Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA) found a Seattle police officer violated department policy on professionalism when she said during protests this summer, “Well if I wasn’t racist before … I’m getting there now.”
The civilian-led oversight office released three protest-related investigations Friday, largely finding no misconduct on the part of the officers involved other than the comment. The OPA continues to work its way through more than 100 investigations resulting from thousands of complaints this summer about Seattle police officers’ behavior at protests against police violence and racial injustice.
In one high-profile case, OPA found an officer did not violate department policy when the officer pepper-sprayed a protest crowd, dousing a young child in the process. OPA Director Andrew Myerberg concluded the officer inadvertently sprayed the child. The OPA found officers used excessive or disproportionate force during two protest arrests, including one in which officers punched a man multiple times as they arrested him.
During a June 6 protest near the East Precinct, an officer made the comment “Well if I wasn’t racist before … I’m getting there now” while on a break with another officer and a Seattle Police Department communications employee heard the comment over the radio, Myerberg wrote in a report.
Myerberg found the comment was “inappropriate,” undermined public trust in the department and violated a department policy saying SPD employees should “strive to be professional at all times.” But the comment didn’t amount to biased policing, Myerberg found. The officer received an oral reprimand.
The officer who made the comment told OPA she is Jewish and worked long shifts at protests where people threw objects and shouted insults, including calling officers Nazis or saying they “would have held the … door open at a concentration camp.” The officer told the OPA, “none of this stuff really gets under my skin until they start saying stuff like that, just because it has such a personal connection for me.”
The officer and her partner, who is Hispanic, told OPA the comment was a “joke.” Myerberg wrote that “the context of the statement is significant.”
In another complaint, a protester who was in the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) when police cleared the area alleged an officer hit her in the mouth with a baton, chipping her tooth and causing her mouth to bleed. KING 5 footage from the clearing of the area showed the protester bleeding from her face as officers arrested her.
Citing body camera video, Myerberg said he could not “conclusively say” whether the woman’s injury was caused by the officer’s baton or another protester’s elbow. Video shows another protester between the officers and the woman as an officer raises his baton toward them.
The officer used the baton according to training, Myerberg wrote.
In a third case, the OPA investigated an allegation that police arrested a man as retaliation because he filmed the incident in which the young child was pepper-sprayed.
Police arrested the man during a protest June 6 near the East Precinct, alleging he was pointing a laser at officers. The man has publicly denied having a laser and told The Stranger he wondered if officers knew him because of an interview he did with KOMO.
Myerberg said he found no evidence that the officers who arrested him knew he had filmed the pepper-spray video or mentioned him by name before the arrest. Myerberg recommended one officer receive retraining on searching for evidence.