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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Mayor Nickels Asks for Review of OPA Investigation

posted by on June 20 at 20:40 PM

Mayor Nickels has asked the Office of Professional Accountability’s (OPA) new civilian director, Kathryn Olson, to reexamine the George Patterson’s controversial OPA complaint and subsequent investigation. Olson will not be re-investigating the case but she will be reviewing what role Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske played in the investigation process.

Earlier this week, a leaked report by the Office of Professional Accountability Review Board charged that Kerlikowske repeatedly interfered in OPA’s initial investigation, directing officers to obtain testimony from an unreliable witness and publicly exonerating officers Gregory Neubert and Michael Tietjen, prior to OPA finalizing its investigation.

As we said In this week’s Stranger, this is exactly how the police oversight process is supposed to work. It’s been a messy, complicated, frustrating couple of months but we’re finally starting to see the those checks and balances work themselves out.

This is huge. As of yesterday, Nickels said he had absolute faith in Kerlikowske’s ability to lead the police department. It appears Nickel’s is softening his stance.

While Olson will be sending her review to Nickels, Kerlikowske is still her boss. That needs to change.

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Makes one wonder if the report was leaked by the Mayor's office. Weird that 24 ours ago he was standing with Kerlikowski supporting him

Someone needs to look into the cops involved. Neubert was involved in the Aaron Roberts shooting. In the case now being investigated it looks like they stole confiscated drugs. Are they using those or selling them? This case is just scratching the surface. This is the department of cops beating up African American teachers trying to protect kids, planting drugs in Oscars, paying for hundreds of visits to Rick's, freaking at WTO, running drug rings. Let's hope Licata's legacy is cleaning up a notoriously corrupt SPD and creating real civilian oversight so it won't continue in the future. It will be interesting to see if the rest of the council have the spines to stand up to the cops, or if they are all wusses. My guess is they are already too scared to back Nick up.

Posted by Curious | June 20, 2007 9:31 PM

From: lisa daugaard (public defender extraordinaire)

Dear friends,

I am writing from home in my personal capacity with an urgent request for action tomorrow, Wednesday, June 20, or the following day.

We have that amount of time to move forward on the need to have a police department that demands honesty from its officers -- yes, even in purported drug arrests. If we do not push forward, we are going to be caught in a backlash tidal wave now being organized by highly placed forces who don't seem to care much whether officers make up evidence.

I won't take your time on much background since you probably have been following this in the press the last day or so. The civilians on the OPA Review Board have written a report (available on the Times web site) that is sharply critical of Chief Kerlikowske's role in exonerating Officers Greg Neubert & Michael Teitjen on charges of planting drugs, using excessive force and lying to OPA investigators regarding the arrest of George Patterson on drug charges in January. The Mayor, the Chief and at least one Councilmember (Jan Drago) have now gone on the offensive attacking the Board and Council President Nick Licata for trying to pursue these issues. Nick Licata had planned to have the Review Board brief the full Council in public on the report next week, but Councilmembers appear to be backing away from the issue in light of the offensive from the Mayor & the Chief against Licata & the Board.

City Councilmembers need to hear immediately from community members to step forward and draw the line on proven police misconduct. There will not soon, if ever, be another case like Mr. Patterson's: one where the victim of the misconduct was brave enough and hopeful enough to actually make a complaint; where the events at issue were fully captured on videotape; where the videotape was preserved; where city, county & federal prosecutors did the right thing & notified defense lawyers of serious credibility problems about the officers involved; where a highly respected forensic video analyst analyzed the video & concluded that virtually no part of the officers' story could be true.

If we cannot repudiate what happened here, we may as well give up on any pretense that we have police accountability in Seattle. A culture of impunity will be reaffirmed within SPD that it simply doesn't matter what you do as an officer -- you can be caught on videotape in flagrant untruths, and as long as the only person harmed is a criminal suspect, no one will care.

Please immediately call and/or email Councilmembers, especially CMs Richard McIver, Peter Steinbrueck, David Della, Sally Clark, Tom Rasmussen, Richard Conlin & Jean Godden, and ask them to stand with Nick Licata to demand answers from the Mayor and the Chief. Below are a few core talking points. Please also take a moment to email or call Nick Licata to thank him for going out on what must seem like a rather long limb right now for these very important values.

