One of the Seattle Police Department officers involved in coordinating lying during a crucial moment amid 2020’s racial justice protests subsequently left the department but was rehired last month, the department disclosed Wednesday.
The rehired officer took a prominent role on June 8, 2020, in transmitting fake radio chatter about a group of menacing right-wing extremists heading to confront protesters on Capitol Hill, according to an Office of Police Accountability investigation report released last week.
Meanwhile, an email has surfaced from earlier the same day that references a warning to nonpolice employees at the city about possible Proud Boys activity.
First reported by Omari Salisbury of Converge Media and by the South Seattle Emerald, the email between Seattle Public Utilities employees on June 8, 2020, mentions “intelligence” about Proud Boys.
Some activists have described the radio chatter as part of a wider effort at the time by the Police Department to spread false information and undermine the protests. Officials Wednesday neither confirmed nor refuted a link between the email and the radio hoax.
Mayor Bruce Harrell spoke out Wednesday about the findings of the investigation into the hoax, calling the incident unacceptable and promising to work with the Police Department and the City Council on better oversight and controls.
“We will work with the council to look at what procedures need to be fixed, what processes need to be changed,” Harrell said at a City Hall news conference, promising to consider tighter restrictions on deception by officers.
But unanswered questions about the Proud Boys hoax and OPA’s investigation into the incident continued to swirl – and new information came to light.
An OPA report released last week identified six Police Department employees as having been involved in the radio chatter. Four of those employees subsequently left the department, the report by OPA Director Andrew Myerberg said.
Yet one of the employees who left in September 2020 returned last month, Brian Maxey, the department’s chief operating officer, said Wednesday. Neither the OPA report nor the Police Department have named the officer, who’s referred to in the OPA report, Maxey said, as Named Employee #4.
In his report, which determined that the Proud Boys hoax had violated Police Department policies on discretion and truthfulness, Myerberg cleared Named Employee #4 and three other officers who took part in the chatter.
Though they demonstrated poor judgment, they lacked guidance and supervision, Myerberg concluded, sustaining allegations of policy violations against a captain who came up with the idea to transmit fake chatter and against an officer the captain tapped to oversee the effort. The disinformation alarmed protesters and inflamed tensions, Myerberg found.
City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, in a meeting Tuesday, pressed Myerberg on his findings, arguing he should have cited all six employees.
The case is supposed to be reviewed soon by interim police Chief Adrian Diaz for disciplinary rulings. Harrell announced Tuesday he’s hired Myerberg as director of public safety in the mayor’s office.
In November, then-Mayor Jenny Durkan signed an emergency order authorizing hiring bonuses of up to $25,000 for police officers from other departments, citing a staffing shortage. Maxey said Named Employee #4 likely didn’t receive a hiring bonus, being a returning officer, but couldn’t immediately confirm that.
In the June 8, 2020, email now spurring questions, SPU’s emergency manager, Chad Buechler, told SPU’s general manager, Mami Hara, that he’d been asked by the director of the city’s Emergency Operations Center (Office of Emergency Management staffer Kenneth Neafcy) and by the Police Department to not distribute certain information “further than operational needs.” The Emergency Operations Center is a multiagency hub used during times of crisis.
“SPD is preparing for a possible counter protest at Volunteer Park that could lead to significant volatility in the area. Intelligence reports that the Proud Boys may be active in the area,” Buechler wrote.
The email was sent at 6:39 p.m. Earlier that day, the Police Department had abandoned the East Precinct. The Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone was forming by the precinct, which is located about a mile from Volunteer Park. The radio chatter investigated by OPA began at 9:14 p.m.
On Wednesday, Buechler said he couldn’t remember exactly who had shared with him the information about the Proud Boys – a far-right group with a reputation for violence – and Volunteer Park. Members of the National Guard were reportedly staged at Volunteer Park on the evening of June 8, 2020.
Asked Wednesday whether the Police Department provided genuine or false information to the Emergency Operations Center, Maxey said he didn’t know anything about the email and couldn’t immediately answer the question.
Sgt. Randy Huserik, a Police Department spokesperson, declined comment, citing the department’s in-progress review of the OPA report.
Buechler’s email was not part of the OPA’s investigation, Myerberg said. For the purposes of investigating the Proud Boys hoax, the OPA only searched for and reviewed emails to and from Police Department employees, Myerberg said.
“Given this, I don’t know whether this email was connected with the later transmissions,” Myerberg said.
Rumors about Proud Boys in Seattle started circulating on social media in the hours before the radio chatter investigated by OPA, with a few posts shortly before the SPU email mentioning scanner chatter about a reported sighting of Proud Boys at Volunteer Park.
Harrell recently asked Office of Emergency Management staff whether they were made aware of the Proud Boys hoax and was told they had not been, he said at his news conference, which mostly focused on potential policy changes. He said additional investigative steps could possibly be taken.
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