Attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division are conducting interviews in Seattle this week as part of its civil-rights investigation into the Seattle Police Department.
Attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division are conducting interviews in Seattle this week as part of its civil-rights investigation into the Seattle Police Department.
Department lawyers spent Tuesday meeting with Seattle residents at the Chief Seattle Center in Pioneer Square, where 22 people had signed up ahead of time to meet with the investigators and another dozen or so trickled in off the street, said center Executive Director Jenine Grey. A Department of Justice-sponsored community meeting is also scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, according to an El Centro de la Raza flier calling for “individuals who believe they have been mistreated by the police department … to share their story to the U.S. Department of Justice.”
Chief Seattle and El Centro were among 34 groups that signed a letter sent to the Department of Justice by the Washington chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in December asking for the investigation in the aftermath of a series of high-profile incidents involving officers using force, often against people of color.
After a preliminary inquiry into the allegations, and meetings with U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan in Seattle, the Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C., concluded in March that there was evidence to justify a civil “patterns and practices” investigation into the allegations of improper use of force and biased policing.
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In a posting on its website, the ACLU said this portion of the investigation is “a civil fact-gathering process” and urged anyone with a story of police misconduct to meet with the investigators.
Police Chief John Diaz has said he welcomed the probe.
“We have nothing to hide,” Diaz said in April when the formal investigation was announced. “We’ve been open and transparent with the Department of Justice, which makes for a good working relationship.”
Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for Durkan, said Monday that she could confirm that the interviews were taking place, “but beyond that I can’t say much more.”
Durkan has appointed two of her top assistants to head her office’s involvement in the probe: Civil Division Chief Kerry Keefe, a former King County prosecutor, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Diaz.
The investigators also are meeting with community leaders, police and attorneys who have been involved in civil cases against the department or its officers.
Among the incidents involving Seattle police was the August fatal shooting of First Nations woodcarver John T. Williams. The department found the shooting was unjustified and the officer involved, Ian Birk, has since resigned.
The Department of Justice is conducting a separate criminal investigation into Williams’ death after King County prosecutors said they could not file state charges.
Besides the Williams shooting, the confrontations include an officer threatening to beat the “Mexican piss” out of a prone Latino man in April; the repeated kicking of an African-American teen during an arrest inside a convenience store in October; and the pummeling of an African-American man in a police evidence-room lobby in June 2009, in which officers were cleared of wrongdoing.
In their request, the ACLU and other organizations asserted that some Seattle officers appear to “inflict injury out of anger” at suspects rather than to protect public safety.
The Department of Justice has not given any time frame on when it expects to complete the investigation.
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org