U.S. District Judge James Robart's widening interest in the matter potentially put the city in danger of falling out of compliance with federally mandated reforms.
A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the city of Seattle to produce broad information on the Police Department’s disciplinary procedures in the wake of an arbitrator’s decision to reinstate a Seattle police officer fired for punching a handcuffed woman.
U.S. District Judge James Robart, who a week ago asked for an explanation of the arbitrator’s action, expanded his inquiry to include a detailed account of how the “disciplinary system and appeals process” has changed since the department fell under federal oversight six years ago.
Robart’s request reflected a widening interest in the disciplinary system, potentially putting the city in danger of falling out of compliance with a 2012 consent decree that requires policies and practices in place to address a past pattern of using excessive force. Robart, in a ruling earlier this year, had found the city had reached “full and effective” compliance with the decree but has since questioned that finding. The city must maintain compliance for two years before the consent decree can be dissolved.
Mayor Jenny Durkan said Tuesday she wasn’t alarmed, stating she is confident the city has a strong police-accountability system and made adequate changes to the appeal process to satisfy Robart’s legitimate questions.
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“I think he’s just being thoughtful,” Durkan said. In the meantime, she said, the city has refused to reinstate Officer Adley Shepherd pending a court appeal of the arbitrator’s decision.
Last week, Robart issued an order directing the city and Department of Justice (DOJ), which obtained the consent decree, to submit briefs on whether the city had failed to maintain compliance with the consent decree in light of the arbitrator’s ruling last month overturning former Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole’s firing of Shepherd in 2016. The judge gave both parties 14 days to file their briefs, but the parties asked that the briefing schedule be extended into January.
Robart granted the delay on Tuesday, but asked for additional information, including:
- Copies of all briefs filed in Shepherd’s appeal.
- The arbitrator’s written decision.
- Details on how the city’s new contract with the Seattle Police Officers Guild signed Nov. 14, alters police-accountability legislation passed by the City Council last year.
- Descriptions of how the Police Department’s disciplinary and appeals process under the new contract differs from the system that existed at the time the consent decree was signed on July 27, 2012.
Under last year’s legislation, the city designed a new appeals system to be overseen by a city hearing examiner and review board, and be open to the public.
But as a result of contract negotiations with the police officers guild, the city scrapped that approach, retaining closed-door proceedings with an arbitrator but with changes to streamline the system and improve the process for selecting arbitrators.
Durkan said the changes eliminated systemic problems in the old appeal process.
Shepherd was fired for punching Miyekko Durden-Bosley, then 23, who was intoxicated and verbally and physically abusive during her arrest outside the home of a Seattle man whose mother had called the police on June 22, 2014. Durden-Bosley, who initially was taken into custody for investigation of domestic violence, swore at Shepherd and kicked him in the head while being shoved into the back of a police cruiser.
Shepherd reacted by punching the handcuffed woman once in the face, fracturing the orbit of her right eye. The incident was captured on patrol-car video. Durden-Bosley eventually settled a civil lawsuit against the city for $195,000.
The arbitrator found he used excessive force, but that firing him was too severe a penalty. She reduced the discipline to a 15-day suspension without pay and ordered Shepherd’s reinstatement with back pay.
Durkan said the city plans to appeal the ruling to a court judge, arguing it infringed on the city’s right to set public policy.
While the appeal is pending, Shepherd will not be reinstated or paid, the mayor said.