Federal judge finds Seattle police out of compliance on accountability
KIRO 7 TV’s Essex Porter reported Wednesday that a federal judge has ruled the Seattle Police Department is partially out of compliance with a 2012 consent decree. His ruling specifically regarded accountability for disciplined officers.
U.S. District Judge James Robart’s decision was multi-faceted, stating that while SPD was still aligned with the consent decree when it comes to use-of-force, it was still out-of-compliance in other key aspects.
Robart cited concern over one recent incident, where Seattle Officer Adley Shepherd was fired after punching a handcuffed woman in the back of his patrol car, before getting reinstated by an arbitrator. The judge showed video of the incident to the courtroom to emphasize his point regarding a system of accountability in need of improvement.
As recently as February, Department of Justice attorneys had argued that the circumstances surrounding Officer Shepherd’s reinstatement were merely “an individual incident,” and not an indication that the city was out of compliance.
This could potentially threaten the recently-signed police union contract, with Judge Robart calling for a reform to the appeals process for disciplined officers.
The new police contract was passed by city council in November by an 8-1 margin, with Councilmember Kshama Sawant operating as the lone vote in opposition. In the lead-up to its passage, many advocacy groups had argued that it rolled back necessary measures for police accountability, related to limits placed on misconduct investigations.
Mayor Durkan expressed her support for the contract shortly after it was passed. The DOJ also noted in February that the contract aligned with the consent decree.
The Seattle Police Officers Guild said it would “refrain from commenting” until it can read Judge Robart’s order in full, written form. SPOG President Kevin Stuckey also said that the guild has “a valid contract that was negotiated in good faith, ratified by our membership, and signed into law by Mayor Durkan.”
In his Wednesday ruling, Robart went on to praise SPD for making improvements in other areas, noting that he is “very proud of the Seattle police,” and that “the force is better trained, better led, and more in tune with the times.”
The consent decree was originally passed in 2012 — led by then-U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan — after a DOJ investigation “found a pattern or practice of excessive force that violates the U.S. Constitution and federal law.” The decree now operates as a means to eliminate unconstitutional policing.