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Monday, October 13, 2008

A Year In Review Part 1

A look back at a year's worth of misconduct and detainee abuses

For the anniversary of Injustice In Seattle I thought it would be interesting to look back at some of the stories that we've published to see if there has been any progress in the fight against police misconduct and detainee abuse since this site had started and how some of the stories that we've published have turned out since we last published them. This is the first part in a series that recaps the issues and some of the specific stories that we've published.

Deadly Rights Violations At King County Jail
One of our very first stories focused on the findings of a Department of Justice investigation into the King County Jail (or KCCF as it's now called) which uncovered serious abuses of detainee rights that caused the horrific death of at least one detainee and exposed several to sexual and physical abuse in that downtown Seattle jail.

Unfortunately, there hasn't been any progress here as the King County government and local media have been unwilling to talk about these ongoing problems and negotiations between the DOJ and King County to improve conditions there have gone nowhere, even though the findings were released almost a full year ago. Even local civil rights groups are dead set against addressing the problems in that jail since they are focused on detainee abuses allegedly occurring thousands of miles away. Meanwhile there continue to be reports of detainees who are being denied medical care and of guards physically abusing prisoners still coming out of that facility.

While efforts to publicize those abuses and the federal investigation into the jail have failed, there may still be some hope. A class action suit has been initiated against the jail for the denial of medical care for detainees. That suit is still in the initial stages and no scheduled date has been set for that suit to start, so if you have been denied medical care in that jail and wish to be a part of that suit, contact attorney Ed Budge of Budge and Heipt. Hopefully the cost of that suit to the county will spur some changes when other efforts have fallen on deaf ears.

Seattle Police Department
After the civilian oversight of the Seattle Police Department was shown to be ineffective in reigning in abusive officers in Seattle people stopped reporting cases of significant abuse, especially since it became well known that the city was using the complaint process to help lawyers defend against potential lawsuits instead of investigate allegations of corruption and brutality.

This led to a painful and embarrassing string of high-profile news stories of abuses and several successful civil rights suits against the city until it supposedly recognized the need to make sure an accountability and oversight system worked. Unfortunately, this wasn't the case and instead of implementing changes to fix the oversight system, the city ignored it's own committees that recommended more transparency and worked to make the system even more secretive and easier to abuse under cover of supposedly fixing the system.

We've been hearing rumors that have grown more urgent in recent weeks that the city is battling desperately to keep another series of civil rights suits under wraps by offering settlements with strict non-disclosure agreements to keep stories of abuses out of the press. According to our sources, at least three very serious civil rights cases are pending against the city that haven't even been covered by the media and the city is desperate to keep them from going public because it has been losing officers to other towns because many officers reportedly are ashamed to be associated with the SPD because of the bad publicity and the city's desire to cover up problems with misconduct instead of directly addressing them.

According to the source we heard from, even the record pay increase officers won earlier this year that makes them the highest paid in the state wasn't enough to stem the tide of officers who are too ashamed to stay in Seattle... and this isn't good news to us because it means the officers who actually care about their reputations are the ones who are leaving and officers who care about how the public perceives them are more likely to make efforts to do the best job they can and least likely to abuse their position. This, unfortunately, could mean Seattle will be left with a higher proportion of officers with a history of abuses which would mean we may see higher rates of misconduct in the future.

To determine the veracity of the rumors, a search through the Justia databases indicates that there are at least three civil rights lawsuits currently filed and active against the Seattle Police Department, one of these cases involves witnesses to the Alley-Barnes beating who were detained and had their cell-phone cameras wiped clean. As for officers leaving, we've not had any indication from the city that previous problems retaining officers have improved or worsened recently, but the city does plan on hiring at least 40 officers this year.

...To be continued
(next issue: a recap on some of the exclusive stories we published this year)


Karl Mansoor said...

In response to:

"...civil rights suits under wraps by offering settlements with strict non-disclosure agreements to keep stories of abuses out of the press..."

If just that one aspect can be eliminated, if by law the city could be restricted from keeping relevant complaint and settlement details hidden, it would go a long way towards addressing misconduct.

I understand that some plaintiffs/victims may not want certain issues made public following a settlement but there needs to be some widespread way for citizens to be aware of gross mismanagement of government officials.

Packratt said...

I agree, transparency would really help improve community relations for police and would likely have a positive impact against misconduct rates, especially if disciplinary records weren't intentionally obfuscated.

Thanks for reading and for the comment, I really appreciate it!

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