Key dates in the U.S. Department of Justice investigation of the Seattle Police Department and the resulting court-ordered reforms.
Nov. 18, 2010: The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington says it will ask the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to conduct a civil-rights investigation of the Seattle Police Department, citing a newly released video of an officer kicking an African-American teen during an arrest, along with other “unnecessarily violent confrontations” with minorities.
March 31, 2011: After a preliminary review, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division opens a formal investigation into the Police Department following a string of high-profile confrontations between officers and minority citizens in the past 17 months. The incidents, all captured at least partially on video, include the fatal August 2010 shooting of First Nations woodcarver John T. Williams; a gang detective threatening to beat the “Mexican piss” out of a Latino man; an officer repeatedly kicking a young African-American man whose hands were raised during a convenience-store arrest; and the violent rearrest of a mentally disturbed man inadvertently released from jail.
Dec. 16:In a blistering report, the DOJ’s civil-rights investigation finds Seattle police engaged in a “pattern or practice” of violating the constitutional rights of citizens by using excessive force due, in part, to a lack of oversight at the top ranks of the department. The report concluded that one of every five instances of force by Seattle officers violates the Constitution’s protections against illegal search and seizure.
March 29, 2012: In response to the DOJ findings, then-Mayor Mike McGinn and then-Police Chief John Diaz roll out the city’s “20/20” plan, a package of 20 initiatives aimed at addressing issues from officer hiring to training to biased policing. They promise to implement the plan over 20 months.
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May 11: Then-U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan says Seattle’s “20/20” plan is a good start but that the DOJ expects to see a far more detailed proposal if the city hopes to avoid a federal civil-rights lawsuit.
June 21: Community groups that had pressed for the DOJ investigation denounce the pace of the negotiations and demand a place at the negotiating table.
July 17: In a sharply worded letter to McGinn, City Attorney Pete Holmes warns that McGinn’s legal strategy in negotiating reforms with the DOJ has put the city on the verge of a civil-rights lawsuit that could have dire consequences. McGinn rejected the appointment of Merrick Bobb, the widely respected head of a Los Angeles police-consulting firm, as the independent monitor to oversee police reforms.
July 27: The DOJ and the city of Seattle reach a historic settlement to overhaul the Police Department, paving the way for far-reaching reforms to curtail the use of excessive force.
Oct. 30: U.S. District Judge James Robart, presiding over the agreement, appoints Bobb as the independent monitor to oversee Seattle police reforms, despite resistance by McGinn and Seattle Police Chief John Diaz.
March 12, 2013: Robart approves a first-year blueprint for reforming the Seattle Police Department, but issues a blunt warning to the city that he is unhappy with the political infighting that cluttered the negotiations. The plan lays out deadlines for implementing new policies and training in the Police Department.
April 8: Diaz announces he is stepping down as police chief. Diaz, a Latino, was named interim chief in 2009, after the departure of Gil Kerlikowske, and sworn in as the department’s first minority police chief in August 2010.
Nov. 5: Then-state Sen. Ed Murray defeats McGinn in the Seattle mayoral race. Murray, who will take office in January, pledges to move quickly on public-safety issues, including the hiring of Seattle’s next police chief.
Nov. 15: Citing “intransigence and aversion to innovation in some quarters,” Bobb hands the city a blistering report card on reforms, citing resistance in the top ranks of the department, error-ridden data collection and failures to “fully and fairly” analyze shootings by officers.
Jan. 1, 2014: Robart approves a new use-of-force policy for Seattle police, calling for a representative from the department’s Office of Professional Accountability (now Office of Police Accountability), its civilian-led internal-investigations unit, to be dispatched to the scene of every police shooting.
Jan. 17: In a decision affecting everyday street encounters, Robart approves policies aimed at curbing biased policing by Seattle officers and setting rules for how and when they stop and frisk people.
April 3: An exasperated Robart warns that Seattle police could be under court supervision until 2019 unless it significantly improves the progress of reforms that have lagged as a result of missed deadlines and mismanagement. “What will not be tolerated is a lack of will,” he says during a 2½-hour hearing.
May 28: More than 100 Seattle police officers file a federal lawsuit alleging that new use-of-force policies unreasonably restrict their right to protect themselves and others from apparent harm and danger.
June 23: Kathleen O’Toole, former police commissioner in Boston, is confirmed as Seattle’s new police chief. O’Toole pledged to make police reforms a top priority.
Oct. 20: U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman dismisses the police lawsuit seeking to block the new use-of-force policies. “It does not shock the conscience to see certain de-escalation procedures imposed on police officers in an effort by their Department to avoid a pattern or practice of excessive use of force,” she writes.
June 15, 2015: Bobb, the federal monitor overseeing Seattle police reforms, endorses the use of body cameras by officers, calling them a key tool for “accountability and transparency.” While not a “silver bullet,” Bobb writes in a report, studies show body cameras substantially reduce use-of-force and citizen complaints.
Nov. 24: In a report, Bobb finds the Police Department is in “initial compliance” with key provisions of a 2012 consent decree to address excessive force.
Oct. 24, 2016: A survey commissioned by Bobb finds 72 percent of Seattle residents approve of the Police Department’s performance in 2016, compared with 60 percent in 2013, the first full year after the city entered into a consent decree with the DOJ. In 2015, the number was 64 percent.
April 6, 2017: Bobb’s latest report finds that overall use of force by police is down and, when officers do use it, it is largely handled in a reasonable way consistent with department policies. Bobb finds the department to be in substantial compliance with core provisions of a 2012 consent decree.
May 4: Robart, the federal judge overseeing Seattle police reforms, approves the Police Department’s long-awaited body-camera proposal. The ruling clears the way for the city to begin negotiations with two police unions over implementation of the body-camera program.
Oct. 13: The DOJ urges Robart to grant the city of Seattle’s request to be found in “full and effective compliance” with court-ordered reforms.
Nov. 22:Robart asks for more information on the Police Department’s finding that the fatal June 18 shooting of Charleena Lyles, a 30-year-old, African-American mother of four, by two officers was reasonable before he decides on the city’s request to be found in compliance with court-ordered reforms.
Jan. 10, 2018: Robart finds the city in “full and effective compliance” with court-ordered reforms.