SEATTLE — A Seattle police officer has been placed on leave, after audio surfaced Friday of racist remarks directed at his Chinese-American neighbor.
The audio was uncovered by The Stranger, as part of an ongoing dispute involving SPD Officer Burton Hill, his wife, and his elderly Chinese-American neighbor, Zhen Jin, all of whom live in the same Kenmore condominium complex.
In it, Hill can be heard hurling racial epithets at Jin as well as a series of other obscenities. Hill later tells Jin that she’s “going to jail,” after claiming she stole money from her Palestinian-American uncle, who she reportedly owns the condo property with. Hill can also be heard mocking her uncle’s accent.
According to The Stranger’s reporting, that was part of a larger argument where Hill accused Jin of trying to harm his dog by leaving chicken bones in the condo’s shared courtyard.
King County court records show that Burton’s wife and Jin have protection orders filed against each other.
Hours after The Stranger’s story broke, SPD Chief Adrian Diaz published a statement saying that he had “listened to an audio recording that includes comments by an off-duty Seattle police officer,” and that he has “taken immediate steps to place the officer on administrative leave.”
A bias/hate complaint has also been filed with the Office of Police Accountability.
“Although I will ultimately defer, as I am required, to the outcome of OPA’s investigation, racist language is completely unacceptable and is inconsistent with the high standards the department sets for its employees,” Diaz’s statement continued. “While I’m grateful the complaint was filed with OPA, not knowing about this for one year causes me concern.”
SPD staff will also now review Hill’s arrest and investigation history. Over Hill’s seven-year career with the department, he has been investigated by the OPA six times. A handful of the allegations levied against him in the past have been related to complaints over alleged biased policing. The OPA did not sustain any of those complaints.
Seattle Councilmember Tammy Morales released a statement following the release of the audio, “demanding a plan of action” from SPD.
“This continued erosion of public trust is a public safety issue,” it reads. “How can SPD expect the public to trust them while it remains silent as these incidents happen? What does SPD leadership plan to do to regain control of the department, address its toxic culture, and rebuild this complete breaking of trust?”
“The reality is that no other city employee would be excused from this behavior, where they can laugh and joke about killing somebody, spit racist slurs, and continue taking home a six-figure paycheck,” she added.
Seattle City Council Member Lisa Herbold has also commented on the incident.
“I am also calling on the department to release more information about the termination of its contract with Truleo, a technology that can flag unprofessional comments made on police body camera. According to new reports, SPD was pressured by the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild to stop using that technology days after Auderer made his comments on body camera,” said Herbold.
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