In his past role as a Seattle police union official, Harry C. Bailey supported a handful of lawsuits brought against citizens who had complained about officers

Share story

A former Seattle police official hired by Mayor Mike McGinn to improve community relations with the Police Department once backed a handful of lawsuits against citizens, including one against a 16-year-old girl, who had filed complaints against department officers.

Harry C. Bailey was a sergeant in the department and vice president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild when the union filed five lawsuits in 1994 accusing the citizens of making false complaints with the department’s internal-investigations section.

Bailey was quoted in a 1994 Seattle Times story as saying, “More than anything, we’re after the truth. This isn’t done simply because they’re making complaints against officers. We feel it’s a concerted effort to discredit the Seattle Police Department.”

All the suits were dismissed the following year, according to court records, when the Guild let them languish in King County Superior Court — raising the question whether the lawsuits were brought to have a chilling effect on others.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

Bailey rose to the rank of assistant chief before retiring from the department in 2007.

McGinn announced on June 8 the hiring of Bailey, 68, who is to be paid $75,000 from the mayor’s existing budget.

In a news release, McGinn’s office said Bailey would help carry out the Police Department’s “20/20” plan, calling for 20 initiatives in 20 months to address the Justice Department’s finding in December that Seattle officers had engaged in a “pattern or practice” of excessive force. The Justice Department also cited evidence of biased policing affecting minorities.

City officials and federal attorneys are engaged in negotiations to reach a settlement on changes sought by the Justice Department, including a mutually approved, court-enforced consent decree. If an agreement is not reached, federal attorneys have said they will bring a lawsuit to force changes.

McGinn has questioned the cost and breadth of the Justice Department’s proposal, saying the “20/20” plan deals with federal concerns.

Bailey’s duties will include community outreach, for which he has been “recognized repeatedly” as part of past work in law enforcement, the mayor’s office said in the news release.

Sheri Day, office manager for American Friends Service Committee in Seattle, said the hiring seems to be McGinn’s latest attempt to get a step ahead of the Justice Department and focus attention on the “20/20” plan.

“That is the impression,” said Day, whose Quaker organization is part of the Minority Executive Directors Coalition in King County and its task force on police accountability.

Sensitive issues

During his 35-year career with the Police Department, Bailey, who is African American, often tackled sensitive community issues, including matters involving race.

“I think it’s a good hire,” said the Rev. Harriet Walden, who is African American and founded Mothers for Police Accountability in Seattle.

She said Bailey forged a “great working relationship” with her organization, including efforts to find less-lethal options for dealing with unruly suspects after an African-American man with a history of mental illness was fatally shot by an officer in 2000.

Walden stressed that her organization had not taken a position on the “20/20” plan.

Bailey successfully managed Seattle’s Weed and Seed federal grant for several years, according to the mayor’s office. The program targeted high-crime neighborhoods to weed out street crime and drug dealing while seeding the areas with social programs.

In 1989, however, he found himself in the middle of controversy when, as secretary-treasurer of the police guild, he refused, along with other black officers at a news conference, to call for the firing of a white officer who wrote a racist letter to then-King County Council member Ron Sims. The letter said, among other thing, that blacks are genetically inferior, lazy, prone to commit crimes and unable to get along with any racial group including their own.

The black officers said they trusted then-Police Chief Patrick Fitzsimons to handle the matter, citing his efforts to hire and promote minorities.

As guild vice president in 1993, Bailey remained on the board when two directors quit after the union president testified before Congress that he opposed gays and lesbians in the military. Bailey said, “We have had a number of meetings on this and we are going to have more. We are working our way through this process.”

Efforts to reach Bailey for comment were unsuccessful. The mayor’s office said Bailey was unavailable to be interviewed about his new job or his role in the 1994 lawsuits brought by the police guild.

“Our office will not be making Harry Bailey available for your story,” McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus wrote in an email Friday.

In another email, he added, “Our office will not be commenting on litigation between private parties that occurred almost 20 years ago.”

Records show the defendants in four of the police union’s suits were accused, among other things, of defaming the officers and invading their privacy. In the fifth case, only a docket listing “tort” claim could be found. But the 1994 Seattle Times story reported that all five suits contained the same allegations stemming from the internal-investigation complaints.

Then-Police Chief Norm Stamper defended the right of five officers who also were plaintiffs in the suits to defend themselves against malicious complaints.

In one of the cases, a man complained to the Police Department on behalf of his wife, each time after she received a traffic ticket from the same officer on three separate occasions. He alleged the first ticket had been issued illegally; claimed the second was in retribution for making his initial allegation; and accused the officer of targeting her for the third ticket because she had California license plates.

The guild sued both the husband and wife.

Mistreatment alleged

In another case, the father of an African-American youth called internal investigations to complain that officers had mistreated his son and his companions during a stop of two cars carrying alleged gang members.

Another case involved a young woman, apparently the 16-year-old, who alleged that she had been roughed up by an officer when police confronted a group of juveniles allegedly blocking a sidewalk on University Way in Seattle. No injuries were noted when she was booked into juvenile detention, according to the suit in her case.

Also included was a man who complained that a sergeant struck him with a gun, pushed his head against a vehicle and used a racial slur during an investigation in which officers seized rock cocaine, suspected marijuana, a pistol and more than $20,000.

Two officers were exonerated by internal investigations in the alleged gang case; it is unclear how the other cases were resolved.

The 1994 Times story noted that the validity of each case and whether they were properly resolved could not be determined because Police Department internal investigations were confidential.

Such records later became subject to public disclosure as the department adopted new policies over time.

The department also took steps to make it easier for citizens to file complaints, and set up a citizen-led Office of Professional Accountability in the aftermath of a 1999 scandal involving a detective’s alleged theft of money from a crime scene.

After leaving the department, Bailey served as director of security for the NBA’s Seattle Sonics. He is now a part-time security director for the Oklahoma City Thunder, who moved there when the Sonics relocated at the end of the 2007-08 season.

He also is the volunteer security director for Mount Zion Baptist Church in Seattle.

Seattle Times new researchers Miyoko Wolf and Gene Balk contributed to this story,

which includes information

from Times archives.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.