A community forum for police ombudsman finalists Thursday turned tense as community members questioned comments candidate Allen Huggins made online about riots in Baltimore and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Huggins, a retired police captain from the Costa Mesa police department in Orange County, is one of three finalists for the city’s independent police oversight job. Huggins moved to Coeur d’Alene in 2013 and now works as a private investigator and performs code enforcement in Post Falls.
The other finalists are Robert Breeden, a retired agent from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement who oversaw the criminal investigations division for the Miami area, and Raheel Humayun, an investigator with the British Columbia Office of the Ombudsperson.
Huggins’ comments on the Wall Street Journal website were raised by audience members during a lunchtime candidate forum focused on issues of concern to communities of color.
On an April 28 article about violent protests in Baltimore following the funeral of Freddie Gray, a black man who died in police custody, Huggins wrote, “Where is Obama, Holder, Sharpton and the crew telling the people in Baltimore to go home and stop destroying their own city? The Baltimore PD is 41% black, so this couldn’t be racism right, since only white police officers are racists per the ‘black leaders.’”
On an Aug. 3 article about Baltimore’s homicide rate increasing, he said Baltimore, Chicago, New York and Milwaukee “have all bought into the messaging that ‘Black Lives Matter.’ But in reality, they only matter when the other party is a white police officer. Otherwise, not a peep from Obama, Sharpton and their bands of myopic rioters.”
Rick Eichstaedt, executive director of the Center for Justice, asked Huggins to address the comments he’d made online. Huggins said he was a regular commenter on the Wall Street Journal website and couldn’t remember everything he’d posted.
“I stand by what I say. Nothing in what I said was racist or biased,” he said, adding that he doesn’t “see color.”
“Here’s the problem with that, sir. People that say they don’t see color aren’t being honest,” responded Phillip Tyler, a NAACP member who attended the forum.
Several other audience members said Huggins’ comments showed bias. Huggins said his comments were about the politicization of local issues and said his record working in internal affairs clearly showed he was able to conduct impartial investigations and be fair to people with different political beliefs.
Audience members also questioned Breeden about a six-month internal investigation at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in 2014, which found he had created an environment where other officers “are hesitant to do their job because they fear being chastised.”
That investigation was conducted in response to a complaint filed by Breedan’s supervisor, Addy Villanueva, who supervised the department’s Miami field office.
The report, published Oct. 7, 2014, included summaries of interviews with 80 of Breedan’s co-workers and subordinates, many of whom characterized him as abrasive, hostile and short-tempered.
Breeden denied those findings and said the investigation was initiated by a supervisor who was retaliating against him for filing a complaint about her behavior at work. He said she was involved in multiple extramarital affairs with coworkers and was frequently absent from the office.
Breeden has filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit and said he was forced into retirement for speaking up about his supervisor’s behavior.
No concerns were raised about Humayun’s background.
Discussion over Huggins’ comments occupied about 10 minutes of the lunchtime forum.
Candidates also addressed audience questions about whether they believed law enforcement officers have implicit bias, the strength of Spokane’s police union and their own experiences working with African-American and Latino communities.
The three candidates participated in three community forums Thursday. A morning session focused on issues of concern to government employees and police officers, and an afternoon session was held for community groups concerned about good government, civil rights and mental health.
The lunchtime session for communities of color drew about 30 people.
All three candidates will be interviewed by the five member police ombudsman commission Thursday night. That commission will pick the city’s police ombudsman from among the three finalists.
Commissioners will deliberate at a Sept. 1 meeting and hope to make a final decision in mid-September.
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