Report: Seattle officer fired after previous racist comments surfaced

Jun 21, 2024, 11:18 AM | Updated: 11:23 am

Image: A Seattle Police Department vehicle is parked outside Lumen Field in Seattle....

A Seattle Police Department vehicle is parked outside Lumen Field in Seattle. (Courtesy of the Seattle Police Department/SPD Blotter)

(Courtesy of the Seattle Police Department/SPD Blotter)

A Seattle Police Department (SPD) officer was fired for calling his Chinese American neighbor racist and sexist slurs and uttering other comments while off duty in 2022, according to a local report.

Officer Burton Hill was fired in May, according to reports from The Seattle Times and Northwest Asian Weekly. It was a disciplinary action stemming from an August 2022 altercation with his neighbor in a Kenmore condominium complex, Zhen Jin.

Adrian Diaz, then the SPD chief, ultimately made the decision to fire Hill.

Officer Eric Muñoz, an SPD spokesperson, told the Times Hill was fired on May 2. Interim Police Chief Sue Rahr confirmed in an email to the Northwest Asian Weekly Hill “was separated” from SPD on May 13.

Previous coverage: Diaz departs as SPD chief; Interim head Rahr to focus on cultural change

Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Hill for comment weren’t successful ahead of the publishing of a story Thursday.

What happened in August 2022

Last September, The Stranger detailed the story about “an ongoing campaign” by Hill, who is also a realtor, and his wife, Agnes Miggins, to drive Jin, a Chinese-American woman, out of the Kenmore complex where they all live. Jin, who works as a Seattle Public School bus driver, also lives with and takes care of her blind, elderly Palestinian-American uncle. Neither Jin nor her uncle speak English fluently.

2023 story: Seattle officer put on administrative leave after racist comments surface

The Office of Police Accountability (OPA) conducted an investigation into Hill’s remarks and threats toward Jin in August 2022 and released the results of its probe last week, Northwest Asian Weekly noted.

OPA Director Gino Betts Jr. sustained two of the three allegations against Hill related to officer professionalism and bias-based policing. A third allegation about officers not using their authority for personal gain was found inconclusive.

OPA’s report proposed a punishment that ranged from a 30-day suspension to termination from his position in the department. (A PDF of the OPA report can be viewed here.)

The Chinese Information and Service Center (CISC), which bills itself as “a nonprofit organization working to support immigrants and their families by creating opportunities for them to succeed, while honoring their heritage,” submitted an online OPA complaint alleging that in addition to Hill making the racist and sexist remarks, he “pounded aggressively on the door of our client.” From there, after Jin and her uncle “frighteningly opened the door, the officer’s aggression continued.”

The CISC complaint also included a recording of an exchange between Hill, Miggins, Jin and Jin’s uncle that featured Hill uttering racist and sexist remarks and a series of curse words. A portion of the recording’s transcript is in the OPA report.

According to the investigation, after hearing the recording, Hill told investigators that he denied remembering calling Jin “names.” But he admitted to being “very upset and intoxicated.” However, he noted that it “Sounds like me, yeah.” But he also said, “You shouldn’t say those things … And it actually it makes me sick that I actually said that to her.”

CISC released a statement on its Facebook page Thursday confirming it worked with OPA during their investigation and lauded the bravery of their client to speak out about what was happening.

Our client showed tremendous courage to speak with CISC about what was happening to her and be a witness in our complaint to hold law enforcement accountable,” the statement reads. “We are immensely moved by our client’s strength during this ordeal.”

SPD’s previous reaction to the Hill report

In a statement posted on the SPD Blotter the afternoon in 2023 the report from The Stranger came out, Diaz said he had taken steps to place an officer on administrative leave following the release of an audio recording with comments by the officer that led to the filing of a complaint. Diaz did not mention Hill by name in his statement.

“This morning I listened to an audio recording that includes comments by an off-duty Seattle police officer,” the statement began. “A bias/hate complaint was filed with the Office of Police Accountability (OPA).”

In his statement, Diaz called out racist language as “completely unacceptable and is inconsistent with the high standards the department sets for its employees.” He later added, “racist comments and behavior by department employees will not be tolerated.”

From Ursula Reutin: More work needs to be done to transform SPD

Diaz concluded his statement by apologizing to “the person who was subjected to these offensive remarks, as well as to the community.”

“We clearly have more work to do to build trust between the department and the people we serve,” Diaz said.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Steve Coogan is the lead editor of MyNorthwest. You can read more of his stories here. Follow Steve on X, or email him here.

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