The Washington Attorney General’s Office has fired a senior criminal investigator over his alleged behavior at a Tacoma restaurant. A server there said the investigator made a scene and stiffed her on her tip for wearing a Black Lives Matter (BLM) button.
The AG’s office concluded Wednesday, following an internal investigation, that Cloyd Steiger, a former Seattle Police homicide detective who worked as chief criminal investigator for the office’s Homicide Investigation Tracking System (HITS), showed extremely poor judgment during the incident and “irreparably compromised your credibility and brought significant disruption and embarrassment to the office.”
Steiger, 61, said Thursday through his attorney that he will contest the dismissal, arguing that the veteran law enforcement officer was fired not for his actions, but for holding unpopular political views in the Washington Attorney General’s Office.
“Terminating Cloyd is both a mistake and illegal,” said Seattle attorney Steve Fogg, a former King County homicide prosecutor. Steiger, he said, has been a public servant for more than 40 years and is responsible for solving dozens of murders in his career. His personnel record at the AG’s office is “spotless,” Fogg said.
“The AG is firing Cloyd not because he didn’t do his job (he did it well) and not because he didn’t tip a waitress and raised his voice,” Fogg wrote in an email. “The AG fired Cloyd for expressing political opinions as a private citizen with which some members of the AG’s Office disagreed.”
Steiger was placed on administrative leave on Sept. 8 following social media blowback over his visit two days earlier to the Fish Peddler Restaurant in Tacoma with his wife. A server, 19-year-old Reese Vincent, said she met the couple and led them to a table on the patio, where they ordered cocktails and appetizers. Steiger, she said, seemed “standoffish” and anxious to leave. They asked for their check after a single round of drinks, she said.
Vincent, who has since turned 20, said Steiger pulled out his wallet to get his credit card and she noticed it bore “the American flag symbol with the blue line through the middle,” describing the “Thin Blue Line” flag, adopted as a symbol of solidarity with law enforcement, although some see it as a symbol of white supremacy and institutional racism.
Vincent said she was respectful and cashed them out. At that point, according to witnesses and the AG’s investigation, Steiger confronted another young employee he thought was a manager and angrily confronted him about the BLM buttons. That conversation ended with Steiger swearing and flipping the young man off.
The AG’s investigation, summarized in an 11-page letter, stated that Steiger acknowledged that “other staff and patrons ‘probably’ overheard your comments. You volunteered that only ‘white’ people were in the restaurant (staff and patrons) and ‘a couple of Asians.'”
Steiger had scrawled on the $46.74 receipt, “BLM Button = No Tip” and “That’s How Socialism Works.”
Steiger initially posted a picture of the receipt on his Facebook social media page, but he later pulled it down. He has apologized for his actions, and Fogg has said Steiger’s emotions were running high because he has two sons who are Seattle police officers, one of whom had been involved in confrontations with BLM protesters at the East Precinct.
Attempts to contact Vincent through her social media account for comment were not immediately successful Thursday.
Steiger reportedly told the AG’s human resources investigator later that he “had no issue with the acronym BLM; your issue is with the BLM organization,” which he compared to the Ku Klux Klan.
Steiger, in a pre-disciplinary letter submitted to the AG’s office by his lawyer, reiterated that he “regrets the manner in which he expressed his personal opinions on Sept. 6, when he visited the Fish Peddler Restaurant with his wife on his own time on the weekend while off-duty.”
“Anyone who knows Cloyd … knows that he speaks his mind, and typically does so with both humor and intelligence,” wrote Fogg. “That was his intention at the Fish Peddler, but he spoke with more heat than was necessary or than he intended.”
“What is clear … is that the people who are calling for Cloyd’s head are doing so for one reason and one reason only: his personal opinions about the BLM movement,” Fogg wrote. “What should be equally clear to the Office of Attorney General is that firing Cloyd for personal opinions he expressed at the restaurant and on his personal Facebook account would be a violation of his First Amendment rights.”
In the termination letter, the Deputy Attorney General Todd Bowers found that Steiger had failed to meet the integrity standards of the office and had undermined the trust of the public and his fellow workers. Bowers quoted one AG’s office employee, a person of color, who wrote that “now that I know he demonstrates such extreme racial bias and prejudice … I no longer feel comfortable or safe to work with him.”
The office, he said, received more than 150 phone calls and dozens of other public inquiries about the incident after it was publicized, most expressing outrage over Steiger’s conduct.