Report: Seattle mayor hires firm to probe SPD sexual harassment, discrimination claims

Apr 30, 2024, 10:20 AM | Updated: 10:25 pm

Image: Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell is seen in 2023....

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell is seen in 2023. (Photo: Mat Hayward, Getty Images)

(Photo: Mat Hayward, Getty Images)

UPDATE: 4/30/24, 10:20 p.m.

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell is hiring an outside investigator to look into claims of gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the Seattle Police Department (SPD), according to a report in The Seattle Times late Tuesday night. The media outlet acquired a letter Harrell sent to the Seattle City Council and linked to it in its coverage of the development.

Four women working for the SPD have accused its leadership of the harassment and discrimination.

The letter, in part, reads, “As I have stated previously, my administration is committed to building a police service that is representative of our community, including ensuring women are empowered and able to succeed. Indeed, this is my clear expectation for SPD and its command staff.

“To this end, I take these recent allegations very seriously and believe it is essential for public trust and confidence to commission an external and independent review,” Harrell wrote.

The mayor’s letter to the council states he intends to retain Marcella Fleming Reed of MFR Associates to perform the review, noting she is “an expert in the investigation of workplace harassment and discrimination claims.”

Harrell went on to write he intends to ask Fleming Reed to evaluate the investigations stemming from the claims of discrimination and harassment to determine whether they were “thorough and appropriately handled and whether the findings are supported by the evidence.” He added he will also ask for any needed “systemic recommendations.”

Image: Seattle Police Department Chief Adrian Diaz is seen in September 2020.

Seattle Police Department Chief Adrian Diaz is seen in September 2020. (File photo: Elaine Thompson, AP)


Four women working for the Seattle Police Department (SPD) have accused its leadership of sexual harassment and discrimination.

The employees claimed the department is “actively punishing women for refusing to submit to male supervisors’ bullying and harassing behavior,” according to the tort claim filed last Thursday. A tort claim is an informal notice that can trigger informal resolution without the cost of litigation, different from a lawsuit which is a more formal case filed within the appropriate court.

The claim followed accounts from other women who’ve made similar claims regarding sexual harassment and discrimination within SPD, with one report calling it a “good old boys club.”

More on the SPD: What Seattle police officers are saying during exit interviews

“They have a report from police officers female police officers outlining the type of sexism and misogyny that is happening within the department and it has been there and pervasive for over a decade yet they’re not doing anything about it,” Sumeer Singla, the attorney representing the four women officers, told KIRO Newsradio. “It’s time for leadership — the mayor, the city council, the city attorney — to decide whether they are going to support women who have been abused or are they going to support a police chief who’s allowing the abuse.”

Police Chief Adrian Diaz and Lt. John O’Neil, who leads the Public Affairs Unit, were included in the tort claim acquired by The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.

O’Neil was accused of telling a subordinate he’s “really good at sex” during an “invite only” Las Vegas retreat. When O’Neil and the subordinate returned, rumors spread throughout the department that Gulpan and O’Neil had sex on the trip. According to the claim acquired by The Jason Rantz Show, the subordinate confronted O’Neil about the rumor, only for him to respond with “that would be a feather in my cap.”

The tort claim is for $5 million.

“The department will not respond to the personal attacks rooted in rough estimations of hearsay reflecting, at their core, individual perceptions of victimhood that are unsupported and – in some instances – belied by the comprehensive investigations that will no doubt ultimately be of record,” SPD said in a prepared statement. “While policing, not unlike many professions that require a high level of physicality, has been and remains a male-dominated profession, the department and Chief Diaz are proud of the advancements made by women in the department over the past four years.

“While individual grievances may drive headlines, the department is confident that the record, in its fullness, will prove them unsupported,” SPD’s statement continued.

SPD told The Seattle Times it’s confident the claims will prove unsupported, but the department has been riddled with discrimination claims over the last few months. A 27-year SPD veteran filed a lawsuit in January against both the department and Chief Adrian Diaz alleging gender discrimination, according to The Seattle Times, specifically alleging Diaz has a history of misogyny and retaliated against her for applying for chief.

Two months prior, a detective claimed she felt both race and gender discrimination on a daily basis during her 43-year tenure with SPD.

More on SPD leadership: SPD captain claims Chief Diaz has ‘history of misogyny’ in newly-filed lawsuit

The tort claim included allegations of Diaz seemingly “grooming” one officer in the Public Affairs Unit who became uncomfortable with the police chief.

“These claims against Chief Diaz are both false and contradicted by the claimants’ earlier statements in extensive EEO investigations,” Diaz said in a statement through legal representation. “As a Hispanic American with decades of experience in law enforcement, Chief Diaz has faced significant discrimination throughout his career. He well understands the negative impact it can have both personally and professionally.

“Modern politics has firmly and unfortunately established that salacious allegations and propaganda will routinely beat fact checking,” the statement continued. “There is little hope that the media will report with equal fervor when these claims against the chief are disproven. The reality is a modern big city chief will always be the target of disgruntled, dissatisfied claimants.”

KIRO Newsradio has reached out for comment from the SPD.

Editors’ note: This story originally was published on Friday, April 26, 2024. It has been updated and republished multiple times since then.

Contributing: Steve Coogan, MyNorthwest; Heather Bosch, KIRO Newsradio

Frank Sumrall is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read his stories here and you can email him here.

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