If veteran Seattle police officer Mark Henry had not recently resigned, Chief Kathleen O'Toole would have fired him, according to a disciplinary report obtained by The Stranger. The chief of police came to the decision, the records show, after the department's civilian-led accountability arm found that Officer Henry was "dishonest" and had abused his position of authority to make advances toward a woman who reported a crime.
The sequence of events leading up to Officer Henry's departure, after 28 years on the police force, represent an example of the department's often-criticized accountability system actually working quite well.
Henry worked in the West Precinct and city records show he was paid a salary of $109,290 in 2011.
Questions about his conduct first arose in March, when the woman, a former Tacoma police officer whose first initial is K., first complained to the SPD's Office of Professional Accountability about the lack of patrols in her area. (March happens to be the same month that O'Toole fired another officer for sending propositional texts to three women he encountered on the job.)
In her initial e-mail to the OPA, K. said her car had just been broken into and groused about crime levels in Magnolia. She said she was particularly upset because in conversations, officers had told her they "park and hide... some even admitted sleeping on the job in various places around the neighborhood."
"Perhaps they should actually retire," she wrote.
When OPA investigator Nathan Upton called K. to learn more, she told him about her specific interaction with Officer Henry. She said the officer told her he sometimes slept on the job under the Magnolia Bridge. That admission allegedly came in a conversation that happened after Officer Henry texted K.'s personal cell phone asking her out to coffee—a few hours after taking K.'s report about recent crimes in the neighborhood on February 2, 2015.
Later, K. came to the OPA office for an in-person interview with Upton. She shared the dozens of text messages she'd exchanged with Officer Henry and recounted her interactions with him.
"Part of me was kind of interested, because it’s flattering to be asked out, absolutely," she said, according to an interview transcript. "And... but at the same time, I was a little uncomfortable just because I had worked in law enforcement for twelve years and don’t have a, nothing personal, an overall favorable opinion of officers when it comes to relationships."
She said she went to get coffee and see the movie American Sniper with Henry, but chose not pursue a relationship with him.
When questioned about this by the OPA, Officer Henry claimed that when he asked K. out for coffee—his initial text message reads, "Maybe next time you can just go to coffee with me where it's not wet and crime ridden?? Just in case you would like that"—it was really a "general invitation to join him and others for coffee to talk about neighborhood issues."
"In his second interview," according to the OPA, "Henry was confronted with the text message record... and had no effective response."
The interview recording and transcript shows that Officer Henry grew nervous after being confronted with the texts:
I mean I don’t honestly know. I can’t, once again, that’s, in my mind, reading over the manual numerous times and all this stuff, I mean I don’t know. I’ve heard numerous times you don’t ask out victims, you don’t ask out DV [domestic violence] victims at any time, you don’t do a lot of stuff. But when a normal citizen in a neighborhood comes up to you and talks to you and says they wanna meet you and everything else, I didn’t think I was using my position for anything other than to, you know, that’s what I said last, last interview, I know tons of people in this exact same way... I have a lot of witnesses to my character that definitely, if they knew what was going on here, 'cause I can’t tell them, they know something’s going on, they would be here meeting with the Chief or whatever, in a heartbeat, 'cause I’m not, this is not me. I mean I don’t go around...and maybe I’m saying too much, well, I don’t know, but...
In the end, OPA Director Pierce Murphy concluded that Offcier Henry violated several department policies, including policies on honesty and professionalism, a requirement that police record their work using their in-car cameras, and the prohibition on using their positions for personal gain.
Murphy told me that giving the employee the opportunity to tell the truth is a "standard investigative best practice... Then if an employee doesn't tell the truth, that's on them."
The investigation was inconclusive on whether Officer Henry had been sleeping in his car. The OPA examined records of his patrol car's movement in February 2015 and found he "routinely spent extended periods of time in the early morning hours sitting in parking lots in his district." But Officer Henry denied sleeping on duty and claimed he used the time to review training materials. Murphy said there's no indication that sleeping in cars is a widespread practice.
The records also show that Officer Walt Hayden, representing the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), sat in on Officer Henry's interview with the OPA and tried to cast aspersions on the woman who made the complaint:
She had sour grapes over a number of people who made sure she didn’t get on this police department. She went to Tacoma. She was at least from what I know, fired from there for being dishonest. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but just the mere fact that, you know, Officer Henry cut off—he heard some of these stories—and he had no further contact with her after he had this lunch date with her, and I’m assuming that’s why she filed this complaint, because she’s vindictive.
In fact, K. hadn't mentioned Officer Henry at all in her initial complaint about the lack of patrols in Magnolia.
In a November letter to Officer Henry recounting the OPA's findings, O'Toole said if he hadn't retired during the investigation, his job "would have been terminated for the reasons set forth above."
Officer Henry retired on August 31, 2015. A police spokesperson said he did not know how to reach the retired officer for comment. SPOG did not respond to a request for a comment, and other attempts to find a phone number for Henry were unsuccessful. K. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Prosecutors are notified whenever an officer is found to be dishonest. But it's beyond the purview of the OPA to look through Officer Henry's past police work and check for signs of dishonesty in police reports or past testimony, according to Murphy. Is there any agency that will look into that? "There really isn't," said Murphy.
The OPA records related to this case were obtained through a public records request by accountability activist Michael O'Dell and shared with The Stranger.
This post has been updated.