Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best decided against firing an officer who lied about intimidating a citizen after concluding the investigation should have been resolved earlier, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
Best feared the department’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA) had exceeded the 180-day limit for completing internal investigations required under its contract with the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), the sources said on condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly on internal police actions.
As a result, Best believed the officer, Frank Poblocki, who had gone to the workplace of a man who had insulted him, might be able to overturn a termination on appeal, one of the sources said.
Best opted for a 30-day suspension without pay, sidestepping Police Department policy and language in the city’s contract with SPOG that presumes officers will be fired for dishonesty in their official duties.
It is unclear why the chief chose the lesser punishment — the department’s second most severe disciplinary action — if she believed a violation of the so-called 180-day rule had occurred.
In a statement issued Thursday evening, the department said: “It is untrue to say Chief Best concluded she would be overturned on a 180-day limit technicality. We urge you to question the veracity of your sources.”
Best, in a separate statement, said, “I take my responsibility in these areas very seriously. In every case, I carefully review the facts and discipline recommendations before making my determination.
“In four separate cases, I have terminated the employment of officers for dishonesty,” she added. “In this case, I imposed the longest suspension permitted under Seattle Municipal Code, and demoted the employee from the rank of sergeant to officer. This case is under appeal. Once that process is complete, I welcome the opportunity to explain my rationale.”
Andrew Myerberg, the civilian director of the OPA, also issued a statement Thursday, saying, “The 180-day deadline for this case was calculated correctly pursuant to the collective-bargaining agreement with the Seattle Police Officers Guild. OPA does not believe that this would provide a basis to appeal the findings or discipline.”
Myerberg also released a detailed timeline documenting how the 180-day deadline was calculated.
SPOG did not raise the 180-day limit when it notified the department in writing that it would appeal Poblocki’s suspension. It cited a lack of just cause. A SPOG spokesman didn’t respond Thursday to inquiries.
Best suspended Poblocki in April, although her disciplinary decision wasn’t publicly disclosed until a May 31 Seattle Times story that cited records obtained under a public-disclosure request.
At that time, Best called her decision the “right thing to do” but refused to elaborate, citing Poblocki’s appeal. Mayor Jenny Durkan has backed Best, without spelling out her reasons.
Poblocki was initially investigated for going to the man’s workplace on Feb. 10, 2018, to obtain an apology for insults directed at him earlier that day over the towing of a car, according to police documents.
He told OPA investigators he was engaging in community policing, although his body-camera video showed him wheeling an office chair to a spot outside the workplace and, while sitting there some 40 minutes, telling others he was seeking an apology because the man had been disrespectful.
As a result of that investigation, Best demoted Poblocki from sergeant to officer last year and suspended him for 15 days without pay, with five days held in abeyance. The 180-day limit to finish that case was listed as Aug. 9; the investigation was certified on Aug. 2.
Amid that investigation, the OPA opened a new investigation into whether Poblocki had made dishonest statements about his actions.
Best found that Poblocki had misrepresented his actions to OPA investigators by falsely claiming he was engaged in community policing in a high-crime area, and that his purpose for going to the AutoZone car-parts store in the Central District was to do “preventive maintenance,” interact with “people in the plaza” and be “approachable.”
Privately, Best determined the dishonesty allegation likely should have been included in the original investigation, according to the two sources familiar with the matter.
Under contract rules with the union, the 180-day clock is supposed to start when department officials first become aware of potential misconduct. In Poblocki’s case, his dishonest statements became apparent during the original investigation, the sources said.
Best became concerned the 180-day deadline had expired before the second investigation was completed, the sources said.
Myerberg, in his statement, said that, for the purposes of Poblocki’s statements, OPA ran the 180-day deadline from June 18, 2018, which was the date of the officer’s first interview in the original investigation.
“OPA believed that the statements made at that interview were potentially dishonest and thus initiated a new investigation,” the statement said.
Consequently, the initial 180-day deadline was determined to be Dec. 15, 2018, according to the statement.
“The officer’s interview in the new case … was scheduled for Nov. 13, 2018; however, the interview needed to be rescheduled because there were no available representatives from SPOG,” the statement said. “On Nov. 15, 2018, OPA asked for a 15-day extension to the deadline, which SPOG agreed to.”
The new deadline was set for Dec. 30, 2018, and two days later a second extension of 10 days was agreed to, setting the new 180-day deadline for Jan. 9, 2019, the statement said.
“The proposed Disciplinary Action Report was served on Jan. 7, 2019, prior to the expiration of the deadline,” the statement said.
One factor that led to the second investigation was the need to examine text messages Poblocki had sent to other officers about his plan to go to the man’s workplace, according to one of the sources and a third source.
One officer told internal investigators he interpreted Mobile Display Messages sent by Poblocki to be saying he was going to the location for the express reason of finding the man and obtaining an apology — information that bolstered the dishonesty finding ultimately reached by the OPA and Best.
Poblocki, who has been with the department for about 20 years, has a history of being disciplined and has been suspended twice before for improper citizen contacts, according to police documents.