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Councilmember Herbold on OPA Findings Surrounding SPD Officers’ Attendance of January 6 Insurrection

SEATTLE, WA – Seattle City Council Public Safety and Human Services Committee chair Lisa Herbold (District 1, West Seattle and South Park) made the following statement in receiving the recommendations of the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), resulting from the investigation of the Seattle Police Department officers in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021:

“On January 6 in Washington D.C., an insurrection targeted the US Capitol and our democratic institutions and attempted to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power that is the cornerstone of our democracy. That assault resulted in the death of a Capitol Police officer. Our elected leaders in Congress were in grave danger.

“Upon learning that Seattle police officers were in Washington, D.C. on January 6 attending the rally that preceded the insurrection, I heard very strong concern from numerous constituents.

“The recommendations of the Discipline Committee to terminate two officers for lack of professionalism and violations of law and policy are sound, and a necessary step for public confidence in police accountability and justice.

“Seattle police officers made up the largest known contingent of police attending the January 6 rally, more than any other municipality across the country. Many of my constituents question whether they can trust officers who attended “Stop the Steal” to uphold the mission and principles of SPD’s Code of Ethics. Whether they were “directly involved” in the insurrection, or if they attended with the intent to passively support the unlawful insurrection and violent assault of our nation’s Capitol, neither act is an example of protected free speech nor should our support of free speech shield accountability for these acts.   

The SPD Code of Ethics states: ‘“As a Seattle Police employee I am responsible for supporting the mission and principles of the Seattle Police Department.’”  These principles are justice, excellence, humility and harm reduction.  Further, the standards and duties policy states:  ‘“Regardless of duty status, employees may not engage in behavior that undermines public trust in the Department, the officer, or other officers….It is not the Department’s intent to interfere with or constrain the freedoms, privacy, and liberties of employees; discipline will only be imposed where there is a connection between the conduct and the duties, rank, assignment, or responsibilities of the employee.’” (emphasis added)

“The strong ‘objection’ and characterization of the investigation as ‘unlawful and discriminatory’ by the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) in their opposition to OPA’s investigation, seems intended only to unreasonably stall accountability.  Court precedent grants law enforcement agencies more latitude to restrict speech and association, citing their ‘heightened need for order, loyalty, morale and harmony.’

“At the onset of the investigation, I told Director Myerberg that I believed that the investigation should go further than asking the question of what actions SPD employees took while in D.C. on January 12 and should include an inquiry of whether SPD employees traveled to D.C. with knowledge, like so many people did, that there was going to be an attempted insurrection.  According to research from nonpartisan nonprofit Advance Democracy, before January 6 there were calls for violence that proliferated in tens of thousands of comments on posts on Twitter, TikTok, right-wing platform Parler, an online forum formed last year in support of Donald Trump, and other message boards. Since 2006, the FBI has been warning us that extremist groups have strong ties to law enforcement.

“If public employees knowingly travelled to a location in support of people whom they knew were intending to attempt an insurrection, even if their participation was as a passive observer, that is a ‘clear connection between conduct and duties or…responsibilities’ and is an offense that merits termination.  I will review the OPA investigation with an eye towards whether questions were asked of the four officers without sustained findings, and whether evidence was sought, to determine the advance knowledge they had of the planned violent events at the Capitol insurrection of January 6.”

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