Seattle Police Chief answers to civilian police oversight over tombstone display

Jul 19, 2023, 2:18 PM | Updated: 3:54 pm

Seattle police tombstone...

Seattle Police Chief, Adrian Diaz, appeared before a civilian police oversight body Wednesday to answer questions about a fake tombstone of a man killed by officers that was put on display in the East Precinct. (Photo from KIRO 7)

(Photo from KIRO 7)

Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz appeared before a civilian police oversight body Wednesday to answer questions about a fake tombstone of a man killed by officers that was put on display in the East Precinct.

The display was seen in 2021 body camera footage, uncovered recently during a separate court case on graffiti and published first by The Seattle Times. It listed the name of Damarius Butts and the date he was killed by Seattle police officers in 2017.

At the Community Police Commission meeting Wednesday, Commissioner Adrien Leavitt, who also represented the Butts family during a judicial inquiry into his death, condemned the display.

More on SPD tombstone: Footage captured within Seattle Police precinct shows ‘appalling’ tombstone for Black man killed

“As you know, the memorial that was in the police department was supposed to remember him; it was supposed to remember his life and that he mattered,” Leavitt said. “Taking that from wherever it was found and placing it in the East Precinct shows a deep level of disrespect to him, to his family, and to his community.”

Commissioners questioned Diaz on a number of details surrounding how, when, and who put up the tombstone.

“I want to know who took the memorial to Damarius. I want to know where it was taken from and who brought it to the East Precinct and who displayed it. I want to know how long it was there,” Leavitt said. “I want to know how many officers saw it and did not say anything. Did not speak up.”

Diaz defended the current culture of the department, pointing to lower complaints against officers than in years prior to his taking command. He answered many of the questions deferring to an ongoing investigation by the Office of Police Accountability (OPA).

“We’re working with the OPA to answer, I think, the first set of questions that you had because I think we don’t necessarily have the answers for that,” Daiz told Leavitt.

“I do know Capt. Eric Sano was the captain of the East Precinct at that time, so that is the one thing that I can note, but as far as some of the other details, as far as officers who saw it, who displayed it, and who put it up – that is stuff that I think the OPA will hopefully be able to kind of unwind and be able to articulate what happened.”

The chief pointed to a “significant” number of officers who have since left the department but served in the East Precinct. He said Seattle Police Department will work with the OPA’s investigation to uncover if any of those people were involved.

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Under fire was also a workplace culture within SPD that some commissioners claimed is historically racist and toxic.

“The culture that allows such displays and violations of policy and law have no place in any police department, especially a department seeking to come out from under federal court oversight following a pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing,” said CPC Co-chair Joel Merkel Jr. in a statement after the body camera video’s circulation.

Follow Sam Campbell on Twitter or email him here

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Seattle Police Chief answers to civilian police oversight over tombstone display