Spokane Councilwoman Kate Burke’s online criticism of a new Spokane police officer did not amount to bullying or harassment, an independent investigator determined this month.
The Spokane Police Guild accused Burke of bullying probationary officer Jared Keller when she posted on Facebook last December that he has a “horrible record and makes our (Black, Indigenous, or other people of color) families feel more unsafe.”
In the post, Burke linked to an article in The Inlander about how the recently hired Keller shot and killed a man attempting to flee from a traffic stop in 2018, while he was working as a Seattle police officer. The city’s Office of Police Accountability cleared Keller, noting that the man, Iosia Faletogo, appeared to be reaching for a handgun when he was shot.
Faletogo’s family has since filed a lawsuit against Keller, another officer and the city of Seattle claiming that police were not justified in pulling him over in the first place and that he therefore had a right to attempt to defend himself. When officers tackled Faletogo, the lawsuit contends, he was attempting to escape – not reach for his gun, which had fallen nearby.
The lawsuit also claims that race was a likely factor in the incident.
“In lieu of any other explanation about why the car looked ‘shady,’ it stands to reason that the officers’ attention was captured – either explicitly or implicitly – by the fact that Iosia was a Pacific Islander man riding in a car with a Black woman in a predominantly white neighborhood in North Seattle,” the lawsuit reads.
The Guild shared Burke’s post on its own Facebook page in January and wrote a detailed rebuttal.
Then it filed a complaint against Burke.
After interviewing Burke and guild representative Det. David Dunkin, the investigator summarily dismissed the complaint on several grounds.
Burke provided The Spokesman-Review a copy of the investigator’s report upon its request.
In his interview with investigator and attorney Michael Church, Dunkin acknowledged that he had not actually spoken to Keller to determine whether he felt bullied or harassed by Burke before lodging the complaint.
“Detective Dunkin further stated that the Spokane Police Guild did not receive any communication from Officer Keller about feeling harassed or bullied, but that this was just the Spokane Police Guild protecting their current member as well as future members,” the investigator’s report states.
Dunkin argued that Burke lacked evidence that communities of color felt unsafe by Keller’s hiring, that his reputation would be irreparably harmed and that Keller was limited in his ability to respond due to police department policies regarding public speech.
In an interview with the investigator, Burke did not back down.
“She stated that she was trying to portray empathy, she stated that we need reform, and she wanted the Pacific Islander community to know that she hears and sees them,” according to the investigator’s summary of the interview.
Burke also noted that her original post gained little traction on Facebook, and that it was the Guild’s sharing – and condemnation – of her statement that quickly spread.
The investigator asked what evidence Burke has that Keller has a horrible record.
“She stated that her evidence was that this officer had killed someone and that fact equals a horrible record. Councilwoman Burke also stated that fact shows that ‘there is something wrong’ ” with the system, the report states.
When the investigator noted that Keller had been cleared of wrongdoing by the Seattle Office of Police Accountability, she replied “that just because a board has cleared him does not mean he has not murdered someone.”
The investigator ruled that Burke’s post did not rise to the level of bullying or harassment as spelled out in city policy.
In order to be harassment, Burke’s post would have had to be unwelcome and humiliate or degrade the person on the receiving end. But, the investigator noted, the guild didn’t consult with Keller before filing the complaint so it can’t prove that he felt harassed.
“The goal of the policy appears to be directed at preventing more intentional types of conduct. Although the comment by Councilwoman Burke about Officer Keller’s record seems unnecessary to make her point about the system, it does not appear to meet the standard of General Harassment contemplated by the City,” the investigator wrote.
The post also did not constitute bullying, which requires the action be repeated. This was the only post Burke made on the subject.
In a statement provided to The Spokesman-Review, the guild claimed that the investigation was tilted in Burke’s favor because City Council President Breean Beggs chose the investigator.
“Our only hope was that Kate Burke would apologize and admit she was out of line with her comments and behavior,” the guild wrote.
In a statement to The Spokesman-Review, Burke declined to apologize.
“They are public officials like me and if you don’t want to be in the public eye, get a different job,” Burke said.
Beggs told The Spokesman-Review he asked the city’s legal department to “find an appropriate person” to investigate the complaint, and that he agreed with their first decision.
“My only professional experience with the investigator was that he was an attorney on the opposite side of a case I once had,” wrote Beggs, who is an attorney.
In her interview with the investigator, Burke said she believed the complaint was filed against her as retaliation for voting against police funding.