After initially demanding documents, federal attorneys agreed to further talks with city officials on what should be produced.
The Department of Justice recently jolted Seattle officials with a broad request for information, including records related to the fatal shooting by police of a 77-year-old man and three other incidents in which officers used force, according to newly released documents.
But when the city bristled over the renewed scrutiny, coming just months after the two parties reached a far-reaching settlement agreement on police reforms, federal attorneys agreed to withdraw the request pending further discussions.
Both sides agreed to seek the assistance of the recently appointed federal monitor, Merrick Bobb, who is overseeing implementation of the settlement agreement, in determining what should be produced.
The settlement agreement, reached in late July after contentious negotiations, stemmed from the Justice Department’s finding that Seattle police had engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force and displayed troubling evidence of biased policing.
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The Justice Department’s recent request, which a federal official called a routine obligation of the settlement agreement, was attached to an Oct. 29 letter obtained by The Seattle Times under a public-disclosure request.
Citing the agreement, federal attorneys asked the city to produce a wide array of documents related to the reform efforts, including records and videos of the incidents in which officers used force.
In one of the incidents, police fatally shot 77-year-old Henry Lee Jr. in a Sept. 23 confrontation at his home in Seattle’s Rainier View neighborhood. Police said Lee pointed a loaded handgun at three officers who responded to an emergency call Lee had placed.
Lee suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, according to his family, who questioned the shooting.
The Justice Department also sought records apparently related to a June 24 clash on Capitol Hill, during which a police lieutenant, identified as Gregg Calder, was captured on video dousing a man in the face with pepper spray. The video called into question the Police Department’s version that Calder was kicked.
Another of the incidents occurred Aug. 2, when a 19-year-old department veteran, Officer Clayton Powell, allegedly used excessive force and acted unprofessionally during a pellet-gun shooting investigation in South Seattle.
In the fourth incident, federal attorneys asked for information on the Oct. 6 arrest by officers of a suspect in a hit-and-run collision between a van and a bicyclist. Seattle police have said a “particular force tactic” used by one arresting officer raised questions by the department’s chain of command, prompting a decision to refer the matter for internal review.
The city responded to the Justice Department in a Nov. 5 letter, which the Seattle City Attorney’s Office provided to The Times.
In the letter, Jean Boler, chief of the city attorney’s civil division, questioned the Justice Department’s need for the information, referring to an Oct. 31 conversation with J. Michael Diaz, an assistant U.S. attorney in Seattle, that followed receipt of the Justice Department’s letter.
“As we explained during our telephone call, we do not understand your need to review ‘all documents’ regarding particular force related incidents given that we are now operating under a Settlement Agreement with a Monitor in place,” Boler wrote. “You agreed that the DOJ is not continuing to investigate use of force incidents with an intention of issuing any further findings.”
Boler noted that, in the conversation, it was agreed to discuss with the monitor “how to handle documentation generated regarding particular events.”
Responding overall to the Justice Department’s letter, Boler wrote that “broad, unilateral” document requests with tight timelines “are not the most constructive way to proceed.”
“It is much more constructive now and moving forward to discuss the information you seek in-person or over the phone, ideally with the Monitor, and come to an agreement about what information will be helpful to the DOJ, the Monitor and the City in making sure we are complying with the terms of the Settlement,” she wrote.
Boler expressed her appreciation to the Justice Department for withdrawing the document requests pending talks, and said the city would review them and determine what records exist.
The City Attorney’s Office declined further comment.
Thomas Bates, executive assistant U.S. attorney, said in statement: “The Department of Justice made this routine request pursuant to its ongoing, independent enforcement and oversight obligations.”
Bates said the request was consistent with “access provisions” of the settlement agreement and that the Justice Department periodically will request information to assess how the Police Department is addressing the accord, use-of-force incidents that occurred after the initial investigation and other subjects that were part of its findings.
“The most recent request was simply one way for the DOJ to stay current on various aspects of reform,” he said. “This is an ongoing, collaborative process that involves DOJ attorneys, SPD, attorneys for the City, and the Monitor.”
Seattle Times reporter Mike Carter contributed to this story, which also contains information from Times archives.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org