- Seattle is reckoning with the news that at least six SPD officers were in Washington, DC, on January 6.
- The Office of Police Accountability is investigating whether those officers breached the Capitol.
- Mike Solan, the president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, blamed Back Lives Matter and the far left for the riot.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
Days after an unprecedented domestic assault on democracy unfolded at the US Capitol, a tender wound reopened in Seattle, Washington.
As hundreds of rioters who breached the Capitol have started to be identified, with many facing federal charges, the Associated Press reported that over 30 police officers are under investigation for their presence at then-President Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally in DC on January 6.
Six Seattle Police Officers are under investigation after being in DC on the day of the Capitol riots – making it the largest identified group of officers from any police department in the nation to be present in DC on January 6.
Anne Bettesworth, a spokesperson for the Seattle Office of Police Accountability, acknowledged the number to Insider, saying, “We’re not keeping it a secret.”
In a statement released late on Friday, January 11, SPD Chief Adrian Diaz said that the OPA would investigate to determine whether SPD policies were violated and “if any potential illegal activities need to be referred for criminal investigation.”
“If any SPD officers were directly involved in the insurrection at the US Capitol, I will immediately terminate them. While OPA investigates, these officers have been placed on administrative leave,” Diaz said in the statement. He added that SPD supports all lawful expressions of the First Amendment but the violent events that unfolded “were unlawful and resulted in the death of another police officer.”
The OPA has 180 days to present its findings to the SPD, for the force to determine if policies were violated and to decide if criminal investigations will be sought.
Andrew Myerberg, the director of the OPA, told NPR, that officers are entitled to their political views, and the investigation will look into whether SPD policy was violated. The OPA added that if the officers committed federal crimes, they would work together with federal investigators.
Despite its reputation as a liberal bastion, the politics in the Pacific Northwest are more complicated.
And there is a tension between the police department, city leadership, and progressive activists in Seattle – friction that often garners national attention.
“It certainly creates friction when law enforcement is policing a city that’s as progressive as Seattle or Washington, DC, or Portland,” Myerberg acknowledged to NPR in January.
And community members are concerned.
Shaun Scott, a Seattle writer and organizer, pointed to the tweets from Mike Solan, a current officer and president of the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild, following the Capitol riot.
In a tweet sent out on January 7, Solan quote-tweeted right-wing provocateur Andy Ngo’s tweet, which suggested that Black Lives Matter and antifa activists infiltrated pro-Trump rioters. This, FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress, is false.
-Mike Solan (@realmikesolan) January 8, 2021
The city’s response
Following the tweet, Seattle city council members, Mayor Jenny Durkan, and former police chief Carmen Best called for Solan to resign.
The OPA initiated an investigation into Solan’s tweets, and all nine city council members have called for Solan’s resignation.
When reached for comment in January, Solan told Insider, “At this time I’m dealing with other union matters.” He said he would not comment on an open investigation when reached again in March.
Seattle City Council President Lorena Gonzalez, a two-term council-member and civil rights advocate, told Insider that knowing six officers were present in DC “sets us back.”
Gonzalez, who is running for mayor, told Insider that Solan was not fit to lead the union and added that Solan’s comments do “a disservice to the city of Seattle, and it’s a disservice to the work that we’ve been doing here for decades to reform this police department.” She added that it’s “fearmongering at its core, and not a representation of who we are as a city.”
In 2012 as a civil rights lawyer, Gonzalez settled a lawsuit with the SPD for $150,000, after an SPD officer threatened to “kick the Mexican piss” out of Gonzalez’s client Martin Monetti Jr. Since her tenure in the city council, she has seen three different SPD chiefs come and go and has been at the forefront of efforts to reimagine policing in Seattle, arguing that many of the issues are cultural.
“Cultural reform is really difficult in an institution that is a paramilitary organization,” Gonzalez, told Insider. “Officers need to understand that they are public servants and that means shifting from a warrior mind to a guardian mentality that is designed fundamentally on understanding who we are as a community and that you are here not to supervise us or to occupy our space in a military sense, but to be here as a protector.”
A community already suspicious of the police
Activists say the city’s response to officers attending Trump’s rally is too bureaucratic and not proactive enough.
The knowledge that six officers were in DC on the day of the Capitol siege has exacerbated an already strained relationship between the police and the Seattle community – especially after a string of violent policing incidents during the protests after George Floyd’s death.
