Seattle police officers attend a bias-free policing training session in 2014
Seattle police officers attend a bias-free policing training session in 2014.

It happened again, folks. Something fucked up happened, a lot of Seattle cops—including high-ranking officers—knew about it, and nobody reported it to the department's misconduct investigators. Only after it was exposed in the press did Chief Kathleen O'Toole refer the case to the Office of Professional Accountability for an inquiry.

That's the sequence of events that played out after Officer Cynthia Whitlatch's arrest of William Wingate, a 70-year-black man, as he walked down the street last year using a golf club as a cane. This time, it's troubling remarks in May during a mandatory de-escalation training session, filmed by New York Times. Watch:

One officer says, arguing with the trainer, "I pulled my gun out and stuck it right in his nose, and I go, 'Show me your hands, now!' He showed me his hands. I just de-escalated him from doing something."

Another officer argues that the "entire training, with all due respect, is bending the language." The trainer appears overwhelmed by the criticism. "I agree. I agree. Don’t shoot the messenger," he said. "This is what the DOJ is saying, not me."

In the room during this training was the SPD's second highest-ranking official, Deputy Chief Carmen Best, according to Ron Smith, President of the Seattle Police Officers' Guild. Sergeant Sean Whitcomb, the head of the SPD's Public Affairs Unit, was seated near the front.

But it wasn't until a week ago, June 29, that O'Toole said she became aware of the video and referred it to the OPA for investigation. The inquiry will focus on the officer's account of sticking a gun in someone's face—that's the kind of use of force that is supposed to be reported—and whether the trainer's comments were proper and professional.

Federal judge James Robart, who is the final decider of whether the SPD has met the Department of Justice's reform requirements, recently referred to the Times article that accompanied the video as evidence that the department is making great, unexpectedly fast progress. "If thirty five months ago," he said Monday "any of you had stood up and said, 'Judge, in less than three years, the New York Times is going to write an article discussing the Seattle Police Department as a national model on how to do things, I suspect we would have thought, 'That's just not going to happen.' It has happened."

Indeed. It has happened. But the primary source evidence from the paper's coverage, I would argue, shows how hollow some of that progress might be.

"It's one class," responds SPOG's Smith, who said he hasn't attended the training yet. "When I go in on the 30th of this month, I hope I don't hear that kind of bitchin' and moanin'.

Could you get away with that kind of bitchin' and moanin' at your job?

The SPD declined to answer questions about the training session, citing the ongoing OPA investigation.