he constantly ran into “the city’s protective wall of silence” (see “No blonde jokes,” SW, 6/3/99).

Meanwhile a four-member panel appointed by Mayor Paul Schell is studying the SPD’s internal review of complaints against its officers. The mayoral panel will not discuss its work-in-progress but has said members won’t try to resolve specific cases, including the internal breakdown that sparked the current scandal—the alleged 1996 theft and return of $10,000 by former detective Sonny Davis. Instead, reviewers indicate they’re searching for middle ground between the public’s right to know and a cop’s negotiated right to protect personnel records.

Among those offering suggestions is self-styled police critic John Hoffman of Seattle. Using open-records laws to obtain and review thousands of police internal complaints in recent years, Hoffman has become an expert at challenging the IIS. In a letter to the reviewers, Hoffman says citizen complaints against cops are almost never sustained while complaints by cops against other cops at least have “a snowball’s chance in hell.” He says more sunshine should be let into the process and suggests all IIS complaint documentation be routinely released rather than subjected to “the tortuous public disclosure process” that the public, the press, and attorneys encounter.

Hoffman is critical of the IIS oversight by judge Terry Carroll, who functions as an independent auditor of IIS but has no regulatory or disciplinary authority (Carroll’s most recent report reveals that of 143 citizen complaints of excessive force in the past two years, none were sustained by the department). Hoffman supports replacing the auditor with an independent oversight board.

Carroll was named by Mayor Schell as an advisor to the review panel, along with University of Washington professor Hubert Locke, who moonlights as an SPD advisor. The panel is comprised of former judge Charles V. Johnson, attorney Jenny Durkan, the FBI’s Burdena Passenelli, and former US attorney Mike McKay, who thinks the SPD is one of the best departments in the nation.

To the blunt Hoffman, the panel’s establishment makeup portends a “whitewash,” as he puts in his letter to them. He received a form-letter response stating “citizen input is critical” to the process.

“OK, show me,” Hoffman said last week. The panel’s report is due by the end of the month.