A report released today by the civilian director who oversees internal investigations in the Seattle Police Department concludes that two...

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A report released today by the civilian director who oversees internal investigations in the Seattle Police Department concludes that two officers were properly exonerated in a controversial drug arrest earlier this year.

In the report, Kathryn Olson, the newly appointed director of the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), also found that Chief Gil Kerlikowske’s intervention in the case was appropriate.

Olson said there is no evidence officers Michael Tietjen and Greg Neubert used excessive force in their arrest of George “Troy” Patterson in early January. Faced with a furor over allegations that Kerlikowske interfered in an internal investigation, Mayor Greg Nickels asked Olson to review the OPA’s handling of the case, including the chief’s role and a leaked report that was critical of him.

Critics have responded by saying that Olsen has been put in an untenable position: she answers to Kerlikowske and her office is overseen by the review board whose report she’s been asked to critique.

In her report, Olson supports Kerlikowske’s intervention in the case.

“I find that the chief’s involvement was typical of the role he sometimes plays in Seattle’s hybrid model of civilian oversight,” Olson wrote in the report. “Moreover, the chief’s input can contribute to complete and high quality investigations and is appropriate since he relies on the investigations in making his final decisions about discipline.”

Background on this case

Nickels said his call for Olson’s review was prompted by the review board’s draft report, which examined the chief’s involvement in the internal investigation into allegations that Neubert and Tietjen planted drugs on Patterson and roughed him up during the January arrest. Patterson, 26, was charged with a felony, but prosecutors dismissed the case after a videotape of the arrest called the officers’ version of events into question.

The chief cleared the officers of the most serious allegations on the recommendation of an acting OPA director, a department captain. They were disciplined for failing to follow department arrest policies.

A King County Superior Court judge has questioned the officers’ reliability, and prosecutors have alerted defense lawyers in more than 30 cases involving Neubert and Tietjen that the officers may have credibility problems. A civilian auditor, former U.S. Attorney Kate Pflaumer, concluded the two officers lied in their reports and obstructed the OPA investigation, and that one of them pocketed a small amount of marijuana taken off another suspect.

A draft copy of the review board’s report given to The Seattle Times last month was critical of Kerlikowske’s role in the Patterson investigation.

It accused the chief of interfering in the investigation by ordering internal affairs investigators to go to extraordinary measures to find a witness whose questionable recollection of the incident was used to justify the exoneration of Tietjen and Neubert.

While the chief and the OPA recommended the officers be exonerated on charges of planting drugs and using excessive force against Patterson — a convicted drug dealer — they have been criticized for filing inaccurate reports that barely resembled the arrest, which was caught on videotape.

One primary discrepancy was that they failed to note that they had arrested — and then released — another man at the scene. They were disciplined for failing to follow department arrest procedures.

A department auditor concluded the officers lied and that one of them likely pocketed some marijuana taken off that man. A superior court judge has also questioned their credibility, and the King County prosecutor’s office says the officers’ lack of credibility has jeopardized dozens of cases.

Another review coming

In addition to asking Olson to look into the Patterson case, Nickels has formed a panel of prominent citizens to review the handling of internal investigations in the Police Department and the performance of Kerlikowske. Nickels asked the 11-member panel, which includes former Gov. Gary Locke and former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice, to report to him in November.

The mayor asked the panel to examine the civilian-led Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) within the Police Department, eight years after it was created to address concerns about breakdowns in internal investigations.

Questions have arisen about whether Kerlikowske, who has final say on discipline, has improperly exonerated officers or reduced punishment after investigations by the OPA.

Nickels cited the review-board report as one reason for forming the panel, along with publicity about a violent arrest in 2005. Kerlikowske exonerated two officers who OPA said used excessive force in an arrest outside a Capitol Hill bar. Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, a 29-year-old African-American artist, was grabbed by the genitals, punched, then taken to the ground and kicked by officers, according to witness statements and court documents. He has filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit.

The sergeant held largely responsible for the incident by OPA was recently promoted by Kerlikowske. He was not disciplined because a 180-day contractual deadline for officer punishment had expired.

Seattle Times staff reporter Steve Miletich contributed to this report.