Yesterday, Seattle Police Department chief Jim Pugel sent an e-mail to all his police officers, and posted the identical statement on the SPD Blotter, about my story on misconduct by Seattle cops and King County Sheriff's deputies. I haven't had a chance to write about it until now—who knew filing official complaints, testifying in recorded affidavits, and talking to lawyers takes so freakin' long? No wonder most people never do it. I'm working on a longer story about the complaint process. But for now, here's Chief Pugel's statement:
I am aware of the article by Mr. Holden in the Stranger Slog documenting the allegation of rudeness by one of my police officers.
Once we learned of the incident the department immediately referred the complaint to the Office of Professional Accountability. I have discussed it with OPA Director Pierce Murphy.
While I cannot comment on the specific complaint, the allegation, if true, does not match what the department teaches in our LEED (Listen and Explain with Empathy and Dignity) training, nor with the four cornerstones of my administration which are ‘Excellence, Justice, Humility and Harm Reduction’.
I have known Mr. Holden personally for many years, have regular communications with him and have assured him that we will get to the truth.
Pugel is a good guy, and a solid chief, and I appreciate the department is conducting this investigation. But he's missing a key point: I'm not alleging that a Seattle police officer was rude to me. Rudeness would be a cop telling me to fuck off. Rudeness is mocking my questions. Rudeness is saying my momma's so dumb she stared at a box of juice because it said "concentrate."
I'm alleging something more serious. Responding to a simple question about who's in charge, Officer John Marion escalated a normal interaction by asking where I worked, requesting a business card, and then, with what I believe was malicious intent, repeatedly threatening to come "bother" me at my office. That's harassment. That's a deliberate attempt at intimidation.
- Officer John Marion threatened to come "bother" me at work.
But it's not clear that Officer Marion's behavior qualifies as anything more than rudeness under SPD's policies. Pierce Murphy, director of the Office of Professional Accountability, who is in charge of all internal police investigations, called me yesterday to talk about the incident. He acknowledged that my complaint was about Officer Marion threatening "to harass you at your place of work, not that he was being a jerk." But the question for him isn't whether that was a violation of Washington State law or the city's criminal code; it's whether Marion violated something specific in SPD's own policy and procedure manual. Murphy isn't certain a relevant policy exists. After only two months on the job, Murphy said, "I don’t claim to know the SPD policy manual in and out yet." I asked him what happens if a complaint doesn't fall neatly into a category for which there's a penalty, a question that Murphy described as "a hypothetical."
It's up to Murphy what—if any—charge is brought against Officer Marion. He's not sure how this process will play out, and he admits, "I don’t know if at this point the OPA is at the efficacy level that you would want or I would want. We'll see how well it works on this one. I kind of feel like I've got nothing to hide and everything to gain from you shedding your journalistic light on it."
I appreciate that Murphy proactively called me and I appreciate his openness. All the brass has been forthcoming and transparent—but this already raises questions about the complaint system. Does there have to be a specific policy against something in order for SPD to acknowledge that what an officer did was wrong? Is the complaint program rigged to only recognize certain problems such that it protects cops and diminishes complaints?
Sergeant Krista Bair, the OPA investigator who is handling my intake and is a total pro, asked that I not identify her by name. I made no promise. I understand her wanting to stay out of this, but I am naming her anyway because this process should be transparent. As for the policies—she says my complaint would likely be governed by section 5.001 in the SPD's Policy and Procedures Manual—she points out that "you can't write for every scene possible on the street." It's a fair point.
However, the US Department of Justice zeroed in on Seattle cops escalating normal encounters into situations involving excessive force. If spontaneously threatening to harass someone at their job isn't escalation, then I don't know what is. Those are fighting words for some people. SPD policies should ban escalation like this... and it should be a more serious charge than "rudeness."