For my final column of 2023, I picked bad apple cases that the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) closed and published throughout this year, rather than the most recent cases. Kinda like Seattle’s police misconduct wrapped! And what a year for the Seattle Police Department, even aside from the OPA investigations. Barely a month into 2023, Seattle Police Officer Kevin Dave hit and killed 23-year-old college student Jaahnavi Kandula while driving nearly three times the posted speed limit. Kandula’s death led to worldwide outrage after a video surfaced of Seattle police union vice president Officer Daniel Auderer cackling and mocking Kandula on the night of her death. SPD took another hit in September when The Stranger published audio of Officer Burton Hill hurling a racial slur at his elderly Chinese neighbor. SPD faced broader criticism about racism within the department after prominent Black SPD detective Denise “Cookie” Bouldin filed a discrimination lawsuit in November claiming she’d endured decades of racial and gender bias while working for SPD. Just cop things!

The year of scandals coincided with the City and SPD attempting to persuade federal judge James Robart to declare SPD a model of police reform and finally lift the federal consent decree after more than a decade. Robart refused to fully remove federal oversight, because he still thinks the City systemically sucks at holding cruddy cops accountable. He pointed out he needed to wait until he saw the new Seattle police union contract, which currently hamstrings the City’s police oversight agency, the OPA, from effectively disciplining cops who repeatedly violate policy, or those with histories of violent behavior, and these cops sometimes remain with the department—even rising to become supervisors.

Four Cops Bully a 13-Year-Old

Case #2022OPA-0413

In November 2022, four South Precinct cops tried to intimidate a 13-year-old into confessing to burglary, despite witnesses describing the suspect in the case as a man in his thirties. Sgt. Nathan Patterson, Officer Mark Rawlins, Officer Cody Alidon, and trainee Officer Ricardo Chargualaf, responded to a call about someone burglarizing the same home for the second time in about two weeks. During the first reported burglary, the caller said someone had broken in and stolen about $5,000. The man’s son described the suspect as a 35-year-old Black man and mentioned seeing the suspect run into a nearby encampment. The man called the police and said the suspect had come back. However, when officers arrived they found the man had detained a 13-year-old classmate of his son. The man said he’d caught the 13-year-old boy trying to open the door to the man’s house. Neither the caller nor the officers acknowledged the significant age gap between the boy and the suspect mentioned in the original report.

Patterson, a cop with a long history of violence resulting in costly lawsuits against the City, asked the 13-year-old if he had any weapons. The child said, “No, I’m a kid!” Patterson patted him down anyway. The 13-year-old said he wanted to go home and that he lived just up the street. Instead, over the next 30 minutes, the four officers failed to read the young teen his rights before interrogating him and they threatened to take the boy to jail if he didn’t admit to stealing the money. The 13-year-old denied burglarizing the house and said he’d only come that afternoon to check on his classmate, who hadn’t shown up for school that day. The cops eventually released the kid after he gave them his mom’s contact information. One of the boy’s parents filed a complaint with OPA.

OPA investigators pointed out that if the officers had done “a simple search” they might have noticed the suspect’s age and avoided putting the child through “a terrifying experience.” The OPA sustained the complaints against Patterson, Rawlins, and Alidon for failing to Mirandize the boy before questioning him. SPD Chief of Police Adrian Diaz issued an oral reprimand for their actions, one of the lower forms of discipline. OPA chose not to sustain a complaint against Chargualaf, because he had just two weeks of patrol experience at the time. However, investigators noted that Chargualaf pulled the police report from the first burglary, and still failed to tell the other officers that the report described a suspect much older than the boy, an oversight the OPA called “inexplicable.” Chargualaf no longer works for SPD. However, Patterson, the supervisor on scene, remains a sergeant with SPD.

Pursuit of Pursuits

Case #2023OPA-0015 

The OPA published multiple cases involving officers using their patrol vehicles to chase people in ways that went against SPD’s vehicle pursuit policy. First, SPD Officer Ilya Ivanov, who roped multiple officers into a high-speed chase based on a hunch that turned out to be incorrect. In December 2022, Ivanov had responded to a drive-by shooting involving a GMC Yukon, which police found abandoned. As cops searched for the suspect, Ivanov saw a parked silver Volvo and said he thought he saw a movement that looked like the driver picked someone up, so he chased the SUV. Ivanov drew in two other police patrol vehicles saying over the radio that, “we believe” the Volvo driver had a connection to the drive-by shooting, indicating multiple cops supported Ivanov’s theory.

