May 052011
illustration of Sergent Rich O'Neill by Garrett Morian

Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) publishes a monthly newsletter called The Guardian. A couple months ago, I downloaded past issues of the newsletter from their Web site and posted them on Scribd, so it would be easier for the public to find them. There had been much discussion in the news at that time of SPOG President Rich O’Neill’s and other The Guardian writers’ apparent disdain for the public they’re employed to serve and protect, and it seemed like a good idea to let the public see for themselves what was being written.

In an April 6, 2011, article published by The Stranger (“You Pay This Sergeant’s Salary; Rich O’Neill Never Works a Policing Shift but Gets $109,703 a Year in Taxpayer Money to Run the Citizen-Antagonizing Police Union“), Cienna Madrid wrote:

“It is extremely frustrating when individuals with zero police training feel qualified to voice their opinions on police actions,” O’Neill lamented in the Guardian about recent police scrutiny. What was so “frustrating”? The media “frenzy” and public outcry after several controversial incidents that led to the federal investigation of the SPD: Officer Ian Birk fatally shooting John T. Williams (the shooting was found unjustified), Detective Shandy Cobane threatening to “beat the fucking Mexican piss” out of an innocent suspect (an internal investigation reportedly has recommended Cobane be fired), an undercover officer kicking a juvenile who had his hands up (the Washington State Patrol is currently investigating the officer), and others.

The Guardian also regularly publishes inflammatory articles—joking about shooting African Americans and showing contempt for civilian oversight, for example—all written by Seattle officers within O’Neill’s fold. For example, last fall, Officer Steve Pomper wrote that city officials conducting racial and social justice training are “the enemy” and “the city is inflicting its socialist policies” on officers. Pomper is now the subject of an SPD investigation (the exact nature of the investigation is still undisclosed).

Meanwhile, O’Neill has stood behind the most controversial cops. He calls Birk “a good young man.” In defending Pomper, he writes, “Many in Seattle can be very intolerant of anyone who is not a left-leaning Democrat.”

But while O’Neill stands by his rhetoric as a matter of the union’s free speech, the department is trying to do damage control. “It doesn’t do the union any good or the department any good,” Police Chief John Diaz said at a community meeting in January. “You can’t hide and just say, ‘Well, this is my union paper.’ It’s there for anyone to take a look at. It reflects badly. It degrades trust in our police department.”

On April 26, 2011, I received a DMCA take-down notice from Scribd and found that they’d removed all the SPOG newsletters I’d posted. The following day, I received via e-mail from SPOG’s lawyer, Richard C. Vershave, a cease and desist letter.

I would expect a newsletter written by Sergeant Rich O’Neill of the Seattle Police Department, while he’s on the job, when his salary is paid by the public, to be public domain. It seems SPOG doesn’t think so.

Their demands were as follows:

The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild would be willing to release you from liability related to the above-mentioned claims, if you agree to:

  • immediately stop any commercial use, copying (e.g., scanning or linking) or distribution (e.g., posting, re-posting or uploading) of The Guardian in any online or printed format;
  • remove and permanently delete all infringing instances of wholesale copying of The Guardian articles from and any other site, database, server, or memory storage medium that you may utilize for your infringing activities;
  • immediately cease use of any trademark owned by the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild; and
  • notify the undersigned in writing no later than April 30, 2011 that the aforementioned steps have been fully completed

Today, I filed a public records request with Seattle Police Department for “access to and copies of the Seattle Police newsletter, _The Guardian_, produced in whole or in part by Sergeant Rich O’Neill while working as an employee of the City of Seattle, along with all metadata.”

I retrieved one of the documents that were taken down from The Stranger‘s site:

The rest were, and still are (EDIT 2011-05-11: SPOG have since removed these from their site. I linked to Google’s cached copies where available), publicly-accessible via SPOG’s site:


UPDATE: I filed a public records request with SPD for newsletters produced by O’Neill on the public dime.

  2 Responses to “Seattle Police Officers’ Guild threatens me over posting newsletter from their Web site elsewhere on the Web”

  1. A hint on pulling PDF files out of Google’s cache: filetype:pdf

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