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Thursday, April 9, 2009

About the 2008 Annual Report From the Seattle Police OPA

The Seattle Police Department Office of Professional Accountability (SPD OPA, which is Seattle's version of an internal affairs department) released their annual report recently. Most of it is the same old - same old... but there were some interesting tidbits hidden within it's convoluted depths.

First, as you might recall, the OPA is still limited to a 180 day deadline in which any sustained findings of misconduct against an officer are nullified if an investigation takes longer than 180 days... a sort of free pass for bad cops, as it were.

(this site broke the story that, despite the city's insistence that they removed that rule in contract negotiations with the union, that the union actually forced the city to back down and leave it in place. Something the police union has bragged about in their newsletter lately too.)

The worrisome news in the report is that the average time it takes, from the moment a complaint is received to the time a determination is made, is 173 days. That means there is only a 7 day window on average between an officer getting a free pass and getting disciplined for misconduct.

In that regard, the OPA admitted that there were 2 cases in 2008 where the 180 day window had elapsed which resulted in sustained findings being overturned.

There were 98 complaints of excessive force in 2008, (out of over 1300 overall complaints), but only two were sustained. One of which was recently overturned by one of the five separate levels of appeal available to officers. So only one excessive force complaint in 2008 resulted in the termination of an officer.

The overturned finding was the case of Don "Diamond Don" George which we covered a few days ago. He was accused of bashing a handcuffed suspect's head against the backseat partition in a cruiser and then lying about it to OPA investigators.

Despite his long history of complaints and that the department's appeal committee felt he probably did do what he was accused of, they overturned the chief's decision to fire him and gave him a brief suspension instead, forcing the city to hire him back.

So, only one sustained finding of excessive force and dishonesty were actually sustained and disciplined, and that case involved the officer in this video:

Where Mark Hays was beaten by one of SPD's notorious "Anti-Crime Team" officers. In that case, Hays and his friend, Michael Lujan, were stopped when they jaywalked in front of an undercover SPD ACT SUV and the officers escalated the confrontation into the beatdown seen in a dashcam recording of a responding cruiser.

Mark Hays has filed a pro-se lawsuit against the SPD and officers involved in that case. So far it appears as though that officer still remains off the force, but it's unclear whether it will remain that way given all the different appeal options available to officers...

While it's clear the SPD still does a very poor job investigating complaints of excessive force, the new "assumption of termination" for findings of dishonesty provision is also under fire as the Seattle Police Officer's Union has assured officers that this rule is unenforceable since the burden of proof is so high... so far, based on the appeal record, it appears they have a point.

Which is a fact that the OPA is apparently aware of as this disclaimer was slipped into the report:
"However, it is clear from reviewing OPA Sustained cases appealed in 2008 that the Department cannot always predict whether its findings or the disciplined imposed will be upheld."

Based on this report, and others, this site still highly recommends that any victims of police misconduct consult an attorney prior to filing a complaint with the SPD OPA as the complaint process is still highly biased and fatally flawed.

The complaints are often used to gather information for attorneys representing the city in preparation for defense against civil suits instead of to honestly investigate officer wrongdoing.

Please keep this in mind if you become a victim of police misconduct in Seattle.

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