Federal judge orders Seattle to figure out police accountability by July
May 21, 2019, 5:21 PM | Updated: 7:48 pm
(Seattle Police Department)
U.S. District Judge James Robart released his written ruling on Seattle’s compliance with a 2012 consent decree Tuesday, ordering the city to submit a plan for improving police accountability by July.
Robart officially announced his ruling last Wednesday, stating that the Seattle Police Department is partially out of compliance with the decree, specifically regarding accountability for disciplined officers.
Judge 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.
In his written ruling, he orders the City of Seattle to file a “methodology” for “assessing the present accountability regime,” and to lay out a plan “for how the City proposes to achieve compliance” with the consent decree. That will be due on July 15, 2019.
In a statement sent to MyNorthwest, Mayor Jenny Durkan noted that “an assessment of the accountability regime … can only benefit our city.”
Once the City proves it’s back in compliance, it will have to maintain that status for two full years before the consent decree can be terminated. That would extend the decree well past 2020, the year the agreement was originally slated to end, following a two-year “sustainment period” enacted in 2018.
Concerning a recently signed collective bargaining agreement between the City and the Seattle Police Officers Guild, the two parties may have some tough decisions to make in the near future.
While Judge Robart’s decision “makes no ruling concerning the CBA,” he also notes that the agreement eliminated key accountability reforms, and that its implementation represented a “reversion to an arbitration system that is materially unchanged from the old, inadequate accountability regime.”
Whether or not the two sides will renegotiate the CBA after this decision remains to be seen. SPOG tells The Jason Rantz Show that it is currently reviewing the ruling with its legal counsel.
“It is notable that the judge did not strike down the Collective Bargaining Agreement, or any specific provision in the CBA,” Mayor Durkan pointed out in her statement.
The city council passed the new police contract 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 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.
Mayor Durkan’s full statement regarding the ruling:
I am grateful that Judge Robart again acknowledges the significant reforms that SPD has accomplished in the seven years that the Consent Decree has been in place, and that the City remains in full and effective compliance in every one of the areas required by the Consent Decree and set forth by the sustainment order. We agree with the Court that we remain on track to meet all aspects of this order by January 2020 and are fully committed to working with DOJ, the Monitor and the community to ensure we do so.”
The Judge acknowledges that our police officers have done everything that the Court and the Consent Decree have required that we are now a national model on use of force, de-escalation and dealing with individuals in crisis, and that the growth in public confidence is ‘remarkable.’ Both Chief Best and I know that trust is earned every day and we will continuously work to improve and build trust with the community.
It is notable that the judge did not strike down the Collective Bargaining Agreement, or any specific provision in the CBA. Together with the Department of Justice, we are evaluating the Court’s order regarding the accountability regime and its relationship to the Consent Decree. But regardless of the next legal steps, we have made clear that we will continuously assess and improve as a Department. The Judge has ordered an assessment of the present accountability regime. Given the reforms and the changes made to the entire accountability system since the Consent Decree was entered, an assessment of the accountability regime, how it compares to other models across the nation, functions as a system and its impact on officers, policing and community confidence can only benefit our city.