Seattle’s interim police chief has fired an officer for making a racist remark about a Black man last year, following an internal review prompted by three officers who reported their colleague’s comments, according to records released last week by the city’s police watchdog.
The officer, who was not identified by name in the investigation summary released Jan. 11 by the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), was fired in November, Amy Clancy, a spokesperson for interim Chief Adrian Diaz, said in an email Saturday.
The officer had worked for the department since July 2017 and was assigned to the North Precinct, Clancy said.
The department “is committed to building true and lasting trust and respect with every member of our community,” Clancy added in an emailed statement. “Chief Adrian Diaz has made it abundantly clear the Seattle Police Department will not tolerate any actions or statements by its members that undermines this trust.”
Seattle Police Officers Guild President Mike Solan, in an email Saturday, said the rank-and-file officers union “did NOT grant an appeal on this case,” and declined further comment.
In late March 2020, the officer and the three others responded to a trespass call at a North Seattle hospital that led them to remove a Black man who “appeared to be of African descent,” according to the OPA investigation summary.
Several nights later, while all four officers were waiting together to pick up a meal, the officer said to the others, “Do you remember Kunta Kinte, the guy from Northwest Hospital from a couple of days ago?” according to the case summary.
Kunta Kinte is the name of a central character in author Alex Haley’s 1976 novel “Roots,” an 18th century young African man sold into slavery and brought to America.
After one of the witness officers immediately told the officer “that his statement was racist,” the officer denied it and walked away, the case summary states.
The three witness officers didn’t immediately report the remark, the summary stated, but “after discussing the matter together, they decided that they were required to do so pursuant to policy.”
During the OPA investigation, the three officers confirmed hearing their fellow officer refer to the man as Kunta Kinte, with one also recalling the officer at one point added an expletive to the reference, the case summary stated.
When an OPA investigator questioned the accused officer, he said he used the name “because the individual was African, and he could not remember the individual’s name,” according to the summary.
The officer explained to his captain later that he knew of the character’s name from watching the TV miniseries, “Roots,” but claimed he didn’t know it could be viewed as racist.
The officer “later researched the term and determined it could be construed as racist toward people of African descent.” the OPA summary states. He also acknowledged he’d used profanity toward the individual, as well.
The officer agreed his statements had violated the department’s bias–free policing and professionalism policies, according to the summary.
OPA Director Andrew Myerberg wrote “the evidence is abundantly clear” that the officer’s statement “constituted biased policing.”
“The use of `Kunta Kinte’ to refer to any Black person, let alone an individual of African descent, is racist and in direct contravention of policy,” Myerberg wrote. He added that OPA didn’t find the officer’s claims he was unaware the reference was racist credible, and said the officer “should have known that referring to an African individual in that manner was impermissible and unacceptable.”
In September, the OPA issued findings that the officer violated department policies for bias-free policing and professional conduct.