The Community Police Commission provides civilian oversight over the Seattle Police Department.
The Community Police Commission provides civilian oversight for the Seattle Police Department. Lester Black

A former co-chair of the city’s Community Police Commission (CPC) is claiming that she felt harassed and attacked by Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office when the mayor recently attempted to push her off the powerful community oversight board.

The City Council stepped in and re-nominated the co-chair, Emma Catague, keeping her on the oversight board, but not before Durkan’s actions alarmed the CPC's current chairs.

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“We are pleased that the Seattle City Council has announced its intent to appoint Catague back onto the commission in the coming weeks," the board’s three co-chairs said in a statement to The Stranger. "However, the impact of this on the CPC’s independence should not be taken lightly."

Durkan’s office said that the matter was a miscommunication and that they did not realize Catague wanted to stay on the board.

Catague has been on the commission since former Mayor Ed Murray appointed her in 2017. During her time on the board, the CPC has been vocally critical of the mayor’s contract with the city’s largest police union, which Catague and others said was too lenient when it came to the appeals process for disciplined officers (a federal judge later ruled in May of 2019 that the city was out of compliance with court-ordered police reforms specifically because of Durkan’s union deal).

Catague had told the CPC that she wanted to be reappointed after her term ended in December. But in January, Durkan tried to kick Catague off the board through a somewhat backhanded maneuver: she reappointed a different CPC commissioner, Colleen Echohawk, to Catague’s seat number, which pushed Catague off the oversight board when Echohawk was reappointed on Feb. 11.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold then stepped in and used one of the council’s CPC seats to re-nominate Catague to the council. Her nomination will be considered at tomorrow’s Public Service Committee hearing.

The current chairs of the CPC—Rev. Harriett Walden, Prachi Dave, and Rev. Aaron Williams—said a statement that there was “no conceivable reason” for putting Echohawk in Catague’s position. Catague told The Stranger that she thought Durkan used the tactic to try to remove her from the CPC as soon as possible.

“I have been singled out. They can’t wait until the time to replace me, so they figured out how to replace me with an existing commissioner, that’s how I feel about it,” Catague said. “I feel like I was being attacked and being harassed.”

Stephanie Formas, Durkan’s chief of staff, said the mayor's office followed normal procedure with Echohawk's appointment and said that the mayor thought Catague wanted off the CPC.

“It was the Mayor's Office understanding that Ms. Catague was traveling in 2020, so would not be able to attend many meetings,” Formas said in an e-mail. “[Mayor Durkan] has immense respect for her service to the community, commitment to equity and justice and for her long service to the CPC. It is unfortunate if there was any miscommunication about Ms. Catague’s desire to continue, but fortunately a slot is open so she will continue serving the community.”

Despite the mayor's claim, it appears that the mayor’s office was told in December, a month before they tried to remove Catague from the board, that Catague want to be reappointed. On Dec. 12 CPC Executive Director Bessie Scott told Kyla Blair, a former Durkan aide, that Catague wanted to stay on the commission.

"Emma [Catague] would like to be reappointed. Is your office planning to reappoint her? Let me know your thoughts” Scott said in the e-mail, which the CPC shared with The Stranger.

Formas declined to comment on the e-mail but said that Deputy Mayor Shefali Ranganathan had spoken with Catague by phone on Jan. 14 and during that call the deputy mayor “did not hear any concerns or hear that Ms. Catague was interested in being reappointed.”

Catague characterized that call differently, saying that Ranganathan made it clear to Catague during the call that she would not be reappointed to the commission.

“Shefali basically said, ‘Emma we thank you for everything you have done, you have done such a good job,’ and then she said, ‘unfortunately the mayor is not going to reappoint you,’” Catague said.

Catague said she told the deputy mayor that she was not surprised by Durkan’s action given how critical she had been of the mayor but asked that they replace her with someone else from the community she represents. Catague has spent more than 30 years advocating for Filipino and other Asian Pacific Islander issues and is the co-founder of API Chaya, a non-profit that works to end human trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual assault in the Asian and Pacific Islander communities.

Catague said she thought she fell out of favor with Durkan after she was critical of the mayor's deal with the city’s largest police union.

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“I think they feel like I am very outspoken, I’m not afraid to say the right thing if I feel that way,” Catague said.

Herbold confirmed to The Stranger that she stepped in after she saw that Durkan had declined to reappoint Catague.

“I offered to re-appoint Emma [Catague] after the Mayor’s Office declined to do so,” Herbold said in an e-mail. “She’s a member in good standing and has done an amazing job representing her community on many issues – include criminal justice reform. The CPC is an appointment that requires one to give a lot of their time; she exceeds the mark there, too.”