Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz must soon decide how to discipline Seattle Police Officer Burton Hill after the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) found that Hill violated the department’s bias and professionalism policies when he hurled racist and sexist slurs at his Chinese-American neighbor in August 2022. In the past, officers who made racist comments, even off-duty, have faced severe discipline, including termination.

OPA opened the investigation into Hill in September 2023 after a Chinese social services organization filed a complaint on behalf of Hill’s neighbor, Zhen Jin. The complaint said that on August 29, 2022, Hill and his partner Agnes Miggins initiated an argument with Jin, during which Hill used a racial slur for East Asians, calling Jin a “dumb fucking ch***” as well as referring to her by a sexist term for women, calling her a c***. Hill also told Jin, “You’re going to jail.” The Chinese Information and Services Center (CISC) provided the OPA with a recording of the encounter and said Jin feared for her safety. 

After the Stranger published the recording, Diaz released a statement saying that the department had placed Hill on administrative leave while the OPA investigated. He also asked staff to review Hill's arrest and investigation history. 

The recording captured a portion of what court records describe as an ongoing campaign by Hill, who also works as a realtor, and Miggins, to drive Jin out of the Kenmore condominiums where they all live. Hill and Miggins’s condo shares a covered balcony entrance and stairway with Jin, and the two condo doors open a few feet away from one another. OPA records also show that Miggins is president of the condo’s homeowners association. Jin, who works as a school bus driver, lives in the condo with her blind, elderly Palestinian-American uncle. Jin and her uncle speak only limited English.

OPA Investigates

About three months after the OPA opened its investigation into Hill, the OPA investigator, Seattle Police Sgt. Tracy Beemster, interviewed Hill about his possible violations of the department’s policies against bias policing, unprofessional behavior, and use of law enforcement authority for personal gain. Beemster played the audio from the night in August 2022 and Hill acknowledged it sounded like his voice on the recording. The recording captured Hill and Miggins arguing with Jin and her uncle for about 20 minutes. During the argument, Jin’s uncle said he knew Hill worked as a police officer. 

Hill said that on the evening of the recording, he and Miggins had come home from Leavenworth and found their dog chewing on a bone. Miggins went to confront Jin, believing Jin left out the bone. Hill said he heard pounding and screaming and went out to calm things down but “lost my cool.”

“But there’s no way anybody can keep their cool in that situation, you know,” Hill said.

Hill said he’d been drinking heavily that night and couldn’t remember “90%” of the interaction, including calling Jin a racial slur. He denied that the comment had anything to do with Jin’s race, calling it an “excited utterance” that came out because he was angry. He denied being racist, and said, “I haven't talked to my brother for 10 years because he is a racist.” Beemster asked Hill if he believed he violated SPD’s policy against officers expressing, “any prejudice or derogatory comments concerning discernible personal characteristics.” Hill acknowledged violating the policy.

When Beemster confronted Hill about his calling Jin a sexist slur, Hill again denied that he used the term in a sexist manner, saying, “If it was a man, I could have used that same language.” He claimed he picked up the term while living in Australia. He acknowledged he’d used it to hurt Jin’s feelings.

Aside from the slurs, Beemster pointed out that Hill had used profanity throughout the interaction, using “fuck” or “fucking” about 16 times, and “shit” three times. SPD policy says that even off-duty SPD officers “may not engage in behavior that undermines public trust” in SPD. Hill denied violating SPD’s professionalism policies by swearing. A representative from the Seattle Police Officers Guild objected to the questions about Hill’s swearing and accused the OPA of trying to restrict Hill’s freedom of speech. Beemster said, “OPA is not doing that but thank you for bringing that up.”

Beemster shares examples of Hill's swearing during the recording, highlighting how he used profanity against Jin. OPA investigation summary report

Beemster also mentioned that Hill told Jin, “You’re going to jail,” and brought up jail multiple times. Hill said this while making unfounded accusations that Jin had stolen money from her uncle and left out bones for Hill and Miggins’s dog. Beemster said that Hill threatening Jin with jail, maybe to the point where she’d sell her condo and move out of the complex, could be seen as him using his position for personal gain, another policy violation. Hill asserted that he genuinely believed Jin could go to jail for, as Beemster put it, “doing something with the condo sale and dropping bones off that could be consumed by dogs.”

Beemster confirms Hill's claim that he thought he was just stating a fact about how Jin could face jail time. OPA transcript of Hill interview

At the end of the interview, Beemster asked Hill if he had anything else to add. Hill said, “The worst part for me about this whole thing—other than being labeled a racist, which is probably the worst thing other than a pedophile you can be labeled as—is I look at my fiancée and my dog differently. I resent them both because they put me in this position. And it sucks.”

The OPA complaint tracker shows that investigators sustained policy violations against Hill for bias-based policing and professionalism, and on the allegation that Hill used his authority for personal gain, the OPA said the evidence was inconclusive. 

OPA’s case summary did not include OPA’s disciplinary recommendations for Hill. The OPA usually gives Diaz a disciplinary range, and according to the timelines set out by the SPOG contract, Diaz must decide on Hill’s discipline as soon as this week.