SEATTLE — Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is backing his interim police chief’s decision to overturn misconduct findings against seven officers, including an incident in which an officer threatened to harass an editor at the weekly newspaper The Stranger.
In a late Friday news conference, Murray said Interim Chief Harry Bailey made the right decision in one case and simply approved six other actions endorsed by his predecessor.
Murray said Bailey acted appropriately when he reversed the one-day suspension of Officer John Marion, who along with a King County Sheriff’s deputy, threatened Dominic Holden, an editor at the Stranger, when he stopped to photograph police activity at a public transit plaza last summer. The sheriff’s deputy, who had a long history of complaints, was later fired.
Bailey’s actions and Murray’s approval of them are raising serious concerns from a police watchdog and have prompted pointed questions from City Council.
In overturning the suspension, the action removed a misconduct finding from the officer’s record.
“While this could be perceived as a lesser punishment under the current legal framework, Chief Bailey believes, and I support him, that the framework for this process is reflective of what is most constructive — training, changing behavior,” Murray said.
The training Marion went through includes making the officer create a presentation about best practices in working with the public and speaking at precinct roll calls about what he had learned.
Before the news conference, The Seattle Times reported that City Councilmember Tim Burgess sent a pointed letter to Bailey asking for further explanation of the reversal.
“As my questions indicated, I’m concerned that your review of prior cases, all fully investigated with final dispositions reached, will send a message that I don’t believe you intend and that is that you are reversing previous Police Chief findings merely because you don’t personally agree with the outcomes,” Burgess wrote in the letter obtained by the Times.
All of the misconduct reversals approved by Bailey stemmed from negotiations between the city and the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild. Bailey once served with the police guild. The guild also endorsed Murray over previous Mayor Mike McGinn in last year’s election.
During the campaign, Murray often criticized McGinn over his handling of the police department, which is under a federal consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice after federal investigators found that officers too often resorted to excessive force and displayed troubling evidence of biased policing
A retired judge who oversees Seattle’s police-accountability system said that Bailey’s actions raise questions.
“Based on what has been made public thus far, this reflects a very serious problem that has the potential to significantly undermine public trust,” Anne Levinson said. “It appears that cases where there was found to be misconduct, and discipline was to have been imposed, have been overturned, not by order of a court or an arbitrator but simply because the officers and the union did not agree with the result.”
Bailey has denied his decisions are “payback” to the union, the Times reported.
At Friday’s news conference, Holden and Murray exchanged tense questions and answers.
“Murray and Bailey, by protecting a bad cop, only further erode the limited trust many citizens have of a department with a pattern of civil rights violations,” Holden later told the Associated Press.
Information from: The Seattle Times, http://www.seattletimes.com