Mayor Jenny Durkan on Friday backed Police Chief Carmen Best’s decision to retain an officer who, after a string of previous misconduct, lied when he insisted he did not retaliate against a citizen who had insulted him.
Best suspended Officer Frank Poblocki for 30 days without pay in April, newly released records show, despite Police Department policy and language in the city’s contract with the Seattle Police Officers Guild that presumes officers will be fired for dishonesty in their official duties.
The chief determined Poblocki repeatedly lied to internal investigators when he denied that his intention in going to the workplace of a man on Feb. 10, 2018, was to obtain an apology for insults hurled at him earlier that day over the towing of a car, according to police documents.
Poblocki told investigators he was engaging in community policing, although his body-camera video showed him wheeling an office chair to a spot outside the man’s workplace and, while sitting there some 40 minutes, telling others he was seeking an apology because the man had been disrespectful.
Best said Thursday she based her disciplinary decision on options presented by Andrew Myerberg, the civilian director of the Police Department’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA); those options ranged from a 30-day suspension to termination.
She later corrected herself, saying that Myerberg and others on her “discipline team,” including department commanders, were involved in presenting the options.
Best declined further comment, citing Poblocki’s pending appeal of the decision.
On Friday, the OPA issued a statement to clarify its actions, saying, “It is important to … explain OPA’s role in recommending discipline for police officer misconduct and the steps OPA took in this particular case.”
Based on OPA’s investigation, Myerberg recommended a sustained finding for dishonesty, according to the statement.
“The officer’s chain of command, including a member of SPD’s command staff, concurred with the sustained finding during the Discipline Committee Meeting, which occurs whenever a sustained finding is recommended,” the statement said.
The OPA and the chain of command then reached a consensus regarding the range of discipline, recommending to Best 30 days’ unpaid suspension to termination, the statement said.
“That joint recommendation encompassed the different perspectives of those on the Discipline Committee, and the proposed disciplinary range was consistent with those positions,” the statement said. “As with the practice of convening a Discipline Committee Meeting, a consensus range of discipline is proposed in virtually every case.”
Best, as the “final decision-maker on discipline,” imposed the 30-day suspension, the second-highest level of discipline an officer can receive, the statement said.
Myerberg declined Friday to reveal what discipline he favored, and Best said she generally receives only the joint consensus, not individual preferences.
Best demoted Poblocki from sergeant to officer last year for his actions at the man’s workplace, and suspended him for 15 days without pay, with five days held in abeyance.
The OPA then opened a new investigation into whether Poblocki had made dishonest statements about his actions, finding that he had lied. Best sustained the conclusion.
Through a spokesperson, Durkan said Friday that she “agrees that this officer’s behavior was clearly inappropriate and is contrary to what the Seattle Police Department stands for,” as well as to reform that has occurred under federal mandates to address excessive force.
“He did a great disservice to all officers and that is why Chief Best demoted him as a supervisor,” the statement said.
Durkan agreed with the chief’s decision to demote Poblocki, considering it a “rare and significant” step, the statement said.
The mayor supports Best’s decision to retain Poblocki based on an “option presented to her by the Office of Police Accountability to discipline this officer and impose the most severe disciplinary measure short of termination: a 30-day suspension,” the statement said.
Durkan, as a private attorney, served on a citizen-review panel that in 2008 made the presumption of termination for dishonesty a cornerstone of 29 recommendations to bolster police accountability.
Neither Durkan nor Best has provided a detailed explanation for not adhering to the dishonesty language in department policy and the union contract.
The decision not to fire Poblocki could make it difficult in future cases for the department to invoke the presumption of termination standard if officers raise issues of uniform treatment.
Poblocki, who has been with the department for about 20 years, has not been deterred by previous counseling and discipline.
In her findings last year on Poblocki’s visit to the man’s workplace, Best wrote, “You have been disciplined and counseled on your professionalism repeatedly. The very day before this incident, you were counseled regarding inappropriate comments that you made during a traffic stop. Your supervisor advised you to carefully consider the comments you made to avoid being unprofessional.”
Best noted Poblocki had been similarly counseled in October 2016, when his supervisor told him his interactions with the public must be handled in a professional manner and that sarcasm should be avoided.
“You have received two prior suspensions for violating the Department’s professionalism policy as well as a written reprimand for the same,” Best wrote. “One of your suspensions was imposed just months before this incident.”
In that case, Best wrote, “you assured me that you had learned from the incident and were educating your subordinates about the consequences of poorly chosen words and conduct. You also specifically told me that I would not see you … again, yet within months you engaged in this behavior.”
She added, “The Department has repeatedly tried, through counseling and lower-level discipline, to bring your professionalism into line with its expectations.”