Seattle Police Department interim chief Harry Bailey held a press conference this morning to say he regrets expunging a misconduct verdict from a police officer's record and he will reinstate the misconduct finding. In a small basement room in SPD headquarters, Bailey told reporters, "Overturning the finding of misconduct was a mistake and sent the wrong message to our officers and the public."
The case at issue concerns a complaint I made last summer against Officer John Marion, who threatened me while I was gathering information on another officer's misconduct. The previous chief, under the previous mayoral administration, found Officer Marion committed an act of "unprofessional" conduct and punished him with a day's unpaid suspension. But Chief Bailey removed that misconduct finding last week and downgraded the discipline to training. Bailey also told media and city officials last Thursday that he hadn't changed the misconduct finding, even though he'd submitted a settlement that removed the finding last Tuesday, which led me to question his honesty. Nonetheless, Mayor Ed Murray adamantly stood by Bailey's side in a press conference Friday night, arguing training was more constructive than the penalty of suspension.
But Bailey told reporters this morning that "after personal reflection and consulting with Mayor Murray over weekend, I am reinstating the misconduct finding in the Marion case. It will remain part of the permanent record, which it should be."
"I deeply regret the confusion and misunderstanding that the matter may have caused," he said, "and I personally apologize for that."
The story has been reported widely by other media outlets, largely because this is not solely about my case. (My experience with Officer Marion is minor compared to well documented acts of police misconduct, particularly toward racial minorities.) My case is simply the most public of 25 cases that Chief Bailey is reopening, which has triggered concern that Bailey may give cops a pass despite a federal court settlement to reform the city's patterns of misconduct.
This morning, Mayor Murray also issued a long mea culpa:
After hearing the public’s concerns about Chief Bailey’s decision to change the discipline in the Marion case, I have directed Chief Bailey to reinstate the original finding.
Chief Bailey and I have had extensive discussions about this case. We both agree: this was a mistake.
The decision to change the discipline was the call of the Chief. But I stood with the Chief and publicly supported that decision. And I am Mayor: the buck stops with me. So, this mistake was mine. And today I am fixing that mistake.
Chief Bailey’s intent was correct. His decision to pursue an education-based discipline was a progressive action that, if implemented more broadly, would move the department in the right direction and help shape and model good behavior.
But we did not sufficiently make our case to the public. And because of how we handled it, our actions do not look like reform to members of the public. To many, our actions look like the opposite of reform. So we have some work to do.
But it cannot be overstated: Chief Bailey mislead no one. He does not harbor high ambitions or a hidden agenda. Chief Bailey is a man of integrity, whom I coaxed out of retirement in order to help me and the department on the road to reform.
Chief Bailey does not need this job—this job needs him. He is performing a public service, and he is performing it with honor. The smears against his character and his integrity are beneath the dignity of this city, and they must stop.
The fact is, Chief Bailey was ahead of us. We do need new ways to think about accountability and culture change. We do need education- and value-based forms of discipline that change unacceptable behavior and sustain the values of an organization. And we do need to look at our OPA process, which has remained the same for the past 15 years under 6 different chiefs and 4 different mayors.
In my inaugural address, and in my State of the City address, I quoted FDR, who talked about bold and persistent experimentation. He said, “it is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another.”
I am admitting frankly that our method to address accountability and culture change in the Marion case failed. And I am pledging that we will attempt another. And when we do, we will take better steps at involving the community.
It's good that the mayor and chief are keeping the misconduct finding on Officer Marion's record. But as I've said before, training is not really a punishment. Training is what happens starting the day officers enter the academy and training is what our officers are required to get as part of this court settlement. And let's be clear: Training a cop not to threaten people with workplace visits is a pretty low bar.
This flip-flop sends a broader message. When Officer Marion and the police union first wanted this misconduct finding reversed last week, they got it. Yet when, in response, the public, politicians, and media kicked up dirt about this individual case, the officer got in trouble again. But the public doesn't hear about most cases, and in those instances, apparently the police union can steamroll the process, get the mayor and chief to cave, and reverse punishment. That's a backward precedent. It suggests that political winds and subjective whims trump actual rules for misconduct. That leads victims to believe their complaints won't get a fair shake and for the public to believe, the in the mayor's own words, we have "the opposite of reform."