SEATTLE — Three misconduct complaints against former Seattle police Chief Carmen Best from the summer of 2020 went unaddressed and are still pending.
Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office this year sent the cases to an investigator outside the city, The Seattle Times reported.
Police watchdogs and Harrell’s office say the cases sat because former Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office didn’t agree to send them to an outside investigator, though she disputes that characterization.
The complaints involve Best’s handling of tear gas during protests and statements about the “occupied” protest zone known as CHOP that happened amid nationwide unrest over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Thousands of complaints were filed against the Police Department during the summer of 2020. The Office of Police Accountability (OPA) consolidated those into 145 investigations, most of which have been completed.
“I was alarmed to find out in the beginning of 2022 that there were three un-investigated complaints,” City Councilmember Lisa Herbold told the newspaper, arguing the issue has exposed “a gap in our accountability system.”
Two agencies were involved: OPA, which investigates misconduct complaints against Police Department employees, and the Office of Inspector General (OIG), which provides systemic oversight for the department and OPA.
When the complaints against Best were filed, OPA’s operations manual didn’t allow the agency to investigate the chief, according to Harrell’s office.
Durkan asked OIG to take the complaints, according to Andrew Myerberg, who was then OPA’s director and is now Harrel’s public safety adviser, Inspector General Lisa Judge, and Harrell’s office. OIG declined, citing jurisdictional concerns and potential conflicts. OPA conducted preliminary investigations only, with no findings.
Harrell agreed to send the cases out after becoming mayor in January, and an outside investigator began work in April, according to Harrell’s office.
“OPA is not releasing the investigator’s name or associated company to facilitate the investigative process fairly” and to “prevent undue influence,” Harrell spokesperson Jamie Housen said.
Durkan wasn’t responsible for the cases sitting in limbo, said Chelsea Kellogg, a spokesperson for the ex-mayor. Though Durkan’s office initially supported in-house options, OPA was an independent agency and could have subsequently outsourced the cases, Kellogg said.
At the time the OPA complaints were filed, the agency’s manual said the OPA director should, for complaints against the chief, consult with the mayor’s office “to identify an appropriate city authority outside OPA or an independent investigator who will conduct any investigation necessary.”
In January, the agency’s manual was changed, allowing OPA to investigate complaints against a chief, hand them off to another city agency or outsource them.
According to Harrell’s office, the complaints were filed before Best retired in September 2020. Neither Harrell’s office nor OPA nor Durkan has provided a detailed timeline for what happened next.
Best didn’t return emails requesting comment. OPA declined to comment on the cases.
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