Seattle cop got preferential treatment in prostitution arrest

The officer, who lives in Monroe, also serves as a commissioner for Snohomish County Fire District 7.

Randal Woolery

Randal Woolery

By Lewis Kamb

The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — Late on a Wednesday last November, a middle-aged man in an Audi sport-utility vehicle pulled into a lot off Aurora Avenue North and allegedly agreed to pay $40 for sex to a police decoy posing as a prostitute.

The undercover cop silently gave a signal, and a team of Seattle police officers watching from nearby swooped in. They soon realized their vice sting had netted one of their own: an out-of-uniform Seattle police captain named Randal Woolery, who lives in Monroe.

Police body-camera videos of Woolery’s arrest that night show that after officers handcuffed him and read him his rights, he turned to a supervising officer and asked: “May I talk to the sergeant?”

Sgt. Jeffrey Page took Woolery away from the other officers, and with the sergeant’s body camera still recording, Woolery told him: “I’m going through a divorce.”

“OK, brother,” Page responded. “I’ll try to make this as … painless as possible.”

Moments later, Page shut off his body camera and stopped recording the arrest — a violation of department policy. His action would be the first in a series of apparent breaks given to Woolery that night.

The preferential treatment afforded to Woolery wasn’t mentioned in the department’s brief announcement following his arrest. But details of how the department handled the matter can be gleaned from police video and in incident reports since obtained by The Seattle Times, and from internal investigation records since publicly released by the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), the department’s citizen-led watchdog on officer conduct.

Woolery continues to serve as an elected commissioner for Snohomish County Fire District 7, a position that pays up to $12,288 annually.

Unlike the four other men arrested in the sting that night, Woolery avoided having what Page later described as an “embarrassing situation” fully videotaped, according to records from the internal investigation. The police captain also wasn’t taken in handcuffs to a North Precinct holding cell to await booking into the King County Jail. Woolery, in fact, didn’t spend any time behind bars that night, records show.

Aside from Page, at least three high-ranking Seattle police officials were involved in deciding how to handle Woolery’s arrest that night. Capt. Eric Sano, then-commander of the North Precinct, Assistant Chief Steve Hirjak, who oversees the department’s community outreach unit, and then-Deputy Chief Marc Garth Green, who was the department’s second in command.

At the time of Woolery’s arrest, Garth Green had recently drawn sharp criticism from several City Council members while defending a department emphasis on arresting sex workers on Aurora rather than johns, by remarking during a council meeting that some prostitutes “choose” their work and “enjoyed” it.

Reached by phone this week, Woolery declined comment, but said he would forward an interview request to his attorney. His lawyer didn’t call or respond to a message.

Garth Green, Sano and Hirjak also each declined to be interviewed.

Sgt. Randy Huserik, who heads SPD’s media unit, answered via email some general questions about Woolery’s arrest, but declined to comment on questions related to the commanders’ actions that night, including identifying all department leaders involved in the matter.

“As this information is part of a still ‘open’ OPA investigation, it is not currently available for release,” Huserik repeated in response to those questions.

Investigation on hold

So far, only Page has faced discipline in Woolery’s arrest for turning off his body camera. He was reprimanded and given more training on proper documentation of camera deactivation. Then-Chief Carmen Best sustained the discipline on June 29. OPA closed his case and publicly released a summary of it on Aug. 31.

OPA Director Andrew Myerberg said in an email this week that his office will decide whether to open an investigation of the commanders involved with Woolery’s arrest after his criminal case is resolved.

Woolery, 54, has been charged with one misdemeanor count of “sexual exploitation,” the city’s name for the crime of patronizing a prostitute. He has pleaded not guilty. Prosecution of his case has been postponed due to cancellation of Seattle Municipal Court hearings during the coronavirus pandemic.

In turn, an internal investigation of Woolery also has been suspended until his criminal case is resolved, which is required under the city’s contract with the Seattle Police Management Association, the police managers’ union, Myerberg said.

The OPA “could have moved ahead with the investigation” of the other commanders, Myerberg said. “However, from a resource management perspective, it just makes more sense for us to do the cases together as opposed to breaking them out into separate cases,” he said.