Talking points:
It cannot seriously be disputed that Officers Neubert & Tietjen fabricated their stories about the arrest of Mr. Patterson. They claimed they found drugs on Mr. Patterson when they arrested him. Forensic video expert Grant Fredericks (a former narcotics police officer, an FBI instructor, and frequent expert witness for prosecutors around the country) viewed the video frame by frame (report available on the Times website) and concludes that at no point does either officer recover any evidence from Mr. Patterson. Wherever the drugs came from that the officers checked into evidence (the drugs were destroyed on April 19, 10 days after the Chief exonerated the officers), they did not come from Mr. Patterson. When the officers were shown the videotape during the complaint investigation, they could not point out when in the course of the 18 minute period they recovered any drugs.
Officers Neubert & Tietjen choked Mr. Patterson and used a pain compliance hold on him for almost four minutes, never disclosed this in their reports, and denied it to the SPD internal investigators. The force used is clear in the expert video analysis. They told investigators they used a jaw hold for about 4 seconds. Mr. Patterson told the truth as verified by the video. The officers did not.
Chief Kerkilowske personally guided the exoneration of the officers on charges of fabricating evidence, excessive force and dishonesty during the investigation. As the Review Board report shows, this is not a case where the Chief relied on those below him and deferred to them. Championing them was his decision.
Instead of addressing the total contradiction between the video and the officers' written reports & statements to investigators, the Chief has lashed out at any elected official or reporter who has taken this case seriously, the volunteer civilian review board, and even Mr. Patterson. From the beginning Chief Kerlikowske has used spin to attack those raising questions. He falsely stated in his April 9 press release exonerating the officers that Mr. Patterson had engaged in witness tampering, and he insinuated that officers had recovered a weapon, which was untrue. He is now launching personal attacks against Peter Holmes, the volunteer head of the review board, and has put pressure on reporters covering the story to back off. This is completely inappropriate and tends to chill civilian reporting of future police misconduct.
Finally -- rally on City Hall steps at 12:15 next Thursday June 28 with the NAACP

The Seattle NAACP will hold a rally on the steps of City Hall NEXT Thursday June 28 at 12:15 on these issues. It needs to be massive and single-minded. Please make every effort to be there & show your support for change at the top.

Thank you for anything you can do the next several days. Please reply if you have questions or need any more information.


Posted by timetodosomething! | June 20, 2007 9:42 PM

Not sure I get the advocacy in this original post.

"Checks and balances" are working themselves out when the Mayor asks the OPA Director to review the job of her boss even though that's not part of her job description? This is an exceptional case. It's damage control, not normal procedure that is bringing things into balance. It's normal procedure that needs to change. Which probably means more than firing Chief Kerlikowske.

The Mayor is being absolutely gutless. He's asking Olson to take the heat/ blame if he sells out Kerlikowske, because he refuses to heed the message of the OPA Auditor or Review Board. But Olson is in an impossible position. If the Mayor uses her to undermine her boss, she could lose the support of the SPD rank and file. If she isn't critical of Kerlikowske, she looks like dogmeat to the public. This just shows what a spineless, manipulative jerk Mayor Nickels is. He needs the boot just as much if not more than his Police Chief.

Posted by wf | June 21, 2007 7:29 AM

citizens should be outraged at the other council members lame response to this situation. Members like Rasmussen wanting to wait yet ANOTHER year before looking at this, not wanting to review the current rulebreaking cover up pushing Chief because it 'might seem personal'!?! How do you think the people being beat up, harrassed, and falsely charged by Kerlikowske's officers feel??

Conlin is acting completely spineless as well. Screw them, we should through these cry babies out. If they can't stand up to the Mayor and Police Chief, why are they there? And where the hell is Richard McIver on this? Someone please wake him up!

Posted by outrage | June 21, 2007 8:38 AM

Great. Seriously, another investigation by the OPA. Reality check: Seattle politicians and their political appointees (in this city at least) don't like it when outsiders look into their "business". The OPA is like a high school ASB Vice President: something for the resume and maybe you get to attend a school board meeting or two… no real power, no real authority, no real respect or influence. "Keep yer nose out of my business", from both inside the government and outside the entrenchment, is the credo of the police guild, the SPD, the Seattle Mayor, the Seattle City Council and the list goes on.

My Carnac the Magnificent moment: a similar conversation and a new investigation will be in the newspapers next year at this time. The police will continue to be investigated for misconduct next year. The mayor and the city council next year will continue with their "watermelon seed spitting contest" to see who will be the disciplining "daddy" of the police department. The police guild will continue to cry foul about interference from politicians (under the guise of “for political purposes and political gain”) and citizens (under the moniker of “lacking credible standing”) with what the guild will continually and for all time will simply refer to as: "dealing with internal police department personnel matters". As the cops say: “nothing to see here, just keep looking straight ahead and just keep moving along. We will handle everything from here”.

yeah, lots of folks are jaded on this, but we basically hope that its one of the good cops, or at least one without an axe to grind, that shows up when we need to call 911.

Posted by Phenics | June 21, 2007 9:49 AM

This is serious and we need to do something about it now or we are going to miss our opportunity to do so at all. The message our police frequently receive is that this "drug problem" is so big that even if they break a few rules in the process, if they're taking drug dealers off the street, we will be happy with their performance.

Wrong. When it comes to the work of people we trust to run around with guns and act as the eyes and ears of our legal system, regardless of the ends, the means must not involve them operating outside the law. Their circling of wagons in cases like this is not acceptable. Kerlikowske so blatantly covering up apparent police misconduct and Nickels supporting him is mind-boggling.

I just sent the following to each of our City Councilmembers. I'm posting it here in hopes of prompting others to make contact as well.

Please support Councilmember Licata in his call for answers from Mayor Nickels and Police Chief Kerlikowske regarding the Chief's suppression of a report critical of his involvement in the exoneration of officers Neubert and Tietjen on charges of using excessive force, planting evidence, and lying to Office of Professional Accountability investigators. Please follow through with plans for a full council briefing by the OPA Review Board.

I hope you are as disturbed as I am by the likelihood of officers planting evidence, using excessive force, fabricating arrest reports and lying to investigators, by the Chief of Police exonerating the officers then attempting to cover up the incident, and by the Mayor supporting the Chief through it all. If this is the case and we let it slide, we will be giving law enforcement clear permission to operate outside the law, without oversight or accountability. I do not wish to live in a police state.

I have followed the case of officers Neubert and Tietjen's arrest of George Patterson with great interest and concern. I have seen the video, read the analysis provided by forensic expert Grant Fredericks, and read the arrest reports. It is abundantly clear to me, given what I have seen and read, that what occurred differs significantly from what the officers reported.

If all is as it seems, then officers Neubert and Tietjen, along with Chief Kerlikowske, seriously undermine the credibility of the entire police force, do not deserve our continued trust, and should be promptly relieved of their duties.

Although the press like to refer to George Patterson not as "Mr. Patterson" but as "convicted drug dealer George Patterson", this man's past record is absolutely irrelevant here. Unless we plan to toss laws out the window and allow our police officers to simply take whatever action they personally feel is warranted in the course of their work, Patterson should have been treated the same as anyone else would have been.

I'm very concerned that this sort of thing may not be unusual in Seattle, and that this just happens to be one case where the police abuse was captured on video and the victim took the initiative to do something about it. Instead of burying this, we should be digging deeper to ensure that it is not the tip of a much larger problem. If the OPA is ignored when they investigate, then who will?

Please take immediate action to help save us from further abuse at the hands of those we trust to enforce our laws and also to foster an environment in which any abuse that does occur is brought to light and dealt with appropriately.

And I can't stress this enough: If, as I have been told, Chief Kerlikowske has actively muddled the facts, made false statements to the press, pressured the press and elected officials to drop the case, and launched personal attacks on the head of the review board, he should be fired immediately. It's absolutely inexcusable, and it puts us all in danger.

Please notify me of whether the OPA will be briefing the Council on this matter.

Posted by Phil M | June 21, 2007 3:16 PM

I agree in questioning this as validating that the "system works" (a la the "checks and balances" statement in the original SLOG post). It was not the system that opened all this stuff up, it was the efforts of concerned community members, the Defender Association, and Seattle/King County NAACP that pushed for the original investigation, commissioned the independent review of the videotape which revealed the misconduct of Tietjen and Neubert, and continued to push for further review of how the OPA could "clear" these officers when the video evidence so clearly contradicts their account. This is a case where the system has been forced to "work" and is continuing to be forced to because concerned folks in the community are not letting this go away -- not because the OPA has any independence (which it does not). It is clear we cannot rely on the OPA as it exists to bring any robust accountability system to bear in our communities, but we have to push for a truly independent citizens review board with subpoena, investigative, and disciplinary powers. The only alternative is a community-based, grass-roots campaign that would continue independent work like this, exposing the failures of business as usual. But we can't keep going forward with the OPA status quo.

Posted by bookworm | June 21, 2007 3:27 PM

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