This week, I wrote about how two computer programmers have essentially created their own civilian police-oversight board. Through public records requests, Eric Rachner and Phil Mocek have obtained hundreds of records, videos, and 911 calls related to the Seattle Police Department’s internal investigations of officer misconduct between 2010 and 2013. Rachner and Mocek have uncovered data that they believe proves that Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) has essentially been a toothless agency, at least during that period, systematically failing to hold officers accountable.
Footage provided to The Stranger by the Center for Open Policing—the nonprofit formed by Rachner and Mocek—shows that in one instance, two officers crassly derided black people as they drove to South Seattle to respond to a disturbance call. The OPA doesn't appear to have done anything about it.
On January 9, 2010, Officers Larry Longley and Jeffery C. Thompson responded to a disturbance call in South Park, where black youths had reportedly grabbed shovels and engaged in a fight. Footage of the officers’ actions were captured in dashcam video.
Some of the audio is hard to make out because of their patrol car's wailing sirens, and it isn’t clear which one of them is saying what. But here's what their exchange sounds like:
“Can't we all get along? Maybe they thought they were picking up shovels, but they were picking up hos!"
"Oh! No you didn't!"
"I tell ya—one [inaudible] and they're all out."
"When that crack buzz wears off, you gotta wake up and hit it again."
"When we get there we'll find out the baby's momma has been cheatin' on the husband. She's already got four different baby daddies, and she's thirteen."
The exchange starts at roughly the 30 second mark:
To better hear what the police officers are saying, we've pulled this section and isolated the right channel of the audio:
The dashcam video was part of an OPA investigation into allegations by one of the arrestees, Julian Harris, that Officer Longley beat him and used excessive force. The incident takes place off camera. During the altercation, the officers said, they found marijuana and PCP in his pockets.
In his complaint and testimony to OPA, Harris, an African-American who was 19 years old at the time, said of Longley, “The police like him, don’t like us.”
Harris' mother said Longley is one of the officers who “harass[es] her and her kids.” In a police report, she alleged that this harassment was because they are black.
The OPA flatly rejected the allegations against Longley. It did not, as far as we know, take any action against Longley and Thompson, and both officers remain on the police force, according to SPD.
In an email, SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb wrote, "This incident occurred over 5 years ago and was investigated by OPA and reviewed by the OPA Auditor and OPA review board. We’ve instituted many reforms since then. Just last year we launched our new Bias-Free Policing and Use of Force policies, plus every officer attended Bias-Free Policing training."
In the past year, Chief Kathleen O’Toole has suspended officers for similar kinds of comments after they were unearthed by The Stranger. Unlike officers Christopher Hall, Cynthia Whitlatch, and Sam Byrd, however, Longley and Thompson made their remarks while on duty, not on social media.
In a separate incident, on December 29, 2010, Longley repeatedly punched Isaac Ocak in the face as Thompson assisted in holding him down. Ocak was accused of assaulting the police officers, but he sued and won a settlement. He said he was saved from a felony conviction by dashcam video which showed what happened.
“You see this shit,” said Rachner, “and you’re like, ‘Where was the goddamn OPA?’”
The president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild and the Office of Professional Accountability did not respond to requests for comment.
UPDATE: One of the officers says, "I got my flashlight on my hip and it's at just about the right angle to break a rib if we get in an accident," which means he was not joking about beating people up.