A day after a watchdog investigation found two of six Seattle police officers who attended a pro-Trump rally before January’s deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol had broken the law and policies and should be fired, lawyers representing the officers in a related public records lawsuit formally sought to withdraw from that case.
The attorneys, Kelly Sheridan and two of his colleagues from the Corr Cronin law firm in Seattle, filed notice Friday afternoon of their intent to withdraw from the civil case, now before the Washington Court of Appeals.
The filing does not say why the attorneys are pulling out of the case, which seeks to prevent the city of Seattle from releasing records that would identify the officers. It comes after Sheridan’s team had filed extensive appellate pleadings with the case’s outcome still pending.
Sheridan, the officers’ lead attorney, declined to comment Friday. Mike Solan, the president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild — which is bankrolling the lawsuit — did not immediately respond to messages left for him Friday.
The six officers — identified in pleadings only as Jane and John Does, 1 through 6 — filed the lawsuit in February to block release of police personnel and investigative records to four individuals, who separately had requested the records under the state’s Public Records Act. The city voluntarily notified the officers it was prepared to release the information if they didn’t get a court order to stop it.
After a King County judge ruled in March that records identifying them must be disclosed, the officers challenged that ruling in the state appeals court, where the matter remains. Lawyers for one of the requesters, Seattle University Law student Sam Sueoka, have asked the case be taken up directly by the Washington Supreme Court, which will consider their transfer motion this month.
While arguing the case, Sheridan has maintained none of the officers engaged in wrongdoing while attending the so-called “Stop the Steal” rally Jan. 6, and he contended that, unless and until an investigation proved otherwise, no public interest existed for publicly identifying the officers.
But circumstances in the case took a dramatic turn Thursday, after Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability released findings of a detailed six-month investigation. It found two of the officers had trespassed on restricted grounds outside the Capitol during an “active insurrection,” then later downplayed and likely lied to OPA investigators about their conduct.
OPA recommended both officers be fired for breaking the law, violating SPD policy and unprofessional conduct.
Three of the other four officers who attended the rally were cleared of allegations of unprofessional conduct and did not break any laws, the investigation found. The investigation into whether the fourth officer broke any rules or laws was inconclusive.
The OPA findings released Thursday did not identify any of the officers by name, but a department source familiar with the investigation previously confirmed the names of all six officers to The Seattle Times.
Based on the OPA investigation, the newspaper identified the officers with sustained allegations as Alexander Everett and Caitlin Rochelle, a married couple who have worked patrol for the department since October 2017.
Sheridan has largely pinned his legal arguments in the appeal on case law indicating that records identifying an officer could be released publicly only if and when an internal investigation was completed and with substantiated allegations.
Sueoka and his lawyers, in a statement Friday, noted Thursday’s OPA findings discredit statements made by officers in the lawsuit that have contended none of them engaged in wrongdoing while at the Jan. 6 event. The statement also called for the “entire record of the OPA investigation, including the six officers’ names” to be released.
“Only through complete transparency will the Seattle Police Department ever hope to begin to earn the public’s trust back,” Sueoka said.
The notice filed by the officers’ attorneys Friday indicates their withdrawal from the case will take effect in 10 days, on July 19, absent any objections.
After they withdraw, “and so long as the addresses of the (officers) remain undisclosed and no new attorney is substituted,” any further legal notices or pleadings for the officers “may be served by leaving papers with the clerk of the Court of Appeals,” the notice states.