With an apology, Interim Seattle Police Chief Harry Bailey said Monday he has reinstated a misconduct finding against an officer who threatened to harass a journalist who was observing police detain a man.
“Overturning the finding of misconduct was a mistake and sent the wrong message to our officers and to the public,” an emotional Bailey said during a news conference at Seattle police headquarters where he reiterated that his original intent was to educate the officer by imposing additional training instead of a suspension.
His announcement came as new details emerged about six other cases in which Bailey lifted misconduct findings against officers last week, which he said he won’t rescind because they were tentatively approved before he became chief.
Mayor Ed Murray, in an interview with The Seattle Times after the news conference, said he issued the directive that led Bailey, whom he appointed interim chief last month, to reinstate the misconduct finding against Officer John Marion.
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Marion was found to have acted unprofessionally during a street encounter with Dominic Holden, the news editor of The Stranger weekly newspaper. Holden on July 30 took photos and made notes of police surrounding a man when Holden said Marion “became furious” and began threatening to harass him at his place of work.
Bailey’s lifting of the misconduct finding was first reported last week in The Seattle Times.
In the other six cases, spelled out in a Jan. 13 memo prepared by city attorneys and obtained by The Times, Bailey rescinded misconduct findings where discipline ranged from written reprimands to a two-day suspension held in abeyance.
Among the rescinded cases was that of an officer who, while training her police dog, lost 15.6 grams of cocaine which she had fastened under her car. When she forgot to remove it before driving, it fell off.
She got a one-day suspension, now reduced by Bailey to a referral for further training.
In that case, city attorneys advised the Police Department that reducing the finding was a “judgment call,” hinged on whether the conduct was willful or a mistake for which the officer had taken responsibility. Misconduct might be overturned by an arbitrator, the attorneys said.
In another case, city attorneys recommended caution in removing a misconduct finding and written reprimand for a sergeant who failed to arrest a domestic-violence suspect, forcing the victim, who was suffering from cancer, to sleep in her car and with friends.
While a discretionary situation and not actual misconduct, the sergeant’s decision appeared to be “a significant judgment lapse” that resulted in “real hardship” to the victim, the attorneys wrote.
Bailey reduced the finding to a referral for additional training.
Overall, Bailey reduced two misconduct findings to training referrals where city attorneys found the lesser penalty could be “justified,” and for two officers where attorneys found it “potentially” justified.
He also granted a training referral in a case where the attorneys found it “less likely” to be justified and the case involving the sergeant.
He rejected a training referral for an officer who received a five-day suspension for sexual harassment of co-workers involving multiple allegations.
All of the cases were part of a backlog of appeals, or grievances, brought by the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) in response to chiefs’ actions dating back several years.
In granting the training referrals, Bailey’s actions mean the officers’ names are no longer subject to public disclosure; their cases can’t be listed on a data-collection system to track officer behavior; their erased misconduct can’t be used in gauging punishment for any future misconduct; and their cases can’t be used for comparative purposes in deciding other disciplinary cases, according to a source familiar with the matter.
At the news conference, Bailey, who came out of retirement as a Seattle assistant police chief to accept the interim post, said he will provide letters to the City Council explaining his rationale for overturning the cases within a 60-day period required under a city rule.
In Marion’s case, Bailey said, he thought the misconduct finding would remain in place when he lifted a one-day suspension without pay and referred Marion for training.
“I deeply regret the confusion and misunderstanding that this matter may have caused and I personally apologize for that,” he said.
At the same time, Bailey cited his support of federally mandated police reforms to curb excessive force and biased policing, pointing to his acceptance of new policies and reshaping of the department’s senior command staff.
A law-enforcement source familiar with the matter said Marion’s decision to accept the misconduct finding was his idea because he was tired of the media attention.
The source said Marion acknowledges he could have handled the incident in a better way and wants to put it behind him.
In addition, SPOG said in a statement that Marion agreed to accept the finding after consulting with union President Rich O’Neill and incoming President Ron Smith.
However, Murray said in the interview with The Times that he directed that Bailey reinstate the misconduct finding on Saturday after reconsidering his comments at a Friday news conference where he fully backed Bailey.
Murray, who had joined with Bailey in arguing that training provided a better remedy than the suspension given to Marion, acknowledged the public saw the matter differently without being provided more education.
In a written statement Monday, Murray said Bailey’s decision to lift Marion’s misconduct finding was the chief’s call.
“But I stood with the chief and publicly supported that decision,” Murray said. “And I am mayor: the buck stops with me. So, this mistake was mine. And today I am fixing that mistake.”
Murray said in the interview he informed SPOG of his decision to reinstate the misconduct finding. “Obviously, they didn’t like it,” he said.
Smith, incoming SPOG president, praised Marion for accepting the punishment. Marion has agreed not to file another appeal.
“I commend Officer Marion for taking responsibility for his interaction with Mr. Holden, which he obviously wishes he would have handled differently. I now hope all parties can now move on,” Smith said.
Marion has presented a PowerPoint to police roll calls to show what he did wrong, including video of the incident with Holden.
Bailey said Monday that over the weekend he had some personal reflections and then talked to the mayor.
At one point during the news conference, Bailey expressed confusion over whether the one-day suspension of Marion remained in place. A department official clarified that it would not.
City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, chair of the council’s public-safety committee, said Monday that Bailey sought to clear a backlog of cases. “For his integrity to be attacked because of that, I think is misplaced.”
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter @stevemiletich