"Nobody that I know of is aware of this but within the Department, so there’s been no image damage from this to the Department." - Ron Smith on March 23, 2015
If you had to pick just one statement that captures the circle-the-wagons mentality among some Seattle police officers, particularly those close to the officers' union, the above quote from Seattle Police Officers Guild president Ron Smith might be the one.
When Smith made the statement, only two other people were with him, in a room overlooking Puget Sound on the eighteenth floor of a downtown office building. Those two other people: Office of Professional Accountability investigator Susanna Monroe and South precinct Officer Anthony Reynolds, whose conduct was being scrutinized.
I recently obtained records of the conversation and the investigation into Reynolds through a public records request.
Like Officers Cynthia Whitlatch, Christopher Hall and Sam Byrd, Reynolds used social media to vent about race and critics of police. As protests erupted in Ferguson in November 2014, Reynolds accused Mayor Ed Murray of racism in response to a tweet showing the mayor and Chief Kathleen O'Toole meeting with local African-American community members.
"What @Mayor_Ed_Murray is doing is segregating by race and by definition racist," he tweeted at the account of the mayor, as well as @SeattlePD. The mere idea of a public official meeting with representatives of one racial group in particular seemed to offend Reynolds—something he would later confirm.
In a separate missive, Reynolds also tweeted "what a fag" at comedian Joe Rogan in 2013.
Last February, the tweets caught the attention of the department's public affairs unit, which runs the SPD Twitter feed. Among those taking notice: former Stranger writer Jonah Spangenthal-Lee and Officer Drew Fowler, who had gone to the police academy with Reynolds.
They shared the tweets with public affairs head Sean Whitcomb, who considered them troubling and swiftly reported the comments to the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) for an investigation. Reynolds was immediately placed on administrative leave by his chain of command—it had been one month since The Stranger connected the dots (the department had failed to do so) between Whitlatch's Facebook posts and her controversial arrest of an elderly black man carrying a golf club. But when the OPA called Reynolds in to its office to ask him about the online posts, Reynolds was unrepentant:
MONROE: ...So your, your response, you, you’re pointing out the, your belief that the Mayor meeting with a specific race group is in itself racist?
MONROE: Do you believe that that comment was disparaging or... well, or takes away from the effectiveness of the Department?
As for the "fag" remark directed at Rogan, Reynolds defended it as "sort of an ironic joke," and said he isn't homophobic.
Reynolds linked his Twitter profile to a blog where he ranted about the court-appointed monitor of the Department of Justice reform process, Merrick Bobb, as well as Council Member Kshama Sawant, journalists, Islam, and "keyboard warriors" who he said have no business criticizing police. Read it all here.
He accused Bobb of trying to "leech every penny he conceivably could out of Seattle."
Ron Smith, the police guild president, sat in on the OPA interview as Reynolds' union steward. He made one final point:
I’d like to state for the record that this complaint did not, in fact, arise from somebody in the public becoming alarmed and worried about the Department’s effectiveness. It was an internal complaint generated by a complainant who had to dig very, very deep into the, the tweets of Officer Reynolds to locate the Joe Rogan situation. Mr. Rogan did not complain to the Police Department, Kshama Sawant did not complain to the Police Department, Merrick Bobb did not complaint to the Police Department, Ed Murray did not complaint to the Police Department... others. It just came from inside the Department. So nobody that I know of is aware of this but within the Department, so there’s been no image damage from this to the Department.
The department brass determined that Reynolds, by using the word "fag" in any context, violated a policy prohibiting the use of derogatory language. On August 17, 2015, Deputy Chief Carmen Best issued him an oral reprimand and required him to undergo retraining on the department's new social media policy, which was instituted in response to social media outbursts like that one. The OPA also sustained a finding that Reynolds had inappropriately criticized the mayor and the department in his online postings, but the brass didn't act on it.
By August, Reynolds was back on the street, working late at night in the Rainier Valley area. On the same day he was issued an oral reprimand, Spangthenal-Lee wrote about how the officer helped deliver a baby on SPD's website.
Reynolds' Twitter page and blog are now set to "private." He's one of the 123 Seattle police officers who unsuccessfully sued the Department of Justice in an attempt to block use-of-force reforms. You can read the OPA interview with Reynolds here.