A pioneering Black woman who’s worked for decades as a Seattle police officer has filed a $10 million claim against the Seattle Police Department, alleging she’s endured and witnessed years of racial and gender discrimination within the SPD.
Detective Denise “Cookie” Bouldin alleges she’s faced daily discrimination during her 43 years with the department, including instances where her loyalty has been questioned because of her close relationships in Seattle’s communities of color.
The allegations are outlined in a tort claim filed Friday by Bouldin’s lawyer, James Bible, a former chair of the King County NAACP. The city has 60 days to respond. If the claim is denied, Bouldin can file a lawsuit.
Bouldin, 67, has been a prominent and bridge-building police officer in Seattle’s diverse South Precinct, where for years she has taught community children to play chess and build relationships. A Rainier Beach park bearing her name opened last year.
All the while, Bouldin claims she has had to operate within a hostile work environment where she’s weathered overtly racist remarks by white supervisors and been ordered to perform menial tasks she finds “degrading, humiliating and [with] racist overtones.”
“She files this claim for damages in hopes that the department will authentically address issues related to the racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination she has faced in her career,” the claim says. “She notes that the hostile work environment she has been subjected to has increased dramatically in recent years.”
In addition to discrimination, Bouldin alleges she also faced retaliation after complaining about a co-worker who brought his pet dog to work, setting up a dog pen and gate that Bouldin said she had to move so she could access supplies necessary for her job. After taking the issue to her supervisors, she said feces and dog food were left at her locker.
Bouldin — who joined the SPD in 1980, when she says there was only one other Black woman on the force — claims she has been witness to racism by officers and supervisors, including an instance when the name of a fellow Black officer was substituted for that of a wanted person on a flyer posted on a precinct bulletin board. She also alleges some officers have refused to back her up on the streets.
Bouldin said she once placed a pamphlet for the African American Advisory Council on the desk of a female white sergeant who later asked, “Who put this [expletive] on my desk?!” and threw the pamphlet away. “That same sergeant later made it clear that she did not want to work with any Black people,” the claim alleges.
The claim also contains a photograph of a poster on the locker of a fellow South Precinct officer showing a grim-faced and heavily armed white man. It states: “Some people require inspirational quotes to start their day. Me: Caffeine and hate.”
“The poster clearly depicts an adversarial relationship with the community the officer works with,” alleges the claim, which does not name any specific SPD officials or officers.
Bouldin said her race and her efforts to reach out and involve herself in the city’s communities of color have made her a target within the SPD, even as department leaders hold her out as a positive example of community policing and bridge building.
“The Department regularly points to Detective Bouldin’s strong relationship with the communities of color whenever there is controversy in relation to a Seattle Police action,” the claim alleges. “Behind the scenes, other officers and supervisors have belittled Detective Bouldin and challenged whether she is with the Department or with the community.”
Bouldin runs a youth chess club and for decades has worked with young people, both on and off duty — and sometimes with snacks — earning her the sobriquet “Detective Cookie.”
“Being well known for keeping kids out of jail and teaching youth what to do when stopped by police has created a close relationship with the community,” the claim says. “Unfortunately, some officers have overtly held that against her and have treated her differently as a result.”
The SPD referred questions to the City Attorney’s Office, which had not seen the claim and declined to comment.
The department in 2012 agreed to overhaul its use of force training, address management deficiencies and take note of disturbing but inconclusive evidence of biased policing as part of a federal settlement agreement that has cost upward of $200 million and remains in effect today.
Data gathered as part of that process has shown that Seattle officers continue to stop and use force against Black people far more often than white people, even though the total number of such incidents is down overall.
Editor’s note: A previous headline misstated the nature of Detective Denise “Cookie” Bouldin’s filing. Bouldin has filed a tort claim against the Seattle Police Department. The city has 60 days to respond. If the claim is denied, Bouldin can file a lawsuit.