The demotion was ordered after former Seattle police Sgt. Frank Poblocki drove to the workplace of a man who had chewed Poblocki out for towing his car, pulled up a chair and sat for almost an hour. Poblocki referred to it as 'community policing.'
A Seattle police sergeant has been disciplined and demoted after retaliating against an angry citizen whose car he had towed, sitting in a chair in full uniform in the parking lot of the man’s workplace for most of an hour and telling passers-by he was waiting for an apology, according to findings of an internal investigation.
“I got a little disrespected earlier today, so I’m going to hang out,” Sgt. Frank Poblocki reportedly told several citizens who passed by the AutoZone in Seattle’s Central District. Some of the citizens approached him and complained about his behavior, including one who described it as harassment, documents say.
The sergeant pulled a chair from his patrol car and planted himself in front of the business, staying for about 40 minutes, according to a summary of the Feb. 10 incident obtained by The Seattle Times. At one point, he was joined by other officers, who are now also under investigation for allegedly not reporting the incident.
Poblocki, 47, a 19-year SPD veteran, has a history of being disciplined and has been suspended twice before for improper citizen contacts, according to the documents.
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Poblocki told witnesses he was at the AutoZone for an apology, saying he was “just cold kicking it … just doing some community oriented policing stuff,” according to a disciplinary-action report issued Oct. 12 by Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best.
Best demoted Poblocki from his sergeant rank to officer as a result of the incident, along with a 15-day suspension without pay, with five days held in abeyance. Department officials had recommended only a 10-20 day suspension.
“Your actions throughout this incident were deeply troubling,” Best wrote in the four-page disciplinary report stemming from an investigation by the department’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA), a copy of which was obtained by The Times.
“The Department is sincerely invested in community policing and works hard to foster relationships with the many communities we serve,” Best added. “Community policing creates a partnership between law enforcement and our communities to enhance trust, mutual respect and understanding.
“Your actions have degraded our community policing efforts instead of improving them,” the chief wrote.
Best has striven to bolster public confidence in the department as it seeks to emerge from six years of federal oversight that grew out findings that officers too often used excessive force and displayed troubling evidence of biased policing. The department was found by U.S. District Judge James Robart in January to be in compliance with a consent decree, but must show for two years that reforms are locked in place.
Earlier this week, Robart ordered the city and the Department of Justice, which sought the consent decree, to show that the city is still on track to meet that two-year deadline in light of a revelation that SPD had been ordered to rehire an officer fired earlier for punching an intoxicated, handcuffed woman.
Poblocki declined to comment Friday, except to say he believed The Seattle Times had obtained the report through “improper” means and that he planned to consult the department’s legal office and his union, the Seattle Police Officers Guild.
The Times filed a public-disclosure request with the Police Department in October for documents related to the internal investigation, anticipating they would be released on Thursday.
But Poblocki invoked a clause of the guild’s contract to block disclosure until at least Dec. 12, while he decided whether to seek a court injunction seeking to prohibit the department from making the records public.
The Times obtained a copy of the report with a redaction of the officer’s name. A source with knowledge of the case, speaking on condition of anonymity because the report hasn’t been officially disclosed, confirmed that Poblocki was the officer whose conduct is described.
The incident began when Poblocki saw a car parked illegally and issued a ticket, ordering the car towed, according to the document.
A man and a woman objected, with the man saying the car belonged to his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend and that he used it to get to work. The woman said she was in the process of transferring the car’s title but that she didn’t have enough money to get it registered.
“Both she and the man grew angry and frustrated” over the car being towed, according to the report, cursing Poblocki and calling him names.
Poblocki responded, “you’re a big man, huh, talking some smack,” and directed the tow-truck driver to take the car, according to the report.
As Poblocki drove away, he rolled down his window and said, “I’ll see you guys, good night,” and addressed the man specifically: “I’ll see you for sure,” he reportedly said.
At that point, Best wrote, no further police action was necessary.
“Despite this, a few hours later, you went to the AutoZone where the man referenced above often worked,” Best wrote. “You took a rolling chair from the back of your patrol car, placed the chair in front of the AutoZone, and sat down. You had numerous interactions with members of the public as well as other officers.”
His statements included: “I got called a ho and a bitch, I think I’m going to hang around here until I get an apology.”
Several other Seattle police officers arrived, including members of Poblocki’s squad, the report says.
Poblocki told the first officer who arrived that the man working at the store was “freaking out” and that he was going to have “another unit roll through here, saying just doing community policing.”
The OPA has opened an internal investigation into officers who went to the scene over their alleged failure to report Poblocki’s conduct, the source with knowledge of the case said. It also has opened a new investigation of Poblocki over an allegation he lied during the initial investigation, the source said.
In a written statement provided to Best before she issued her finding, Poblocki wrote about his pride in proactive policing and immersing himself in the communities where he has worked, according to the disciplinary report.
“You also wrote about your role in supervising officers and asked that the Department recognize that this was one day in a long career and that you would like to take back or do over some things from the incident,” Best wrote in the disciplinary report.
“You explained that you had no intention of contacting the man who worked at AutoZone but that your ‘intention was to be there, visible and available, in case he arrived and wanted to start a conversation and further discuss the matter,’ ” she added.
Poblocki also explained that, in retrospect, he could see how his behavior could be seen in a negative light.
Best, noting that Poblocki’s conduct “escalated” the incident, called his behavior “threatening” and said his “flippant comments” mocking community policing undermined a vital and highly valued part of modern policing.
“Here, the man exercised a constitutional right when he expressed frustration with your decision to have the vehicle towed,” she wrote. “Department policy makes clear that you may not respond to a community member criticizing you or the Department by intimidating or taking action against him due to that criticism.”
Just the day before this incident, Poblocki had been counseled about inappropriate comments made during a traffic stop.
“Your pattern of unprofessional conduct cannot be ignored,” Best wrote.
In 2017, Poblocki earned $112,449 in regular and overtime pay as an officer and sergeant, according to records.