A longtime African-American activist denounced Monday the demotion of Seattle police Assistant Chief Nick Metz, the department’s highest-ranking black officer, saying others in the top ranks also should be removed if there is a problem in the command staff.
“From our perspective, we think this has been done in haste,” said the Rev. Harriett Walden, a founder of Mothers for Police Accountability, a social-justice and advocacy organization in Seattle.
Metz, who became an assistant chief in 2001, last week accepted a demotion to captain at the request of Interim Police Chief Jim Pugel.
Pugel didn’t provide specific reasons for making the change, which became effective Monday. But the move came shortly after the federal monitor overseeing police reforms handed the city a blistering progress report that highlighted resistance among some in the department’s top ranks.
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A second assistant chief, Dick Reed, who has overseen the department’s technology operations, also accepted a demotion to captain announced last week. The monitor’s Nov. 15 draft report had also singled out error-ridden data-collection work for particularly harsh criticism.
The monitor, Merrick Bobb, was appointed last year to track the city’s compliance with a settlement agreement, reached with the Department of Justice, to curb excessive force and biased policing in the Police Department (SPD).
Walden, who spoke at a news conference at Seattle’s Mount Calvary Christian Center, said that although Reed is white, he hasn’t been as visible a member of the command staff as Metz.
Metz has been a “face of the department,” said Walden, who provided reporters with a news release listing examples of instances where Metz had dealt with important and sensitive issues.
His demotion, she said, infers that “the problem is the black guy.”
Others in the command staff also should bear responsibility if there is a problem, Walden said, citing Assistant Chief Clark Kimerer as an example of someone who has been in the top ranks the same length of time. Kimerer, who is white, became an assistant chief in 1999.
Kimerer and Metz both rose to the second-ranking position of deputy chief, but Pugel eliminated the post after he became interim chief in April.
Pugel, who was named an assistant chief in 2000, also has been part of the command staff during the same period, Walden said. She said she’s now withholding her previous support of Pugel as interim chief.
In a written statement Monday, Pugel provided a general explanation of his personnel decisions, saying it was his “responsibility to make tough decisions to help guide this department toward progress and constitutional policing.”
He said he understood his decisions “have not come without controversy.”
“In the past,” Pugel wrote, “some leaders in this department have faced criticism for failing to make difficult decisions. I do not wish for this department to be viewed as one afraid of change and progress, and I believe that the decisions announced last week were necessary and correct.
“It is my job to ensure that this department has the leadership it needs and deserves and our department has the right leaders in the right places working toward reform and improvement,” he added.
Pugel wrote he was dedicated to preventing bias in the department and has made sure it is supportive and fully participates in the citywide Race and Social Justice Initiative.
In making last week’s changes, Pugel promoted Capt. Carmen Best to assistant chief and tapped Capt. John Hayes Jr. to fill her command of the South Precinct.
Although both are African-Americans, Walden said, Pugel’s moves represent a “divide and conquer” approach aimed at neutralizing criticism.
“He gave us two for one and we are supposed to be happy?” Walden said.
Charlie James, co-chair of the African American Political Action Committee, said the demotion had harmed Metz’s career and limited his opportunity.
“This is crazy,” James said.
Walden noted that the monitor’s draft report had singled out for praise the Police Department’s Use of Force Review Board, of which Metz had taken over as chair from Pugel.
Walden sits on the Community Police Commission, a city-created citizen group formed as part of the settlement agreement with the Justice Department. But she said Monday that she was speaking about Metz in her role with Mothers for Police Accountability.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter @stevemiletich