The latest review concludes that two Seattle police officers were properly exonerated in a controversial drug arrest.
Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske did not interfere with an internal investigation into the controversial arrest of a suspected drug dealer, according to a report ordered by the mayor.
“It is very clear, now that a straightforward report of the facts has been issued, that my actions were entirely appropriate and consistent with my duty to manage the department,” the chief said in a statement Monday.
In the Jan. 2 arrest of George “Troy” Patterson, two officers were accused of planting drugs and using excessive force. Kerlikowske’s involvement in the ensuing internal investigation has been criticized by a citizen-review panel, which suggested that the chief has compromised the credibility of the police department.
In response to those criticisms, Mayor Greg Nickels last month asked Kathryn Olson, the new citizen director of the department’s Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), to review the Patterson arrest, the chief’s role and the review panel’s draft report. At the time, the head of the review board suggested Olson’s position was untenable: She answers to Kerlikowske and her office is monitored by the review board whose report she was asked to critique.
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In Monday’s report, Olson concluded that the chief was well within his prerogative and that his involvement in the investigation actually helped “ensure fairness, credibility … and integrity” in the process.
Nickels praised Olson’s findings as being “not shaded by any political agenda” and said her report “should mark the end of the debate over this particular incident.”
The Patterson arrest has sparked a furor over police discipline and the role of the chief in Seattle’s system of civilian oversight.
The OPA review board also has spotlighted a number of other incidents in which the chief has reversed or reduced officer discipline proposed by the OPA director.
In her report, Olson found that the Patterson investigation met the department’s standard of “fair, thorough and expeditious.”
But she deviated from the original investigation’s findings on what she called an “important” point: Olson said she would not have exonerated officers Gregory Neubert and Michael Tietjen on the issue of whether they were truthful about the arrest. The exoneration was the recommendation of OPA investigators, and Kerlikowske had agreed: The officers were exonerated on allegations of using excessive force and planting drugs, and issues of honesty. But they were disciplined for violating department policy by not reporting that they had detained and handcuffed another man at the scene.
An exoneration means it was determined that the officers acted within the law and did nothing wrong. Olson said she would have entered a finding of “not sustained,” meaning the allegations of dishonesty could not be proven one way or another.
The result is the same: No discipline can be imposed for either finding.
“What is clear is that the officers did not report a material and relevant fact, that there was an identifiable witness to Mr. Patterson’s arrest,” Olson wrote. “It appears the officers were not completely forthcoming, though not outright deceptive, about details concerning Mr. Patterson’s arrest.”
The honesty of officers has been called into question repeatedly since the arrest. Patterson said Neubert and Tietjen had roughed him up and planted crack cocaine on him. The arrest was caught on videotape, and critics — including a civilian OPA auditor and a Superior Court judge — have noted that the officers’ written reports barely resemble what is shown on the video.
The King County Prosecutor’s Office has said that, because of questions about the officers’ credibility, dozens of cases in which the officers are witnesses are now in jeopardy. Felony charges in three cases — including the Patterson prosecution — have been dismissed.
City Council President Nick Licata seized on Olson’s distinction between “exonerated” and “not sustained” on the allegations that the officers lied. Licata praised Olson’s effort and said he was “encouraged” by her finding that the chief’s exoneration of the officers went too far.
The mayor has accused Licata of injecting politics into the issue of police accountability.
Sheley Secrest, a member of the citizen review board, said she and her colleagues are undaunted and that additional reports critical of Kerlikowske are forthcoming. She said the other reports examine the chief’s involvement in other internal investigations and other significant police discipline and procedural issues. “We are not done,” Secrest said.
Review-board chairman Peter Holmes said Olson’s report was a “valiant effort” but failed to resolve all the issues brought up in the draft report or its final version, released last week.
He said the three-member review board — himself, Secrest and Brad Moericke — would respond to Olson’s report in writing. “I think she was given an impossible task — to pass judgment on whether her new boss did something wrong,” Holmes said Monday.
The issue of police accountability, along with pressure brought by citizens groups and allegations of other officer misconduct, also has resulted in Nickels forming an 11-member panel to review the city’s system for police accountability. Both the mayor and chief have said they are open to changes.