SEATTLE — The Seattle Police Department acknowledged it broke public records laws when it withheld from The Seattle Times an internal memo about its response to riotous May Day demonstrations in 2012.
The department agreed to pay $20,000 to the newspaper and its attorneys to avoid a lawsuit over the issue, The Times reported today.
In a settlement signed by Interim Police Chief Jim Pugel, the department acknowledged it should have turned over the report or cited a valid exemption to the Washington state Public Records Act.
“The department agrees that … it is never permissible to withhold the existence of a responsive document from a requestor or to improperly delay the release of documents,” a department statement said.
The department was sharply criticized for losing control of the streets to a small group of anarchists and vandals and having to respond with harsh tactics and force.
The Times filed a public-disclosure request for the memo in July. The internal report on the response led to an external review.
“It is clear to us that this was a blatant violation of the state’s Public Records Act, and we felt it was not in the public’s interest to simply allow that violation to go by unchallenged,” said David Boardman, executive editor of The Times.
Department commanders “believed that the report was subject to the deliberative process exemption, and that premature disclosure would prejudice the independent review,” according to the police statement.
However, instead of informing The Times of that decision, as required by the Public Records Act, and giving the newspaper a chance to challenge the exemption in court, the department never officially acknowledged the memorandum existed, even though retiring Chief John Diaz talked about it in a story published in The Seattle Times on July 23.
Diaz acknowledged in April that he had ordered the memo withheld pending the release of the department’s own investigation report and an independent review by retired Los Angeles Deputy Chief Mike Hillmann.
Those reports, both critical of the Seattle department’s preparations and response to vandalism during the May Day march, were released in April, nearly 11 months later.
After being called ill-prepared during last year’s May Day melee, police this year followed some of the recommendations from the previous year.