Assistant Seattle Police Chief Mike Sanford helped arrange a $45,000 consulting contract with a former department official who had previously cleared him of wrongdoing in an internal investigation, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The contract with the Seattle Police Department was finalized in November with Kathryn Olson, who stepped down as the civilian director of the Police Department’s Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) last summer.
Olson told The Seattle Times she was hired under the contract to help create an accountability system to ensure that the department’s five precincts complied with federally mandated reforms regarding the use of force, training and early intervention with problem officers.
Olson, while serving as OPA director, certified an internal investigation opened in 2012 that cleared Sanford of allegations he exerted undue influence in a traffic investigation involving his daughter and the solicitation of charitable donations from co-workers. He also was exonerated of trying to improperly influence a promotion exam for prospective sergeants.
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The consulting contract with Olson was arranged by Sanford and Assistant Police Chief Clark Kimerer, who signed it in October, according to sources.
It was launched without consulting new OPA Director Pierce Murphy, who said he was “very disappointed” when he recently learned of the contract.
Murphy said he should have been informed because the project apparently grew out of an initiative that involved his office, and because he has responsibility for the department’s “accountability mechanisms.”
Olson announced her intent to step down as OPA director in October 2012, shortly after City Councilmember Tim Burgess said he informed Olson her confirmation for reappointment to a new term would be “problematic for me” and that he believed she didn’t have the votes to prevail in the nine-member council.
Disclosure of the contract comes at a time when newly appointed Interim Police Chief Harry C. Bailey is said by a source to be considering whether to retain Sanford and Kimerer on the command staff.
“Chief Bailey is aware of this contract and will be reviewing it in the near future,” Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, chief spokesman for the Police Department, said Friday.
Sanford and Kimerer did not respond to a request for comment made through Whitcomb.
Mayor Ed Murray directed Bailey this week to focus on the court-ordered reforms to address Department of Justice findings that officers had used excessive force and displayed troubling evidence of biased policing.
Olson, in an interview Thursday, downplayed Sanford’s role, saying he was only one of a number of department officials involved in the accountability project. Sanford’s participation stemmed from his role as commander of the department’s Professional Standards Bureau, Olson said.
“He’s certainly been involved, but the actual contract was signed by Kimerer,” Olson said.
Olson said she was not aware of any ethical conflicts or impropriety stemming from the contract. The contract allows her to be paid up to $45,500, one source said.
City ethics rules allowed Olson to be rehired under contract, said Wayne Barnett, executive director of the city’s Ethics and Elections Commission, who was consulted by a Seattle police attorney before Olson was hired.
Olson said the project grew out of the department’s “20/20” plan, a reform effort launched in March 2012 that called for 20 reforms in 20 months to address excessive force and biased policing.
The city entered into a formal settlement agreement with the Justice Department in July 2012 that required broad reforms.
Under Sanford’s direction, the 20/20 effort continued, with a provision to deploy OPA liaisons in the precincts to ensure issues referred to them were dealt with.
Olson said her contract broadened the concept, requiring her to identify leaders in each precinct to assure compliance with mandates, particularly relating to the use of force.
“I was someone who understood the systems and understood the problems,” she said.
Murphy, who began as OPA director in July after being appointed by former Mayor Mike McGinn, told The Seattle Times on Friday that police officials did not consult him about the contract.
Murphy, stressing he wasn’t being critical of Olson or her qualifications, said he should have been part of the decision-making process on the arrangement, including who would be involved and the direction of the project.
Murphy said if the project stemmed from the OPA liaison idea and changed, he should have been asked for his views.
“To cut me out of this is very disappointing and inappropriate,” he said.
Murphy said he was not aware of the internal investigation relating to Sanford, which was completed before he took office.
The internal investigation was opened in May 2012, after King County prosecutors cleared Sanford of criminal culpability after a Washington State Patrol investigation.
State Patrol documents showed Sanford arrived at a minor traffic accident involving his daughter in 2011, where he played a role in persuading the other driver not to file a collision report. A responding officer described Sanford’s presence as a bit unusual, but said he appeared to be acting as a father helping his child. However, the officer’s sergeant asserted Sanford acted in an intimidating fashion and might have influenced the outcome.
The sergeant also reported that Sanford, a couple of times a year at a goals meeting with sergeants, solicited donations to the Special Olympics.
Sanford joked that the sergeants could go home early if they donated, and that for those who worked overtime he wouldn’t sign their pay slips if they didn’t contribute, according to the sergeant.
The sergeant said younger colleagues felt compelled to donate while older sergeants refrained, and that he believed Sanford’s conduct was inappropriate.
In the third matter, a city civilian employee who oversees testing told the Patrol that Sanford pressured her into using a preparation book she didn’t want to include in an exam for sergeant applicants. She also said she was pressed to include a computer-testing procedure she believed might compromise security.
The Police Department, in the internal OPA investigation, concluded Sanford had not violated the law or misused his authority.
Sanford was referred for additional training on potential conflicts of interest associated with fundraising within the department.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @stevemiletich