Seattle OPA Case Review: 2018OPA-0928

The Seattle Office of Police Accountability (OPA) is an office of the city of Seattle that is responsible for investigating complaints of Seattle Police Department (SPD) employee misconduct.

Case number 2018OPA-0928 is a OPA complaint that was referred to the OPA on September 19th, 2018 and was finally completed with a report issued on February 19th, 2020. OPA typically will issue a report on a complain within 180 days (6 months) but in this instance the final report took 518 days (1 year, 5 months) to be issued.

This case is a wild one involving 12 SPD officers at a drunken party, a wresting match gone wrong, and sexual harassment. OPA cases do not list officers by name so I will use OPA terminology. The Complainant (CO) who is the officer who filed the complaint, Named Employee (NE#1 and NE#2) who are the officers under investigation, and Witness Officer (WO#1, WO#2, WO#3, WO#4, WO#5, WO#6, WO#7, WO#8, WO#9, and WO#10) who are the other officers at the party who witnessed the events.

On August 11th, 2018, CO threw a party at his place and invited his work buddies. NE#1, NE#2, and all witnessing officers. There were also non-officers at the party but they all declined to talk to OPA, for some reason. Things started when NE#1 told CO's 20 year old daughter

If I were a hot lesbian, we would be together right now. We would be soulmates.

This was after she declined a drink from NE#1 multiple times. NE#1 then turned to CO's 17 year old son and said

I bet [he] wishes I was a hot lesbian right now so he could watch.

NE#1 then tried to put his arm around the daughter. She told him not to and headed inside the house.

Later on WO#3 and CO decided to wrestle each other. Why wrestle? The two are both into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and would commonly wrestle each other. The match was friendly but once the match concluded NE#1 became amped up and wanted to wrestle someone. WO#3 noticed that NE#1 was drinking more than other people at the party and was noticeably intoxicated and rowdy.

According to WO#4, NE#1 blew a 0.34 on a PBT at some point during the party. WO#4 said that this is over three times the legal limit. The legal limit in Washington state for drivers is 0.08. This means that NE#1 was actually 4.25 times over the legal limit.

In order to placate NE#1, CO suggested that his son, who had been taught BJJ by CO, wrestle NE#1. The son agreed "in order to be nice".

WO#4, who is the fiancée of WO#3, was sitting in a lawn chair about 10 to 15 feet away, saw NE#1 take his shirt off, and according to her, began to mentally prepare for the fight. WO#1 was inside the house and after noticing the scene decided to come outside in order to watch. He positioned himself about 5 feet away from the match. When asked by OPA where NE#2 was, WO#1 said he had no idea where she was at the time.

One the match began CO's wife, who was inside, noticed that her son and NE#1 were wrestling and became worried. She then told her daughter, who then went back outside to watch the match. She positioned herself about 4 feet away from the match.

Then NE#1 became frustrated, got on top of CO's son, and slammed him into the concrete causing his head to snap back and hit the ground. NE#1 then began pushing the son's face into the ground. At this point WO#6, who is the wife of WO#5, said that she heard multiple people yell out to try and stop the match.

According to WO#6, CO tried tapping NE#1's shoulder to try and get him off. NE#1 didn't react. CO then put both hands on NE#1 shoulders. NE#1 proceeded to turn around and raise a fist. WO#6 then heard the son say

Don't hit my dad

Instead of listening to the son, NE#1 punched CO in the face. NE#1 then turned back to the son and started choking him.

Later on when asked by OPA if he ever choked the son NE#1 said

I don’t –I don’t think wouldn’t have been practical or efficient for me to try and get a choke from the front.

