SPD ‘misinformation campaign’ has council, mayor’s office demanding answers
With the conclusion of an investigation into the Seattle Police Department’s faked radio chatter — which falsely suggested the presence of far-right “Proud Boy” protesters around Seattle’s East Precinct at the pinnacle of 2020 protests — a number of questions remain unanswered.
One question Seattle City Council attempted to address Tuesday is how this will affect police reform and accountability in the future, and what role, if any, “ruses” will play with Seattle’s police officers.
Officially, a ruse is defined as a legally sanctioned process by a which an officer can misrepresent information to obtain evidence in a criminal investigation.
According to an investigation launched by Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA) — prompted by reporting done by Converge Media’s Omari Salisbury and activist Matt Watson — police officers with “virtually no supervision” suggested on radio chatter in 2020 that a group of armed “Proud Boys” were making their way towards the East Precinct, and in so doing “added fuel to the fire,” according to OPA Director Andrew Myerberg.
Myerberg presented his report Tuesday to the council’s Public Safety and Human Services Committee. In that presentation, he detailed why this particular ruse was challenging to investigate.
Primarily, he pointed out, neither documentation of the attempt nor chain of command accountability were found. The OPA determined that the operation was conducted by the Seattle Police Operations Center (SPOC) at the behest of “Named Employee #1,” then-captain of the East Precinct Bryan Grenon, as identified by the Seattle Times.
OPA then conducted interviews with officers named by Grenon, and “ultimately [was] able to identify nearly all the officers that were on the audio recording,” Myerberg said in the committee meeting.
“What became very clear was that … there was virtually no supervision or guidance that was provided to any of the officers,” Myerberg continued. “This ruse or this effort was generically created by Named Employee #1 who did not provide significant supervision to … all the other officers. There were other officers that did use misinformation as well.”
“We used the ruse policy because it was the best fit for this case,” he clarified. “But really, this isn’t a true ruse. This is a misinformation campaign.”
Those findings prompted Public Safety Chair Lisa Herbold to call “for increased oversight of SPD’s use of deceptive tactics, or ruses,” according to a press release from her office last week.
“Councilmember Herbold is requesting that SPD and OPA immediately work together to both fully implement OPA’s 2019 recommendation and create a clear policy requiring that SPD’s use of ruses be fully documented, which has not occurred in the past,” referencing a 2019 OPA investigation that determined another ruse had contributed to a man’s suicide.
Tuesday’s committee hearing was attended by Herbold, Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell, and Councilmember Andrew Lewis, among others.
A common refrain among them was the lack of transparency between SPD and municipal government, with the deputy mayor noting that she “was made aware of this case through an article in the Seattle Times,” a sentiment echoed by several.
Lewis made the point that the incident is of an ilk with other fallout from the 2020 protests, and that there are similar threads among them. Referencing Federal District Court Judge Richard Jones’ 2020 contempt finding, “Jones determined that the use of force and the tactics SPD [used] were … harsher because of the … speech that the protesters were using,” Lewis said.
“I go back to those because I think when we have these conversations, we need to really center what we’re talking about. … We had a department that was engaged in really concerning activity, … this investigation is one of a whole bunch of episodes that led an article three judge, appointed by a president, confirmed by the U.S. Senate, to say that our police department was being specifically brutal to protesters.”
Lewis asked why the operation was exclusive to SPOC and Captain Grenon, and why there was not more oversight from chain of command.
“We’re just hearing an awful lot [about how] people in the high command didn’t know things,” Lewis continued. “My concern is at what point should … there [be] consequences for people not making themselves aware of these things that were happening, if they’re in a position of that level of authority and command over the police service in the city?”
“I would say nothing about this case is common,” Myerberg responded. “I think that’s the reality. It’s really difficult to answer because I’ve never seen that happen. I’ve never seen this happen before.”
Lewis contextualized the ruse with the “pink umbrella incident” where a similar breakdown of the chain of command occurred.
“Interim Chief [Adrian] Diaz [has] … set a precedent,” Lewis offered. “It seems like by that standard of chain of command that’s being applied, there should be more that’s happening with how this ruse is dealt with. … I’m tired of being in a position where I’m reading in the news about the latest thing that comes out to 2020, and everything gets fobbed off on a mid-level person.”