July 27, 2012 in City

Seattle strikes deal on police actions

Officers alleged to have used excessive force
Mike Carter Seattle Times
 

SEATTLE – Days before it faced a federal civil-rights lawsuit, the city of Seattle has reached a tentative agreement with the Department of Justice to resolve the department’s finding that Seattle police officers have engaged in a “pattern or practice” of excessive force, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.

An announcement on the agreement is expected today. The media briefing will include Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Perez, who heads the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, and who last came to Seattle to brief city officials on the findings. Mayor Mike McGinn, City Attorney Pete Holmes and U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan are expected to participate.

When asked to comment on the agreement, Police Chief John Diaz said, “It’s going to have to wait until tomorrow.”

Other city officials were to be briefed on the agreement Thursday afternoon.

Barring a last-minute collapse in negotiations, discussions on Thursday focused on the final details of a court-monitored consent decree, one of the sources said. Those could include naming a monitor to oversee the plan, and sticking points such as whether the decree will also encompass the Justice Department’s concerns over disturbing but inconclusive evidence of biased policing. McGinn and police officials also have questioned allowing additional oversight of the department’s civilian-run Office of Professional Accountability.

The mayor has said in the past he would not oppose a consent decree, but that the issue has always been in the details of the settlement. McGinn has been involved in face-to-face meetings with officials from the Civil Rights Division over the past several days. Meetings were continuing Thursday.

Federal and city officials declined to discuss what was being described as an “agreement in principle.”

“The Department of Justice and the city of Seattle are engaged in detailed and extensive discussions. That work is continuing,” said Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Bates in Seattle.

The agreement came as the clock wound down on a July 31 deadline imposed by the Justice Department, whose lawyers had said they would sue the city if a court-monitored consent decree was not reached. McGinn and a high-level member of the Civil Rights Division have huddled for long hours in the Seattle office of a mediator trying to find enough common ground to avoid litigation that would be costly and further disappoint those already distrustful of the Police Department.

Holmes, in a confidential July 13 letter to McGinn and key members of the City Council, urged the city to turn away from what he saw as a “troubling” emerging narrative in which the Police Department had cast itself as a victim to a federal bully “seeking to impose a ‘shadow chief’ at unverified and speculative cost.”

Holmes urged McGinn to step up as the city’s executive, take control of what should be a civilian-run department and implement reforms.

Years of low-level friction between police and some minority communities – most centered on allegations of officers escalating petty situations into confrontations, and then using force to quell them – came to a head in 2010 and 2011 with a series of highly publicized and controversial incidents, many of which were caught on tape.

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