U.S. District Judge James Robart is seeking the information before he decides whether to find the Seattle Police Department in compliance with a 2012 consent degree requiring reforms to address excessive force and biased policing.
A federal judge wants more information on the Seattle Police Department’s finding that the fatal shooting of Charleena Lyles by two officers was reasonable before he decides on the city’s request to be found in compliance with court-ordered mandates to address a history of excessive force and biased policing.
In an order issued this week, U.S. District Judge James Robart also requested additional details on the city’s recent approval of a labor contract with the Seattle police union that represents captains and lieutenants.
Lyles, a 30-year-old, African-American mother of four, was shot on June 18 by the two officers, who are white, after they said she suddenly pulled one or two knives on them while they were investigating a burglary call from her at her Northeast Seattle apartment.
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Robart is considering the city’s Sept. 29 motion to be found in full and effective compliance with a 2012 consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department, which listed reforms the Police Department must carry out before the agreement can be lifted.
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The Justice Department has concurred with the motion, as has the Community Police Commission (CPC), a citizen advisory body created as part of the consent decree.
Robart’s court-appointed monitor, Merrick Bobb, filed court papers in early September telling Robart the city has yet to meet its obligations. But sources not authorized to publicly discuss the matter contend that Bobb, since then, has somewhat softened his position.
Robart directed city attorneys and the Justice Department to submit simultaneous memorandums to him by Dec. 8. He also said the CPC may submit an additional memorandum if it chooses to respond to the issues.
His order reflects the court’s previously expressed interest in how the Police Department investigated the controversial shooting of Lyles, as well as the role of labor contracts in the reform process.
Robart has warned he won’t let police unions hold the city “hostage” by linking wages and benefits to reforms, saying Seattle’s citizens should not have to “pay blackmail for constitutional policing.”
In his order, Robart said he became aware through recent news reports of the finding in the Lyles shooting and of an arbitration provision in the labor agreement that alters the way captains and lieutenants can appeal discipline and terminations.
The Seattle Times, citing informed sources, reported Nov. 15 that the Police Department’s Force Review Board (FRB) — a key component of the reform effort — had found, by unanimous vote, the shooting to be reasonable, proportional and within department policy.
Robart wrote that the court “seeks additional information concerning these two events, including whether the court’s understanding of these events is accurate and what, if any, impact these two events should have on the court’s consideration of the City’s motion.”
He also directed the parties to file a copy of the FRB’s written report when it becomes available.
The report, expected to be released in the next few weeks, is likely to contain a more expansive look at the shooting, including a directive to the Police Department’s training section to consider whether there is information to be gleaned elsewhere on alternative tactics when dealing with people armed with a knife, said a source who spoke on condition of anonymity about a pending action.
The Seattle City Council overwhelmingly approved the labor contract with the captains and lieutenants on Nov. 13, in what officials have hailed as a key step in the reform process.
The council voted 8 to 1, with only Councilmember Kshama Sawant dissenting over what she called a lack of transparency in the contract and extra money for managers.
The agreement, reached in late October between the city and the Seattle Police Management Association (SPMA), came after years of failed negotiation. It includes the endorsement of sweeping police reforms and the trial use of body cameras by some supervisors.
The six-year contract is retroactive to January 2014 and will expire at the end of December 2019.
City officials hope that settling with the police managers and having them buy into reforms will be an incentive for the larger Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) to settle its contract. The rank-and-file officers have been without a contract since 2014.
Under the contract, the managers will receive raises totaling 10.25 percent from 2014 through this year. Next year, the supervisors will receive another raise amounting to 100 percent of the consumer-price-index inflation rate.
As a result, a senior captain’s salary will go from $162,096 at the start of the contract to $179,952 this year. A senior lieutenant will see a salary jump from $136,308 to $150,828.
Before the council vote, questions were raised about whether arbitration procedures in the contract, used to resolve appeals of terminations and disciplinary actions, undercut the language and aims of a police-accountability ordinance passed in May.
Those concerns were allayed when the council received assurances from Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and M. Lorena González that the contract addresses what was seen in the past as cherry-picking of arbitrators.
Councilmembers also were told that appeals will be open to the public, in what had been another sticking point.
In a preliminary response to Robart filed this week, City Attorney Pete Holmes wrote that he agreed with temporary Mayor Tim Burgess that the contract represents an “important step” in implementing the ordinance.
As for the arbitration language, Holmes wrote, “Without weighing in on the advantages or disadvantages of this departure from the ordinance, I recognize that bargaining requires compromise.”