At the time of his arrest, Woolery, an officer for 32 years, served as commander of the Force Review Unit, which oversees use-of-force cases and their compliance with ongoing reforms and standards. He’s been on paid administrative leave since the day after his arrest. Over that roughly 44-week span, Woolery has earned about $174,000, based on his hourly pay rate of $98.72.

Woolery, one of eight Seattle officers now on paid leave related to disciplinary issues, isn’t required to be compensated during his indefinite suspension. Under the contract with the police managers union, the chief of police has discretion to determine if “leave without pay is necessary in order to maintain the public trust.”

“Public trust” undermined

During his OPA investigation, Page acknowledged Woolery hadn’t asked him to turn off his body camera, but said he interpreted Woolery’s appeal to talk as “a request, or an order” from a senior officer. Page “felt he could not say no because the Subject was a ‘high-ranking member’ of SPD,” according to a summary of the OPA investigation.

After Page turned off his body camera, Woolery mostly talked about his personal issues and asked to be allowed “to make a phone call to his immediate superior, an Assistant Chief of Police.”

Page called his captain, Sano, “who agreed to the phone call as well as to the uncuffing” of Woolery. Page and other officers uncuffed Woolery, let him make the phone call and then Page “participated in several calls with SPD leadership as they determined a course of action.”

Sano advised Page to take Woolery to SPD headquarters downtown — a 10-mile drive — rather than to the North Precinct, about two miles away, “because of significant officer activity at the Precinct,” the OPA investigation states.

At headquarters, “several members of SPD leadership arrived and spoke to (Woolery) in private,” including Garth Green. The deputy chief later asked Page “to see if the (King County Jail) had any expedited booking procedures,” according to the OPA records.

Page did, and with an unidentified officer, took Woolery to the jail. The administrative booking took 23 minutes, according to jail records.

By comparison, the four other men arrested during the vice sting that night each spent more than seven hours in jail, with one spending 13½ hours there, jail records show.

Officers then returned Woolery to headquarters. Garth Green and Assistant Chief Hirjak told Page they would wait with Woolery until a member of the department’s peer support group, which counsels troubled officers, arrived, according to the case summary.

Huserik didn’t answer a question about how and when Woolery left headquarters that night, but he noted the captain’s Audi “was impounded to a tow lot, where he then had to retrieve it on his own and pay any associated fees.”

The OPA investigation of Page concluded that while he “was faced with a difficult scenario” in supervising the arrest of a senior officer, department policy is “clear that turning off his (body-worn video) was improper.”

Page’s actions may have impeded the criminal and administrative investigations of Woolery, and they “gave the appearance of preferential treatment to an arrested SPD employee” that wouldn’t have been offered to regular citizens, the investigation summary said.

“Doing so serves to undermine the public trust and confidence in the operations of SPD.”

Direction from the top

In early August, then-Chief Best tapped Sano to take command of SPD’s East Precinct, about a month after police expelled protesters from the Capitol Hill Organized Protest area surrounding it.

“I’m a very outgoing guy [and] very community oriented,” Sano told KOMO News about his new assignment. “They wanted someone who could mend fences with our community but also restore morale with our officers, so it was me.”

A few months earlier, an OPA investigator interviewed Sano about Page’s actions during Woolery’s arrest. He confirmed that he approved the decision to uncuff Woolery and directed Page to take him downtown rather than to the North Precinct, the summary of the investigation states.

Sano “found no fault” with Page for turning off his body camera during the arrest. In his opinion, Sano told an OPA investigator, the act met with the policy exceptions. Once Woolery arrived at headquarters, Sano told OPA “the decisions were made by senior SPD leadership.”

For its investigation of Page, OPA did not interview Garth Green, the former deputy chief, or Hirjak, the assistant chief who oversees a newly formed bureau dedicated to improving community outreach. But each can be interviewed and investigated when OPA takes up its internal review of Woolery.

Six weeks before Woolery’s arrest, Garth Green’s remarks about prostitutes that drew criticism during a City Council meeting prompted Best to send a letter to the council apologizing two days later. She also demoted Garth Green to lieutenant in February without publicly specifying a reason.

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