In May 2020, a protest movement against police brutality grew in Seattle, mirroring the Black Lives Matter demonstrations all over the country. During the months-long movement, Seattle Police officers used tear gas and a variety of crowd-control weapons on protestors, leading a federal judge in June to slap a temporary restraining order on SPD for using “less-lethal weapons disproportionately and without provocation.” The department was then found to have violated that order.
The OPA is still working on dozens of investigations into the SPD around unauthorized uses of force against Black Lives Matter protesters in the summer, and in November, the City Council voted to cut the Seattle Police Department’s budget by 17%.
Jaiden Grayson, a Seattle educator, believes that a remedy must go further than Solan’s resignation, or city-led investigations into the officers in DC.
Grayson and Scott also believe the problem is much deeper than whether officers breached the Capitol and want the city to address potential political extremism within its ranks.
“Solan to me is that outlier voice that is more akin to the right-wing extremists, more akin to our previous president,” Grayson told Insider. “But that speaks to me about the entire culture of SPD, because if you think that the ideas and the way the SPD is acting on the ground are one thing, when they turn to the person who would hold them accountable and he says it wasn’t enough, that’s concerning.”
“Solan continues to act like officers can do no wrong, they’ve never done wrong, and in fact, they’re not doing enough. And the version of reform is to arm them more, make them more equipped to continue with that behavior,” Grayson added.
Grayson and Scott have been involved in efforts to reshape Seattle’s Police Department for a decade, and they are demanding that the city council subpoena Mike Solan using existing legal avenues. They want Sloan to be questioned, publicly, by a board of five to ten community members about his potential role in radicalizing and encouraging officers.
“The city’s office of civil rights needs to, at the very least, issue a statement denouncing the officers who participated in the coup attempt as well as the department that facilitated that,” Scott said. “The purpose of the speech that was being made amid that act of assembly on the 6th was that democracy doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter who got the most votes. What matters is might makes right.”
The Seattle LGBTQ and Human Rights commissions backed the call for the city to subpoena Solan, but Gonzalez’s office told Insider that City Council did not have the power to subpoena the executive branch. New legislation, subject to negotiations with the Seattle Police Officers Guild, could give city agencies the power to subpoena officers who have engaged in misconduct.
A legal battle brewing over the public disclosure of the identities of the officers
In late February, the six implicated officers, whose names have not been made public, sued the City of Seattle after the city notified them that it planned to release personnel records to four individuals, including a local reporter who requested them under Washington’s Public Records Act.
The officers lost in their initial bid to secure a preliminary injunction blocking a release of their information, arguing that they would become targets. King County Superior Court Judge Sandra Widlan allowed a temporary restraining order on the release of the information but blocked the permanent action as she said the officers voluntarily attended a highly public event outside of the workplace.
And on March 17, the Washington Court of Appeals temporarily extended that restraining order as the court reviews the King County Judge’s permission to release the officer’s names.
“(A) brief additional delay is justified to allow reasonable time for this Court to fairly consider the officers’ request for discretionary review,” Koh wrote in her ruling.
A hearing originally set in the Appeals Court for April 2, where the identities of the officers could have surfaced, was declared moot.
The court confirmed to Insider that the next hearing may still be months away, with no date set yet.
In the community and on the force, there are concerns that the problem runs deeper
According to a report released by Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office, Seattle’s Police Department saw record-breaking attrition at the end of 2020, with more officers predicted to leave the force in 2021.
And two of the first officers identified at the “Stop the Steal” rally were identified by an SPD colleague, who saw a photo of them attending on social media, according to the Seattle Times.
Mark Mullens, a Black officer in Seattle and a member of the CPC, said he has felt a line crossed when colleagues have sported MAGA hats to work.
“To me, that’s like wearing a Confederate flag, or bringing a Confederate flag to work,” he said. And at that meeting, Mullen spoke to the tension at the heart of disagreements between the CPC, the OPA, and activists in the city as the investigation is underway.
“Your political views are your business,” he said. “And whether you’re racist or not is still to be found out. But when you’re wearing that [hat], you’re not taking into consideration Black officers and other officers who might be triggered by that.” Mullen said, adding, “There’s also the question of the community’s trust.”
Grayson, the activist, said the events of January 6 have held up a mirror to a troubling side of Seattle’s identity.
“If police officers potentially used community resources, taxpayer dollars, to make their way to one of the greatest breaches in national security that has ever happened in American history, it tells Seattle, this is who we are,” Grayson said.