Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz denounced last week’s violence at the U.S. Capitol but said Monday he didn’t yet know if two Seattle police officers, who posted social media photos of themselves in Washington, D.C. on the same day, had participated in the unlawful riot.
Both officers have been placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation by the Office of Police Accountability (OPA).
“When I referred it to OPA, it was not apparent exactly where the photo was taken, or if those in the photo took any part in attacking the Capitol,” said Diaz, who credited an SPD employee with notifying command staff of the photo’s existence.
Diaz said he received copies of the photo Thursday night and shared them with OPA Director Andrew Myerberg, asking for a review, the chief said. Myerberg previously said the photo appeared to show the officers at the D.C. political rally that preceded the Capitol riot. On Friday, OPA launched an official investigation.
Diaz said he doesn’t yet know if the officers did anything wrong.
“Given the seriousness of these events and the publicity surrounding them, I would hope that every officer in the Seattle Police Department who may have attended the march understands that they are on notice to self-report if they were there, knowing now that these are potentially serious offenses,” Myerberg told The Seattle Times on Monday.
In a news release issued Monday by the Community Police Commission (CPC), members expressed outrage about the potential involvement of any SPD officer in the violence that erupted Wednesday, when supporters of President Donald Trump forced their way into the Capitol in a riot that caused at least five deaths.
The CPC, created in 2013 as a result of the 2012 settlement agreement between SPD and the U.S. Department of Justice and later made permanent in 2017 by city ordinance, is using its authority to “request all internal communications sent within the Seattle Police Department regarding this attempted coup,” the news release says.
“Our goal is to look into the systemic issues that may be in operation and review policies that may need to be changed in order to address the systemic problems that gave rise to these events. We have requested all of those documents be sent to us as soon as possible, but no later than January 22, 2021,” says the release, which is attributed to CPC members the Rev. Harriett Walden, the Rev. Aaron Williams and Prachi Dave.
Although CPC won’t be involved in the OPA investigation, “we will be fulfilling our duty to act as the voice of the Community in the police accountability process and ensuring Seattle leaves no stone unturned in its effort to ensure SPD policies and practices meet Community expectations,” the release says.
While participating off-duty in political rallies is not against SPD policies, Diaz said the OPA investigation will determine if the officers violated federal law. If it turns out they “engaged in the actual insurrection,” Diaz said the officers will be fired and information about the officers will be shared with federal authorities.
Because of the ongoing investigation, Diaz did not release any information about the officers, including how long they have served on the Seattle force.
But given the large number of people who forced their way into the Capitol after the earlier political rally, the situation “presented too much of an unknown about whether any of our employees had potentially violated federal law. That is why I had to act,” Diaz said. “We cannot violate the same laws we are sworn to protect.”
When Diaz was asked if the officers had to have reached the Capitol to warrant being fired, he said if the officers “were directly involved in the insurrection and that is participating in the actual altercations that were occurring with the Capitol Hill police, then that is part of the federal violation of law and so that is what we will be looking at.”
He continued: “If they’re at a peaceful political rally, that is not the issue that I have at hand. It is that they are participating in the actual violence that is actually at the U.S. Capitol.”
Asked if other officers could face discipline for commenting on or liking the social-media posts from the officers now under investigation, Diaz said the SPD has a social-media policy and part of the review will be identifying any gaps in that policy.
“That off-duty conduct, we have disciplined officers in the past for that and actually fired officers for social media posts … and so our policy has been pretty restrictive but we would have to see then if there’s anything we’re missing in that policy, just the ‘likes’ and other things that could be associated with that,” Diaz said.
In December, the SPD became one of more than 60 law-enforcement agencies and police academies across the country to be accepted into the Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) Project, a training program created through Georgetown University Law Center to build a culture of peer intervention to prevent police harm.
“We appreciate any officer who reports any level of wrongdoing,” Diaz said. “We’re also pushing out our training, which is a big component to making sure we foster a good culture in our department for people to report potential issues of violation of policy or law.”
Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Carter contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the Community Police Commission (CPC) was created in 2017 under city ordinance; though the ordinance made permanent and expanded the CPC in 2017, the body began its work in 2013 as a result of the 2012 settlement agreement between SPD and the U.S. Department of Justice.