The chase ended with the Volvo crashing. Neither of the people in the car had any connection to the shooting. The two people told officers they had run out of fear. Investigators for the OPA concluded Ivanov misled the other officers when he said “we believe” when talking about something only he reported seeing. However, investigators also said the heightened standard of proof needed for the OPA to conclude an officer lied meant they could not find that Ivanov acted with deceit. The OPA recommended Diaz discipline Ivanov with a one- to three-day suspension. Diaz imposed a two-day suspension. 

SPD previously issued Ivanov with a written reprimand in 2021 for violating SPD pursuit policies when he failed to end a high-speed pursuit. In that chase, Ivanov drove at speeds of more than 100 miles per hour at times, ran red lights, and failed to provide information that might have led a supervisor to end the pursuit, according to the OPA report. The chase ended in a crash that injured the suspect as well as two bystanders. OPA noted that even before that chase, Ivanov’s superiors had previously counseled him in another OPA case regarding his failure to follow SPD pursuit policies.

Pedestrians Scatter

Case #2023OPA-0056

In a different pursuit case from September 2022, Officer Caleb Howard tried to pull over a car stolen in an armed robbery. During the chase, the driver hit another car and Howard continued to pursue, despite an order from supervisors to stop. At one point, after Howard’s supervisor told him to end the pursuit, Howard drove through a crosswalk, almost hitting two pedestrians as they ran to avoid Howard’s patrol car. OPA investigators noted that when Howard went through the crosswalk he had his emergency lights on, but early in the report OPA said Howard had turned off his siren. While OPA recommended a one- to three-day suspension for Howard, Diaz only issued him a written reprimand.

Cop watchers may remember Howard from an OPA case back in 2018, when he allegedly assaulted another SPD employee and the employee’s son while off-duty at a party. News reports at the time said that while wrestling with the 17-year-old boy, Howard aggressively pressed the boy’s face into a concrete patio. The other SPD employee tried to pull Howard off his son, and Howard punched the man, according to the OPA report. Howard then allegedly strangled the boy. At the same party, the boy’s sister said that Howard made sexually suggestive comments to her and plied her with alcohol. SPD suspended Howard for 30 days without pay as a result of his behavior, and prosecutors ultimately agreed to a dispositional continuance for Howard, promising to dismiss charges if Howard went two years without another arrest.

Domestic Violence at a Party

Case #2020OPA-0504

On August 17, 2020, a Snohomish County Sheriff’s deputy arrested Seattle Police Officer Rosa Ojeda-Lopez for fourth-degree domestic violence assault after multiple witnesses reported seeing Ojeda-Lopez jump on her partner, straddling them as they laid on the ground, before allegedly punching them repeatedly in the face and torso, according to the OPA report. Ojeda-Lopez’s girlfriend refused to provide a written statement or cooperate with the investigation and prosecutors declined to file charges against Ojeda-Lopez. However, after an almost two-year investigation, during which Ojeda-Lopez remained on paid leave, the OPA recommended Diaz fire Ojeda-Lopez in December 2022.

Cop Caught in Sex Sting

Case #2022OPA-0101

In December 2021, as part of a King County Sheriff’s Office undercover human trafficking operation, a detective posing as an underage sex worker exchanged several messages with Seattle Police Officer Cleades W. Robinson, according to the OPA report. Robinson requested a “QV” which detectives noted as slang for “quick visit,” and allegedly negotiated a price for sex with the undercover detectives. After the detective hinted at being underage, Robinson said “I don’t think I can mess with under 18,” but then later asked, “Where y’all at?” However, at some point in the conversation, Robinson said he suspected a setup and stopped texting with the undercover detective. Investigators still searched Robinson’s phone records and found records of Robinson allegedly communicating with other escort services. The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office declined to pursue the case because they doubted they could prove a felony case. Investigators forwarded the case to the OPA, which opened an investigation into possible SPD policy violations by Robinson.

Transcript: Officer Robinson (Suspect) shows such chivalry as he says he doesn’t think he can “mess with under 18” while texting an undercover detective with the King County Sheriff’s Office. OPA

When OPA investigators spoke to Robinson, he acknowledged texting with the detectives, but said he never planned to solicit sex, rather his curiosity had simply gotten the better of him and he just wanted to know “what was going on” with the ad, a claim the OPA investigator called “preposterous.” Investigators found Robinson violated the law by soliciting the services of sex workers, and acted unprofessionally. Robinson chose to resign from SPD rather than be fired.