Last week, the Seattle police union’s tentative collective bargaining agreement showed that the City plans to increase pay by 23% for the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) officers and sergeants. The contract promised no substantial changes to accountability measures for the police department. In fact, rather than adding more accountability measures for officers, the City could even move backwards. 

For instance, to help with morale, Chief of Police Adrian Diaz has started pushing for the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) to allow SPD to investigate its own officers internally on minor complaints through “Supervisor Actions.” The OPA already allows SPD to investigate some policy violations, such as when a cop drove up to 54 miles per hour to a call, hitting speeds the OPA called “likely unreasonable.” We know very little about how the department handled that situation because SPD does not post details about supervisor actions publicly, resulting in less transparent accountability. 

Diaz pitched the idea in March, and no one on the city council raised any concerns. But why would they? The council spends public safety committee meetings fawning over the police department, all while SPD officers have thrown handcuffed suspects to the ground and bullied bus drivers, among other things.

Speaking of bad apples, let’s take a closer look at some of the officers who could reap buckets of back pay under the City’s new tentative agreement. 

Patrolling an Ex

Case #2021OPA-0366

For about two years, the OPA has investigated Officer Andrew Swartz’s use of criminal databases to allegedly harass and stalk his ex-girlfriend in 2021. When the OPA interviewed Swartz, he acknowledged that he followed his ex-girlfriend, took photos of her car, and tried to expose the fact that she was having an affair with a married man. He also admitted to using criminal justice databases to run the name of the married man, but he justified it by telling investigators that he wanted to know where the man’s wife lived in order to tell her about the affair. 

Swartz’s ex-girlfriend sought multiple protection orders against him, and the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office investigated him on charges of stalking. His friend wrote a declaration of support on the woman’s behalf in one of the order of protection cases, saying that “as a police officer” Swartz should understand how his actions “are scary and terrorizing” to the woman and her family. After the first protection order expired, Swartz continued to track his ex-girlfriend by watching the parking lot of her gym.

The OPA recommended that Chief Diaz should either suspend Swartz without pay or terminate him over his policy violations. Diaz chose to fire him after about two years on administrative leave. SPD had previously suspended him in 2019 for failing to “sufficiently investigate and document a domestic violence assault.” He first joined SPD in 2015.

In 2021, Swartz made about $126,090, including overtime and a premium for wearing a body camera. He went on paid leave in August 2021. While on administrative leave he earned roughly a quarter of a million dollars under the new tentative agreement.

Accidental Tasing

Case #2023OPA-0047

On January 15, 2023, West Precinct Officer Vontrail Lee responded to a call about a man hiding in bushes and eating leaves on private property, according to an OPA report. The person living on the property called the police. Lee arrived and told the leaf-eater he needed to leave. The guy took out his phone as if filming Lee and then argued about whether the cop could tell him what to do. Then he started asking if Lee planned to hit him with the baton Lee was holding. During the conversation, the man called Lee, who is Black, the N-word three times. 

From the OPA investigative report, which refers to the man in the bushes as “The Complainant” and Lee as “NE.”

Lee returned to his patrol vehicle, left the door open, and told the man not to approach him. Lee’s body-worn video footage showed the man walking up to the car saying, “What am I doing wrong? Are you scared you should be a cop?” Lee aimed a TASER at the unarmed man, who stepped back as Lee said, “This is a TASER, you come near me, this is what…” Lee then triggered his TASER. One of the prongs struck the man in the left shoulder. TASER data shows Lee held the trigger for about four seconds. 

When a sergeant arrived about 10 minutes later, Lee said he used his TASER by accident, and he meant only to spark it as a warning, but he “claimed his finger slipped to the trigger,” according to the OPA report. When the Seattle Fire Department arrived, they noted that the man appeared to have experienced a “behavioral/psychiatric episode.”

In the investigator's report, OPA noted that SPD officers may not use force in retaliation. Before Lee used his TASER, the man repeatedly approached him and used a racial slur, which suggested Lee might have acted in “possible retaliation,” OPA said. However, only Lee knew his intent, the OPA said. The TASER’s “spark” and “shoot” buttons are close together, and other officers have claimed to accidentally shoot when they meant to spark, according to the OPA report. The agency sustained no policy violations in this case. Investigators said their evidence was inconclusive on whether Lee used his TASER in an unprofessional manner and whether he failed to deescalate the situation before using force. 

Since 2019 OPA has noted 12 complaints against Lee. In 2021, SPD reprimanded Lee in writing after he told a suicidal person who had agreed to go to the hospital that, “I mean, once you get out [from the hospital] you can figure out a way, if you really want to die you can figure that out on your own. Just don’t tell anybody. Not teaching you how to commit suicide but that’s just a way to do that.” 

In 2022, Lee took home $220,700 between his base pay and overtime. From 2019 to 2021, Lee has earned $673,225 dollars working for SPD. That does not include the back pay the City could owe Lee under the new SPOG contract.

Hornets Resist Arrest

Case #2023OPA-0449

On August 13, 2023, Officer Seth Wagner responded to a call about a man allegedly waving a knife at passing cars, blocking traffic, and damaging vehicles. When Wagner and another officer approached the man, he ran. Wagner and the other officer chased him over a guardrail through dense bushes, cornered him, and then struggled to pin him to the ground. In the process, the two disturbed a hornet nest, according to the OPA report.

From the OPA investigative report, which refers to Wagner as ‘NE#1,’ and refers to the man officers went to arrest as ‘the Complainant.’

The man passed out, possibly as a result of his interaction with police. Wagner reported 50 bee stings covering his own body, five stitches, and lots of cuts and bruises.

The man later complained that SPD officers had “beat the shit out of me. Like, like worse than an animal.” Wagner told OPA investigators that before backup officers arrived he’d struggled to keep the man pinned to the ground and had to punch him in the head and chest two to three times. Wagner claimed the man put him in a headlock. When Wagner freed himself, the man tried to run, but Wagner grabbed him and pulled him to the ground. While the cop had the man on his back, he said the man continued to resist, and so he had to punch the man in the face “five to ten times.” The OPA ruled Wagner’s use-of-force lawful and proper. 

In the past, OPA has flagged instances of cops punching suspects multiple times in a row as excessive uses of force. 

In 2022, Wagner earned $128,147. Since 2019, he’s earned about $330,270 in total salary, including overtime, and not including back pay that would be owed under the tentative agreement.

Anyone can report a cop for bad behavior or for bad driving by going to the OPA’s website. If you do file a complaint and want us to track it, then let me know your complaint number and we’ll add it to our list of possible future Bad Apples.