A Renton police disciplinary review panel has largely cleared an officer of wrongdoing over his business ties to a prominent member of the Proud Boys extremist group who now faces federal terrorism charges related to January’s attack on the U.S. Capitol.
But the panel also found Officer Trevor Davidson’s past business partnerships with Ethan Nordean broke a department rule that requires officers to first get approval before undertaking outside employment. For that, Davidson has received a written reprimand.
In all, the panel ruled that three other potential violations against Davidson — for unbecoming conduct and knowingly associating with extremists or criminal enterprises — were unfounded.
The three-member review panel, made up of two police commanders and a sergeant, issued its findings in March following an internal investigation, according to records recently obtained through a public records request.
The Renton department opened its probe of Davidson in February, after a Seattle Times story detailed the officer’s business ties to Nordean, a 30-year-old Auburn-area resident and prominent figure in the extremist group who now stands accused as a ringleader of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
The review panel’s memorandum of findings said an internal investigation showed Davidson and Nordean had a casual relationship “centered on a shared interest in physical fitness and an unsuccessful attempt to run two online businesses.”
“The relationship ended in early 2020 once Davidson became aware of Nordean’s political beliefs, and the businesses failed to take off,” the memo said. “Nordean had no criminal history at the time that Officer Davidson associated with him. Nordean’s only criminal history stemmed from his arrest for his involvement in the Capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021, many months after they cut ties.”
The panel also concluded “there was no evidence that Nordean’s public connection to the Proud Boys was prevalent or commonplace until his recent notoriety” at the Capitol.
But since mid-2018, Nordean has been a nationally recognized member of the Proud Boys, a group identifying itself as “Western chauvinists.” By August of that year, the FBI had categorized the Proud Boys as “an extremist group with ties to white nationalism,” records show.
During the internal investigation, Davidson acknowledged in a Feb. 26 interview he and Nordean tried to capitalize on Nordean’s growing popularity in “patriot stuff” for their second business.
Still, Davidson contended that before the Capitol riot, he didn’t view the Proud Boys as extremists, but as “just a patriotic set of guys that would go out to rallies and stood more on the conservative side of politics.”
“I never knew Ethan to be an extremist,” Davidson added. “I never got that vibe.”
Davidson, 27, acknowledged he was aware of the rule requiring officers to get permission before engaging in outside work, yet didn’t notify the department about his businesses with Nordean.
A month before launching his second business with Nordean, Davidson separately sought and received approval from the department for a rideshare venture with a different partner, however.
During the internal investigation, Renton police Cmdr. Dan Figaro separately interviewed Davidson and Nordean, with each saying he met the other through church in 2014 or so — before Davidson became a cop and Nordean a Proud Boy.
The two men separately said they formed a casual friendship, sometimes hanging out and exercising together. They later partnered in business selling workout supplements from about late 2017 to early 2020.
During their partnership, Davidson left his patrol officer’s job at the Everett Police Department to join the Renton department, while Nordean became increasingly active with the Proud Boys.
After their first business, Bangarang Elite Supplements, fizzled out in 2018, Davidson said they opened another firm, Iron Glory, the following year.
By then, Nordean had gained notoriety, largely due to a viral video that captured him knocking out an anti-fascist activist who swung a baton at him during a June 2018 rally in Portland. The incident vaulted Nordean onto right-wing talk shows and into leadership roles with the Proud Boys.
In his interview, Davidson acknowledged becoming aware of Nordean’s Proud Boys alias, “Rufio Panman,” as well as the viral video of his notorious knockout.
But Davidson contended he really didn’t know the Proud Boys’ beliefs or activities, saying he personally “had no involvements in any of the political or patriotic movements that [Nordean] was involved in.”
Davidson, a U.S. Marine reservist who grew up in Auburn, said he viewed Nordean’s knockout punch as a “reasonable” act to protect himself. At some point, Davidson became aware police had handcuffed Nordean for that or another incident, but Davidson said he understood Nordean was never charged.
When the two men launched Iron Glory in 2019, they sought to capitalize on Nordean’s notoriety, Davidson said.
“I knew he had started becoming more popular in his patriots, patriot stuff, and we both saw that as possibly an avenue to brand it towards that patriot movement,” he said.
The officer added he took on more of a “silent not public approach” while selling supplements “to the people [Nordean] had in his community.” But the business fizzled out in early 2020, as Nordean “took on more of a focus on his movement and I didn’t want to have anything to do with that political stuff,” he said.
Recognizing “there would be, potentially in the future, a conflict of interest,” Davidson said he cut ties with Nordean “sometime back in 2020.”
Records show Iron Glory remained active on paper until a state license expired in December 2020.
The following month, Nordean was widely captured on video and in photos leading a large group of Trump supporters to the Capitol before it was ransacked. He has since been charged with six federal crimes, including four felonies. Nordean has pleaded not guilty. He is being held pending trial.
Among its findings, the Renton police panel concluded The Times’ story, which other news organizations followed, “implied there was an inappropriate relationship” between Davidson and Nordean, but the investigation showed otherwise and “any suggestion by the media to the contrary was incorrect.”
The Seattle Times stands by its reporting.
Before The Times’ inquiries in February, neither the Renton nor Everett departments knew about Davidson’s ties to Nordean, officials for each agency have said.