LEVINSON Recently on the Seattle Channel.
  • LEVINSON Recently on the Seattle Channel.
Anne Levinson is a former municipal court judge who now serves as independent auditor of the Seattle Police Department's Office of Professional Accountability, which investigates misconduct cases and recommends officer discipline. After a recent scandal that stemmed from the new chief reversing several police misconduct verdicts, Levinson requested copious data from police officials in an effort to drill down on what went wrong.

The long and short of the situation: Shortly after Mayor Ed Murray appointed Harry Bailey as the department's interim chief, Bailey overturned seven verdicts against officers found guilty of misconduct. In some cases the chief said things that were untruthful, while the mayor backed him up, rescinded the verdict in one case, reinstated that finding after the public went nuts, and then provided unverifiable explanations for the situation. For example, the mayor and chief claimed the previous administration had approved expunging the verdicts, yet they had no records to prove it.

Levinson issued her report last night. I've uploaded the 16-page document. Despite the dry, disinterested parlance of a former judge who must remain neutral on these matters, the findings are damning.

Claims that the previous chief approved the settlements, claims that an officer couldn't be found guilty and given more training at the same time (weirdly, this case arises from a complaint that I filed), claims that the chief instigated training for an officer, claims that the public backlash was misguided, and many other issues are resoundingly crushed in Levinson's report. In fact, the previous chief tells Levinson he rejected the settlements, the department can find a cop guilty and train him at the same time, and the officer in question is actually the one who instigated his the training, not the current chief. (If this stuff seems arcane and bureaucratic, it is, but the contradictions raise serious questions about the current administration's accuracy and transparency. That's potentially concerning when the administration is under a federal court order to eradicate police misconduct, not cover it up.) Levinson also responds to the mayor's office's claim that people were wrong to be alarmed by the issues, explaining that the situation causes "diminishment in public trust and employee confidence in the fairness of the system" while creating "the impression that disciplinary decisions were being influenced by political considerations."

Here is an excerpt of the findings:

• With regard to who authorized the settlements, the former Interim Chief stated in an in-person interview with me and verified in writing that he did not authorize settlement of these cases. My review was not focused on this issue, since it was what the Mayor had already directed his consultant to address, so I did not seek other information on this point.

• In one of the six cases, the sustained finding was rescinded based on the rationale that had to be rescinded in order for training to be directed. There is no prohibition against requiring training along with discipline as part of a sustained finding, and therefore no need to rescind a sustained finding in order for training to occur.

• The “training” conducted in that case was actually self-initiated and completed by the officer soon after the incident, which occurred in July, 2013, several months prior to the case being settled and the sustained finding rescinded. It consisted of visits to roll calls and preceded by several months the later settlement of the case which removed the previous Chief’s finding of sustained.

• Although some argued that those who expressed concerns about these cases being settled were either ill-informed or wrongly motivated, there were legitimate public policy concerns regarding whether the cases should have been settled, including the rationale for the settlement; the nature of the misconduct; whether the original discipline was initially sufficient; the degree of change in disposition and discipline; the ramifications of the changes for future disciplinary decisions for that employee and other employees; the lack of transparency; the impact on public confidence in the accountability system; whether the actions were consistent with SPD’s stated values; and whether the process was well understood and viewed as having credibility by the public, policy-makers and participants.

• There were also legitimate public policy concerns about the Interim Chief then reinstating the findings and discipline for only one of the six cases, including diminishment in public trust and employee confidence in the fairness of the system; the impression that disciplinary decisions were being influenced by political considerations; and the concern that case outcomes could be changed as a result of the race or gender of the complainant, media attention or other factors that should not be allowed to impact disciplinary decisions.

Mayor Murray, and longtime political ally and family friend US Attorney Jenny Durkan in the Justice Department, a partner in the police reform effort, are doing their damnedest the last few days to blame SPD's reform problems on a previous chief and previous mayor. In the latest from a blizzard of statements, Murray responded to Levinson's report by saying this: "As U.S. District Judge Robart identified at yesterday’s status conference, it is critically important for us to look ahead and move forward beyond the most recent disciplinary cases that have caused such confusion, and instead focus on the broader systemic changes we need to make in the OPA process to instill the greatest public trust and accountability in that process.”

In other words: There's nothing to see here, let's just move on.

Anytime anyone tells you to look away, especially about the cops, look closer. We should move forward and rightly pin blame on past officials who got us here, but Murray's chosen chief is a crony—and former vice president—of the right-wing police union that requested every one of these settlements and sued to block the reform plan. It's the Murray administration that put Bailey in power, defended Bailey's decisions and statements, and pushed the SPD's actual reformers into retirement. Don't buy this message that everything is peachy at the SPD now that Murray's in charge. The fundamental problem—the thing that got our police department into a federal consent decree in the first place—was a problem with police misconduct.

And now, under Murray, the message being sent to the public and bad cops is that misconduct will be exonerated by political forces—they will sweep it under the rug even when the ugly truth is out on the carpet. That ain't reform. That's regression.