posted by news intern Brian Slodysko
Last night the Seattle Police Department Office of Professional Accountability met for their roughly once-annual citizen input panel at the SPD’s west precinct. The purpose of the meeting? To take citizen complaints.
It was attended by four people.
The OPA is an independent wing of city government in charge of hearing citizen complaints about police misconduct. OPARB, the board that oversees OPA’s work, was also there.
Aside from three reporters and a community activist lawyer, the only other folks at last night’s meeting were Harry Gilchrest—a Seattleite who unsuccessfully pursued a complaint with the OPA recently—and his entourage: his wife and two friends. Unsatisfied with the results of the OPA complaint, Gilchrest and friends were there to bitch.
According to a written account distributed at the forum, Gilchrest was weeding his front yard in 2003, talking to one of his son’s friends, after which they shook hands. A police officer driving through the neighborhood saw the handshake and believed drugs were traded off. An ensuing verbal exchange between Gilchrest and the officer turned into a scuffle, back up was called, all of which culminated in Gilchrest getting punched in the testicles and arrested. Gilchrest was later convicted of felony assault.
One of the officers Gilchrest filed a complaint about was later named Officer of the Year.
“They could start by putting a black spot in place of a name for that year,” Gilchrest told the OPA.
One of Gilchrest’s friends at the meeting last night, Ronald Forrest, got ornery with the OPA and its board members. “His big fault was being in his front yard weeding his yard, when all this shit really blew up,” he said. “Why is the Police Officer’s Guild not involved in the oversight panel?” he asked, clearly unimpressed with a citizen-style panel that has no authority over the department. (Ironically, the very point of keeping cops off the OPA is to minimize the defensive power of the union.)
Gilchrest summed up his feeling about police accountability more succinctly: “If you hire a turd, you get a turd in uniform.”
The OPA board was mostly sympathetic to Gilchrest’s story, though they said Gilchrest might better spend his time appealing his conviction to the King County Prosecutor’s office which is under new leadership.
The OPA makes recommendations (discipline the officer, exonerate the officer) to Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske based on the results of its investigations
But Kerlikowske has the ultimate say in whether the recommendations are implemented and citizens are unable to appeal the findings of OPA investigations. The board can review findings—as it famously did earlier this year in the George Patterson case.
“The chief has the last word. He can choose to listen or ignore,” OPA Director Kathryn Olson said during the meeting. (Kerlikowske, for example, ignored the findings in Maikoiyo Alley- Barnes.)
Even when recommendations are implemented, board member Sheley Secrest said police are known to drag their feet because of the extra work load created.
At the end of the meeting I asked Gilchrest how he thought it went. “It was a waste of fucking time,” he said.