The mayors and police chiefs staff before the Seattle City Council.
  • The mayor's and police chief's staff before the Seattle City Council.

The Seattle police chief, city attorney, and mayor's senior staff were hauled before a skeptical Seattle City Council today to answer pointed questions about an unraveling brouhaha of police misconduct cases. At issue: Interim police chief Harry Bailey recently downgraded discipline for six officers, after past chiefs had already imposed misconduct verdicts against those officers, and then dramatically flip-flip flopped on other case.

In today's meeting, the mayor's surrogates made three more remarkable disclosures:

(1) The mayor has placed an "indefinite hold" on his police chief signing any further settlements in officer-misconduct cases until further review, Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim told the council's public safety committee; (2) the mayor's office has also decided to reopen those six cases in which the chief decided to downgrade the punishment to "see if appropriate determinations were made," according to the bureaucratic parlance of mayoral public safety adviser Tina Podlodowski; and (3) Deputy Mayor Kim told the council that city officials cannot find any paperwork confirming that former interim chief Jim Pugel tentatively downgraded discipline in those six cases, as claimed repeatedly in the last week by Chief Bailey and Mayor Murray.

That last item was possibly the most alarming because it suggests there is no evidence to back up the buck-passing talking point that this controversy was the last administration's fault, which was used to justify the backdoor approach to letting cops off the hook. Kim explained it like this:

"Interim Chief Bailey understood these cases and these recommendations from the Law Department to have been thoroughly vetted by the previous leadership of the SPD," she said in prepared remarks to the council. "But we, the Mayor’s office, have not been able to receive documentation of how, when, and who in the previous SPD leadership actually approved the disciplinary actions that Chief Bailey ultimately signed off on in these six cases." Kim said Murray's office will revisit the process with various stakeholders and the US Department of Justice, which pushed the city into a police-reform settlement in 2012 to eradicate patterns of police misconduct. The Community Police Commission will make recommendations on the process in March.

Not surprisingly, council members were alarmed that the chief had revisited cases they thought were resolved, and expressed concern about the police-accountability system's efficacy.

There are many, many questions outstanding: How many discipline cases have been downgraded without the public knowing about it; is there a statute of limitations; how does the chief find the legal authority to do this; why was the city's legal department not consulted in a particularly high-profile case? That last case was my case—a complaint I filed last summer—which had been reversed last week and then reversed again this week. (I also made these comments and asked these questions at the council hearing.)