Seattle police internal investigators found that former Lt. Brendan Kolding violated “multiple (Seattle Police Department) policies” and a city personnel rule against workplace harassment by sending an insulting letter to another officer’s workplace last year, newly released records show.
Then, when investigators confronted Kolding about finding his fingerprint on a piece of tape used to seal the envelope containing the letter, Kolding denied sending the letter and suggested the complaining officer somehow must have taken Kolding’s prints to implicate him, the records released Wednesday show.
“If he has tape that my fingerprints are on, that totally doesn’t surprise me,” Kolding told them, according to the investigation.
Internal investigators ultimately sustained five misconduct violations — including dishonesty — against Kolding, who is now running for City Council. Kolding resigned from the department before the internal investigation was finished, saying he was leaving to campaign for the council full-time.
Records show Kolding issued his letter of resignation to Chief Carmen Best on Feb. 22 — three days after his union representative canceled a scheduled meeting with internal investigators who sought to question him as part of a dishonesty probe. That investigation was opened based on Kolding’s denials and statements in the then-pending harassment case, the records show.
“If you were still employed with the Department, the recommendation would be termination of employment,” the department wrote in a proposed disciplinary action report issued to Kolding in May.
Kolding, who did not immediately return a phone message Wednesday, has denied the allegations against him, claiming he is the victim of retaliation within the department.
But Kolding seemed to change the story he gave to investigators in a written statement he later sent to Best.
After thinking over his interview with the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), Kolding wrote: “I recovered a vague memory of sending the envelope to the complainant. In sum, within approximately 12 hours of my interview, I recalled taking the actions that I had been accused of taking but had originally denied. I was unable to sleep for the rest of the night.”
Kolding has requested a hearing with Best on July 25 to try to clear his name.
A rocky relationship
The OPA records released Wednesday portray a rocky workplace relationship marked by multiple disputes between Kolding and the officer who complained about him dating back to at least 2017. Kolding had previously worked with the officer for more than five years, including for a time as his supervisor.
In December, the unidentified officer filed the complaint against Kolding alleging harassment after receiving the letter left in an envelope labeled “SJC Receptionist.” The envelope contained a job posting for the department’s Telephone Reporting Unit.
The officer, who sometimes works front-desk duties, viewed the letter as insulting because it referred to him as a “receptionist,” and saw the job posting as “a pejorative towards him as, in his opinion, this suggested that he was not a competent police officer,” according to the OPA records.
The officer suspected Kolding sent the letter as “part of a larger pattern of harassment” previously reported to department supervisors, the OPA records say.
Past disputes between Kolding and the officer included a complaint Kolding had filed in 2017 accusing the officer of leaving work early, and another in which Kolding claimed the officer threatened him with a pair of scissors. A supervisor later deemed that reported threat to be “unfounded,” the OPA records show.
Following those disputes, the officer, in turn, filed his own complaint against Kolding, alleging harassment and bullying.
“He further alleged that (Kolding) had been dishonest in the prior cases,” according to the records. Based on the allegations, supervisors later counseled Kolding about treating others professionally, the records show.
In December, the officer filed his complaint about the letter. About 3 1/2 hours after OPA investigators notified Kolding about that complaint, the department’s Latent Print Unit received an anonymous call from a male, who asked: “Hey, for OPA investigations do you guys do a latent print evaluation?”
The caller hung up when told that sometimes happens.
Investigators later traced the call to Kolding’s personal cell phone. During his interview, when asked why there was a call from his phone, Kolding replied “I don’t know. Honestly. I don’t recall.”
“When pressed on this issue, he told OPA that he had no explanation why he made a call … from his personal cell phone,” the records say.
Kolding, 36, is among three primary-election candidates vying for the Council’s District 1 seat, which represents West Seattle and South Park. The other candidates are incumbent Councilmember Lisa Herbold and attorney Phillip Tavel.
Kolding partly built his campaign on combating what he called the council’s “culture of hostility” toward police. On the campaign trail, he has said his experience with the police department would prepare him to replace Herbold.
When asked last week why he hadn’t mentioned the internal investigation during his campaign, Kolding responded: “This is a personal situation. My side of the story hasn’t been totally considered with this yet.”
Kolding, who ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for a state House seat in 2016, has said he left the department to campaign for the council full time and denied that his resignation was motivated by the investigation.
Aside from the internal investigation records, the department also released on Wednesday 95 pages of records from Kolding’s personnel file. They included various notes, memos and letters of commendation for his work; hiring, training, certification and promotional records; and documents related to Kolding’s resignation this year.
“I am resigning from SPD so I can campaign full-time for the Seattle City Council,” Kolding wrote as the reason for leaving the department in a form submitted to Best. “I feel that is what I need to do to win the election.”
On an exit interview form, Kolding also wrote: “I would be honored to have the opportunity to return to SPD as a lieutenant.”
Even though he has left the force, Kolding has a July 25 meeting scheduled with the department in which he can seek to have his name cleared. After that closed-door meeting, Best is expected to decide whether to uphold the OPA’s findings.
Although no disciplinary action can be taken against Kolding if Best upholds the findings, the result could harm his political standing.
In his statement to the chief about the case, Kolding wrote: “As you deliberate on this matter, I request that you consider my entire ten-year career with the SPD. I have had zero sustained complaints.”
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the Office of Police Accountability issued the proposed disciplinary action report (DAR) to Kolding in May. The Seattle Police Department’s administration issued the DAR to him.