While choking the son, NE#1 accused him of having sex with his girlfriend at the time, NE#2. WO#3, who was only peripherally paying attention to the match, rushed over, grabbed NE#1's leg in order to try and get him off CO's son. According to WO#4, WO#3 then gave NE#1 "suspect warnings" to calm down or WO#3 would use force. According to WO#3, he said that he ordered NE#1 to stop or that he would punch him. NE#1 then accused WO#3 of having sex with NE#2. After more yelling and fighting, WO#3 and CO got NE#1 off the son, pinning NE#1 to the ground instead. NE#1 was then told to leave the backyard. NE#1 remained aggressive and refused. WO#2, who was turned away from the wrestling match before this point until he heard a commotion, checked to make sure CO's son was okay. Eventually, NE#1 was then told to leave the party with NE#2 helping to remove him. According to WO#4, NE#1 then remained in front of the house for over an hour, at one point continuing to yell at WO#3. Ultimately, NE#1 left with NE#2.

WO#7 who is married to WO#8 were both at the party but left before the events happened. WO#9 also left before the events happened.

WO#10 was not at the party but was identified as a witness by NE#2. WO#10 said he was with CO and CO's wife several weeks after the party when he made a joke about what happened. CO and CO's wife reacted very strongly and told WO#10 that NE#1 was drunk and

was pretty much out of line and inappropriate the entire night

CO mentioned that NE#1 made an insulting comment to his daughter, tried to give his daughter alcohol, accused multiple people of having sex with NE#2, and that NE#1 left marks on the son that were there the next day. WO#10 apologized for bringing it up.

NE#1 was interviewed by the OPA but declined to give written statement based upon advice given to him by the Seattle Police Officer's Guild (SPOG). He told OPA that

  • He was intoxicated during the party but did not believe he blacked out.
  • He didn't recall the statements attributed to him by the daughter or the son but could not deny he said them.
  • He played card games at CO's house in the past that involved crude statements and inappropriate joking.
  • He did not take any action that would lead a reasonable observer to believe that he slammed the son's upper body into the ground.
  • That choking statement from above.
  • He was not trying to hurt the son.

NE#2 was interviewed and gave a written statement to the OPA. She told OPA that

  • She was not intoxicated and did not believe that anything impacted her memory.
  • She did not observe any assault and that if it had happened she would have observed it from her clear vantage point with no obstruction.
  • She saw that NE#1 was on top of the son with a raised hand. In her experience, this was not uncommon and had been done to her before when wrestling. She explained that it was "basically just showing your opponent where an opening would be if it were a striking match".
  • When NE#1 was pulled off CO's son, others "pig piled him".
  • She had a negative interaction with CO's wife on a later date at the West Precinct. This involved the wife accosting her and saying "I hope you enjoy your job while you have it, you won't have it much longer. Fucking bitch, lying cunt."

OPA reached the following conclusion regarding NE#2

OPA finds that NE#2 did knowingly and intentionally make false statements to the Homicide Sergeant. This decision is based on the following facts: (1) the weight of the evidence indicates that the punch and choke occurred; (2) NE#2 was the only witness who definitively says that they did not occur; (3) NE#2 had a motive to provide false information as she was endeavoring to protect NE#1; and (4) NE#2 made the knowingly false statements regarding material facts in order to protect NE#1.

At the discipline meeting, OPA discussed this recommended finding with NE#2's chain of command. The chain of command raised doubts concerning whether the evidence was sufficient to sustain a dishonesty finding against her. They specifically noted that NE#2 had consumed alcohol at the party and that, even if not supported by the evidence, she may have truly believed that NE#1 did not punch or choke CO's son given her perception of the fast-evolving events.

OPA found this point convincing and no longer believed that it could prove NE#2 was intentionally dishonest. Therefore, OPA could not recommend any findings against NE#2.

The Homicide Sergeant who was assigned to this case referred the case against NE#1 for criminal charges. The King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office declined to bring felony charges against NE#1 and instead charged NE#1 with 2 accounts of misdemeanor assault (4th degree assault). NE#1 later agreed to a dispositional continuance in which NE#1 would agree to not commit any other criminal offenses for 24 months, at which point the assault charges would be dismissed. He also agreed to 48 hours of community service, probation monitoring, completion of an alcohol evaluation and recommended treatment, and completion of an anger management course.

The OPA concluded that NE#1 acted unprofessionally in violation of SPD policy. His punishment was suspension without pay for 30 days.