Chief Harry Bailey was appointed in January by Mayor Ed Murray (left)
  • ANNA MINARD
  • Chief Harry Bailey was appointed in January by Mayor Ed Murray (left)

Seattle interim police chief Harry Bailey was clear yesterday when he announced that he reopened a case against an officer found guilty of misconduct: He simply lightened the penalty. Instead of a one-day suspension, which was imposed by the last chief, Bailey gave the cop additional training. Bailey insisted to the Seattle Times, mayor, city council, and me that while this penalty was more gentle for Officer John Marion, he had upheld the misconduct verdict itself.

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By keeping that misconduct decision in place, Marion's record would include a demerit to be considered for any future misconduct cases.

But interviews today reveal that is not what Chief Bailey did—and people at the Seattle Times, SPD, and City Hall suggest that Bailey knew he was misleading city officials. Bailey informed the SPD's discipline office on Tuesday that he actually eliminated the misconduct verdict, thereby leaving Officer Marion's record unblemished.

Still, Chief Bailey went on to mislead the mayor and Seattle City Council in a letter last night, which has raised questions about the chief's honesty and integrity handling 25 other cases (which he is reopening to potentially scotch additional misconduct decisions against officers).

Bailey made his first misleading public statements on the misconduct matter in an interview yesterday morning with Seattle Times reporter Steve Miletich, who was writing a blog post. "Originally yesterday," Miletich explained by phone this afternoon, the chief "said he was upholding the misconduct." Miletich said he explained to the chief that SPD's disciplinary structure dictates that mandating a training referral reverses a misconduct ruling. "He acknowledged he was wrong," Miletech recalled today. (Miletich's blog post says Bailey had been confused about the matter.)

But even after being corrected, Bailey kept up the misleading statements with me.

I was the complainant in the case—I filed the complaint against Officer Marion last summer for threatening to harass me at work. The Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) found in January that Marion violated police conduct rules, calling his behavior "indefensible." When Bailey called to tell me about his decision, he stuck to his guns that the misconduct ruling would stand, even after I explained that a training referral precludes a sustained misconduct finding.

Nonetheless, Bailey kept spinning the same yarn for city hall.

In a letter sent to Mayor Ed Murray and the Seattle City Council last night, Chief Bailey wrote, "The OPA Director recommended a disposition of 'sustained' and a one-day suspension without pay. While I concur with the disposition, I disagree with the recommendation that the officer receive merely a one day suspension without pay." His letter also acknowledged the Seattle Times blog post, which should have set Bailey straight.

In other words, Bailey claimed he concurred with the misconduct ruling—and that's how the city council took his words.

"My understanding is that he is upholding the sustained judgement but changing the discipline," says Council Member Nick Licata, who adds that is not how the SPD discipline system works.

Seattle City Council president Tim Burgess sent a stern e-mail last night, obtained by the Seattle Times, to Chief Bailey that says "by changing the disposition to a training referral you have, in effect, reversed the sustained misconduct from the officer's record."

Council President Burgess then asks Bailey to justify the "basis" for reopening closed cases to change decisions, and questions why Chief Bailey did not first consult with OPA director Pierce Murphy. Given that Bailey is reopening dozens of these cases and may reverse earlier findings, Burgess says, "such a review... will cause great harm to the credibility of the Police Department's ability to properly receive and investigate citizen complaints of police misconduct."

Pierce Murphy, director of the OPA discipline bureau, confirms that Bailey nixed the misconduct ruling days ago. "I have been notified that, in this case, the finding has been changed from sustained to what is called a training referral," he said. When did the chief inform Murphy that the ruling changed? "That was Tuesday," said Murphy.

Murphy says that Chief Bailey has already sent seven settlement agreements to his office this week, each one concerning an officer, who, represented by the Seattle Police Officers Guild, has a grievance with a disciplinary decision. Murphy declined to answer questions about those settlements—do they also eliminate misconduct decisions or lighten discipline?—due to his office's confidentiality rules.

Miletich had this to add: "Reading [Bailey's] letter, he still appears to be trying to take the position that he retained the finding [of misconduct], which, you know, is not true."

The SPD has not yet commented on Bailey's apparently misleading statements or the nature of the settlement agreements, although Bailey did send this letter (pdf) to City Hall defending his decision. Mayor Murray has called a 5pm press conference to respond to questions about the controversy.

UPDATE at 6PM: Well, the 5pm press conference happened, but not much happened. First, Murry reiterated some of the stuff he said yesterday: that he believes more training for Officer Marion will do more to improve police culture than a day's suspension, but under pressure, he acknowledged that nothing prevents the SPD from issuing both a suspension and training. Asked about Chief Bailey making false statements on overturning the misconduct decision, Murray stood up for his chief, saying he "disagrees." But what is he disagreeing with? The statements Bailey made and the new status of the case are facts. When I pointed out that Bailey's letter and statements were unequivocal—that the facts prove he repeatedly said something untrue, which raises questions about the chief's honesty—Murray insisted, "I believe we have a chief who is honest and a chief who is restoring the public's faith."

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I also asked Murray if he would release copies of the settlement agreements from the 25 misconduct cases as they reconsidered, without subjecting the public to an onerous public records request process. Murray said he didn't know the rules, legally, for disclosing the records and made no promises to reveal details of misconduct cases that are (or will be) reversed.

PPS — You can watch the mayor and chief's press conference here: