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Friday, July 6, 2007

OPA Reports to the Mayor on Monday

posted by on July 6 at 19:32 PM

Kathryn Olson, the director of the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), will be releasing her review of OPA’s George Patterson investigation, conducted by former OPA director Captain Neil Low. Last month, Mayor Nickels asked Olson to look into allegations - made by the OPA Review Board - that Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske had interfered in the original investigation.

Either way, it’s going to get ugly. If Olson dismisses OPARB’s findings, then she gets called a stooge and a puppet and we’re back where we were after the initial investigation, with reporters and activist groups up in arms over the lack of police accountability in this town.

If Olson comes out and says that Kerlikowske(her boss) interfered in the investigation, Nickels is going to eat crow for coming out in support of the Chief. Then there are the legal ramifications of the Chief’s interference: what happens to the cops? What happens to Kerlikowske? The Seattle Police Guild says the investigation is closed and that the officers can’t be disciplined but if the investigation was tampered with, how can they not face any consequences?

My money’s on scenario number one, howbout you?

Any way you cut it, I don’t envy Kathryn Olson.

RSS icon Comments


Wait: Who is Captain Neil Low? I thought the former Director was Sam Pailca?

Posted by wait | July 6, 2007 9:01 PM

He was the interim OPA director. He was SPD—not a civilian like Pailca or the new director, Olson.

OPA directors, while accountable to the Chief, are supposed to be civilians and not in the chain of command.

Posted by Josh Feit | July 6, 2007 9:35 PM

Josh, what does it mean for the OPA director to be accontable to the Chief of Police, but not in the Police Department chain of command?

Posted by Phil M | July 6, 2007 9:45 PM

It means, the OPA director comes from the civilian world. You or I could get hired (if you're not a cop.)
Sooo, the OPA director is not supposed come from the culture where the Chief is the big cheese.
Of course, the Chief is still the OPA director's boss and that compromises the position a lot. But bringing in a civilian is supposed to ease the problems with that dynamic. Low was a cop, and so, likely felt more pressure from and allegiance to Kerlikowske.

I admit, it's a subtle distinction, but I think it's more powerful than we civilians realize.

Posted by Josh Feit | July 6, 2007 10:04 PM

Johah, thanks for covering this. I think it's significant, and I think it's important that we, the public, observe and understand what happens.

I've been following fairly closely, and although I understand what I consider to be the really important parts (video evidence strongly suggests to me and to forensics expert 1) that officers Neubert and Tietjen used excessive force, 2) officers planted evidence, 3) officers falsified arrest report, then Chief, contrary to recommendations resulting from internal investigation, said that the officers didn't do anything wrong, then tried to cover the whole thing up with Mayor's assistance, etc.) I'm still confused about the relationship between OPA and the OPA Review Board (OPARB), and about who reviewed what.

Can you straighten out the following general sequence of events for me?

  1. Patterson was arrested on suspicion of some crime, ordered to appear in court, etc.
  2. Patterson contacted OPA to request review of the above, which he alleges was inappropriate
  3. OPA (comprised mostly of SPD but has civilian director) reviewed Patterson arrest
  4. OPA issued recommendations to SPD
  5. City Prosecutor dropped case against Patterson, presumably in response to OPA review
  6. Kerlikowske took OPA recommendations under advisement and acted as he saw fit
  7. OPARB (civilian oversight board) reviewed the OPA review of Patterson case (and reviewed Kerlikowske's response to OPA recommendations?)
  8. Times published draft copy of OPARB review
  9. At Nickels' request, OPA director reviewed the OPA review of Patterson case (and of Kerlikowske's response, and/or of his involvement with the OPA review?)
Posted by Phil M | July 6, 2007 10:56 PM

Jonah I think you're misreading how Nickels works. When it looks like he's about to lose, he claims victory by taking credit for his opponents' victories. All reports, negative or positive, are just further grist for his trying to push "reforms" that coopt his opponents while further consolidating his own power.

In response to the OPARB report, he's floating this idea about Olson's review of Kerlikowske in the same way he floated a vote on the tunnel. After that second OPARB report on the Chief, documenting 11 more questionable reversals of the OPA director, who knows what Nickels really wants, or what Olson feels she has the freedom to say about her boss? If she is totally uncritical of the Chief, she loses all credibility with the press and thereby helps give legitmacy to any effort by the Council to seize upon this issue. She has to say something critical about the Patterson case, but mildly, to give Nickels some thin basis for both rejecting the OPARB and mounting a phony campaign for police accountability that leaves the City Council out in the cold. In the very unlikely event that Olson's report is really critical, Nickels might have to stab Kerlikowske in the back to save his own skin (and retain his power). Regardless, Nickels is shameless and vindictive, so he's incapable of "eating crow" about anything, especially a report he commissioned.

No matter what, no police officers will receive additional discipline, and the kind of reform that would actually bring accountability to the system would require bypassing Nickels in a way he could never accept. Whatever plan for change he puts forward, before or after his advisory committee's recommendations, will be inadequate. The only relevant question for me is whether the City Council will have enough backbone to challenge the Mayor's office when it comes time to say that we need fundamental change, not just some kind of crisis management PR. So far, it doesn't look good. But it looks a lot better than it did a few weeks ago.

Posted by Trevor | July 7, 2007 12:17 AM

Most of that is about right. I wanted to address a few things:

1)George Patterson was arrested on a drug charge. When King County Prosecutors got ahold of a tape of the arrest, which Mr. Patterson pushed OPA to get, they dropped the charges. KC also had to notify attorneys in something like a dozen other cases because the mismatch between the video and the police reports (I believe) brought the reliability of officers' testimony into question. I'm not super clear on that last point since the whole process (referred to as Brady-notices) is a bit complicated.

4)There's some disagreement over what OPA's findings were. OPARB, which reviews OPA cases and checks to make sure the system is working, claims the chief affected OPA's final outcome, claims "we may never know" what the outcome of the investigation would have been if Kerlikowske hadn't gotten into it.

6) Kerlikowske didn't take OPA's suggestions under advisement. OPA's civilian auditor, Kate Pflaumer, thought the officers took drugs off another suspect who was held at the scene and released. However, her e-mail exchanges with the Chief were deleted, in violation of the city's email retention regulations (neither of them have seen any fallout from that, btw) so we'll never know what was said. Oh, aside from a few things about the catholic church which I posted on Slog awhile back.
According to OPARB, the Chief didn't have to take OPA's recommendations under advisement because he'd already guided the OPA to the outcome he wanted.

8)Nickels came out in support of the Chief. Days later, he asked Kathryn Olson to look at the OPA investigation and corroborate or refute OPARB's claims. It's a bit ridiculous that the mayor didn't take OPARB at their word. Giving it back to Olson while making calls to groups to come out in support of the chief seems totally disingenuous.

The Police Dept. was quick to discredit Patterson because he was an "eight-time convicted drug dealer," but it's been a lot harder to discredit people like Carl Sandidge and Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes who don't have prior criminal records. That's where we're at now.

Posted by Jonah S | July 7, 2007 12:21 AM

Hey Trevor,

I don't think it's going to be as easy as that for Nickels to say "I knew it all along!" when we have groups like the MEDC publicly proclaiming that they were contacted by the Mayor's office to support the Chief.

As far as the council goes, it looks like Nick has at least 2 other council members on his side. I haven't talked to the rest of them but I'll see if I can get a hold of a few of them next week. I'd be interested to hear what they thought of Grant Fredericks' video presentation he gave last Tuesday.

Posted by Jonah S | July 7, 2007 12:35 AM

Please. They'll commission another study, which will recommend a blue ribbon group that will push for the formation of a council that will create proposals for a committee that will gather information for seven years. In the meantime, minorities will still get their asses kicked by cops.

Posted by Gitai | July 7, 2007 11:19 AM

So those are the options? "Heads, I win" or "Tails, you lose"?

Isn't there the teeniest possiblity -- after due consideration of the relevant facts, roles and responsibilities -- that most of the Stranger's witches were make-believe ... that evidence of the rest is anecdotal, inconclusive and a matter of judgment ... and that the executive charged with final judgment has exercised this judgment within reasonable bounds?

Isn't one of the possiblitiies that members of OPARB have lost sight of their charter, acted unethically, attempted to arrogate final judgment to themselves, and in doing so created a climate of suspicion and hostility that will lead SPD officers to adopt an embattled posture vis-a-vis the community, and will lead African Americans in particular to react more confrontationally in police ocntacts ... with the result that more of them will get themselves injured or killed?

Isn't that one of the possiblities?

Posted by RonK, Seattle | July 8, 2007 10:29 AM

So are you saying that we should give up on trying ot hold officers accountable because it might make a few of them hostile to communities? That's already happening, my friend. There are already cops out there who people are afraid of. Now, we have to look at those officers and find out why no one is holding them accountable for their behavior. Say what you want about the Patterson case, though I don't know how you could watch the tape and read Grant Frederick's testimony and not have some suspicions, but that's not the only case of police misconduct making headlines anymore.

I think at BEST, the chief has repeatedly used very poor judgment. Poor enough to force resignation? Well I guess that's where the debate is at now.

I'll be very interested to hear what city council candidates have to say about all of this when we start doing interviews.

Posted by Jonah S | July 8, 2007 11:32 AM

Jonah wrote:

I'll be very interested to hear what city council candidates have to say about all of this when we start doing interviews.

So will I.

FWIW, following are the two responses to my June 27 e-mail to each City Council member (I also received notice from Steinbrueck's and Drago's legislative aides suggesting that I check with Licata about the potential OPARB council briefing):

From: Sally Clark

To: [Phil]

Subject: Re: please support CM Licata's call for answers from Police Chief
and Mayor (Office of Professional Accountability Review Board)

Date: Thu, 28 Jun 2007 13:47:07 -0700


Thank you for contacting me about the recent report by the Office of Professional Accountability Review Board (OPARB) regarding the arrest of George T. Patterson.

The allegations of police misconduct are disturbing. The Mayor has asked the Director of the Office of Accountability to conduct an additional review of the case to provide the public with an independent review of the issues. I support Mayor Nickels in this request and hope the findings will help to clarify the situation.

Police officers have a hard job - and a sacred trust. I am committed to giving our police force the tools and training to perform their jobs with safety and integrity. Seattle Police officers protect our streets and neighborhoods, and we benefit immensely from their work. At the same time, we must insure that we have systems in place to hold officers accountable when things do go wrong. I believe the OPARB is a valuable tool for transparency and for maintaining public trust in police work and accountability.

Thank you again for contacting me about this important issue.



Sally J. Clark

Seattle City Council

From: Richard McIver

To: [Phil]

Subject: Re: please support CM Licata's call for answers from Police Chief and Mayor

Date: Fri, 29 Jun 2007 11:52:42 -0700

Dear [Phil]:

Thank you for contacting me to express your support for increased police accountability in Seattle. I share with your sentiments in the crucial matter that safety, fair treatment and social justice be provided to all Seattle residents. I am troubled that the integrity of the process was not honored, and the report should not have been released until reviewed by the City’s Law Department. In addition, I am distressed by the significant flaws presented in the system during the time this incident took place – such as the lack of civilian oversight in an office whose mission is to provide for citizen oversight for the citizen complaint process. It is imperative to increase transparency in the investigative process. At this time, I am holding off making any final assessments on this matter until I receive conclusive evidence of the course of actions and receive a report from the OPARB board.

As you know, the report strongly suggests significant and serious allegations against Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowski, stating he intentionally manipulated the internal investigation of allegations that two police officers planted drugs on a suspect and used unnecessary force to perform a particular outcome. It appears that the police officer’s report does not match the video obtained from Walgreens of the event; however, I am unsure of the Chief’s exact involvement and intentions in this matter. Currently, the OPARB report is being reviewed by the City’s Law Department, along with the newly appointed Director to the Office of Professional Accountability (directed by the Mayor) to study the information. The Mayor asked that the conclusive examination be sent directly to him in order to provide the public with an independent review. Whether this action will provide an independent review is open to discussion since the OPA Director is appointed by the Mayor, confirmed by the Council and reports directly to the Chief of Police.

Council President Licata’s original plans for a public briefing of the OPARB report before council has been postponed in light of the leak and the Mayor’s request to have OPA review the report. I support my colleague’s due diligence to ensure fairness of the process, providing an opportunity for the public to be informed and voice their opinions, and not to take any corrective actions until we receive conclusive evidence of the facts in this case.

However, I am concerned about two specific issues brought to light by the draft report. As I stated above, I am first concerned that the OPA Director (in this case, acting director) intended to be civilian oversight was a sworn officer. This position is the cornerstone of inclusion of civilian involvement in the process. Secondly, I am conflicted by the Chief’s apparent determination of forgiveness of exoneration of the officers when such grievous inconsistencies were apparent between the officer’s written reports and the video in the face of the issuance of a Brady notification naming the officers by a superior court judge and prosecuting attorney. Although I do not intend to cast dispersions on the investigative officers, these are the kinds of issues that cause a loss of trust between the department and public. Finally, I will withhold judgment on the overall issues until a final report is released.

I encourage you to contact my colleague President Licata, who commissioned the OPARB investigation as the Chair of the Public Safety Committee, to receive the most up to date information on the progress of this case. You may reach his office either by email at: or call 206.684.48803.

Thank you again for voicing your concerns on this important issue. Please do not hesitate to contact me again with any further questions, concerns you may have or if I may be of assistance. I appreciate hearing from you.


Richard J. McIver

Seattle City Councilmember

Posted by Phil M | July 8, 2007 12:14 PM

Yeah, at the OPARB briefing last week, it seemed like McIver and Steinbrueck (along with Licata) were the two council members who "got" the implications of the report. Rasmussen seemed a bit skeptical and everyone else was pretty mum.

Posted by Jonah S | July 8, 2007 2:08 PM

Jonah wrote:

at the OPARB briefing last week, it seemed like McIver and Steinbrueck (along with Licata) were the two council members who "got" the implications of the report

Well, those three, plus Godden, happen to comprise the Public Safety committee. Did you get any impression of Godden's attitude?

Posted by Phil M | July 8, 2007 3:01 PM

I didn't. I think she asked a question or two, but I didn't get a good sense of her stance on this. I know that she had a meeting with the Chief and Rich O'Neil (the president of the Police guild) a month or two ago though.

Posted by Jonah S | July 8, 2007 3:23 PM

Jonah - it seems to me you are spinning up a hatestorm of a narrative, the weight of which is not supported by the available fact pattern.

That fact pattern comprises garden variety bureaucratic infighting and political grandstanding, serious misconduct by a member or members of OPARB, routine levels of error and/or misconduct by SPD officers, inconclusive suspicions and accusations, and reasonable differences in judgment regarding disposition of same.

Nowhere in the universe will you find a department in which no error occurs, or in which no misconduct occurs, or in which every suspicion of error or misconduct can be resolved based on the available evidence, or in which no disagreements exists between professionals tasked to review and dispose of such cases.

That's all you've got ... but you are giving it demagogic treatment, and spinning community passions into a witchhunt sliding into lynch mob mentality.

Cooler, wiser heads may prevail on the institutional side, but your trophy-hunting will leave a residue of antagonism of the sort that leads susceptible individuals -- young black men in particular -- to act out in ways that leave them ruined or dead.

You may look in the mirror and see some kind of hero. What I see from here looks evil.

Posted by RonK, Seattle | July 8, 2007 4:27 PM

I know Ron, I'm worse than Hitler.

Posted by Jonah S | July 8, 2007 4:47 PM

Hmmm. Well, you certainly exaggerate where it suits you, in ways that are inimical to journalism.

Reverting to a previous topic ... "beating"???

Posted by RonK, Seattle | July 8, 2007 8:57 PM

I was mocking your use of hyperbole.

Say hi to Al for me.

Posted by Jonah S | July 8, 2007 9:35 PM

No hype here ... but your dramatic resort to hyperbole is characteristic of your coverage.

You are on the way to doing great harm, for self-aggrandizing motives, and you decline to weigh the alternatives.

"Al"? The reference is lost on me.

Posted by RonK, Seattle | July 9, 2007 9:21 AM

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