Feb 222014
 

I transcribed the press conference Seattle Mayor Ed Murray held to field questions about Interim Police Chief Harry Bailey’s recent decision to overturn several findings of officer misconduct (see “Police Chief Misled Mayor and Council on Misconduct Decision” by Dominic Holden for background information):

Ed Murray: Good evening. I wanted to provide some context to the disciplinary decisions in the Seattle Police Department that many of you have been reporting about. and then I will take your questions as well as people from my office, from the personnel office, and from Chief himself.

So why don’t those folks who are gonna take questions come up here so we don’t have to–

I think it’s important to remember that this story originated with a leak, which is the first mistake made, that there was a leak.

We currently have a backlog of grievances that are being filed against disciplinary decisions that have already been made by command staff. It appears that almost every decision—and I may be wrong, it may be every decision—is in some sort of grievance appeal process. On September 18, 2013, please note the date, 19 active cases were attempted for mediation. None of these were successful, and so all were slated for arbitration. Six cases, in consultation with the City Attorney’s office, were already decided by the previous chief for settlement before January of this year.

The chief, the current chief Bailey, signed off on a decision that was made as a result of a day long process that involved our predecessors and the City Attorney’s office.

There was one additional case, the Marion case, for which the City Attorney did not provide consultation on, or before—and that was unfortunate—it leaked to the media. The determination was made by Chief Bailey to change the discipline in this case. To change it from a day without pay. And despite what some in the press have reported, a day without pay means the individual could take other pay, such as vacation, to fill that in. So a day without pay, that could actually turn into a vacation day, for day substituted for training. A day of training and education. While this could be perceived as a lesser punishment under the current legal framework, Chief Bailey believes, and I support him, that the framework for this process is reflective of what is most constructive: Training. Changing behavior.

Chief Bailey is opting again and again to change behavior guided by the principles of fairness and past practices and due process. Officer Marion in this case had no previous incidents of misconduct against him. Nevertheless, we will have an opportunity to be retrained, and go to roll calls in his precinct to explain what he did wrong, and use it as a teaching moment for other officers. Again: Far more effective approach than a day without pay that can be turned into a day with pay. Chief Bailey believes, as I do, that this is far more powerful and effective. And it goes along with the reforms that we are trying to put in place. In this case I encourage everyone, including the monitor, to take a look at when the incidents happened, when the decisions were made, and what is the true impact on reform. In addition, I have asked Barney Maleki, who the council allowed me to retain, to review our grievance process to ensure that it happens in a timely manner. Processes that go on for years, and case loads that build up, do not help the public, they do not help the officers, and they do not further the reform process.

Thank you, and now, we will take questions.

Dominic Holden: Mayor Murray. This is a little awkward. Why would you need to change the suspension discipline in order to provide more training? Particularly given that the US Department of Justice has said that we need more de-escalation training, and that you can have this officer speak to people at roll call any time you like, why are you saying that this sort of training would preclude a suspension?

Ed Murray: Chief?

Harry Bailey: Thank you. I think what the Mayor said previously make a lot more sense to me. It was my decision to make that change. And I thought that, again, having the officer to go out and talk to his fellow officers about what he could do better and to abort those types of situations make a lot more sense than not doing that or just taking a day off.

Dominic Holden: That didn’t really answer the question. Is there anything that prevents you from saying–

Ed Murray: None–

Dominic Holden: None.

Ed Murray: `Dominic, none. The point is, what is the best way to proceed with the disciplinary action? Is it always a day off? Is it always a day off with pay? Does that– Is that discipline? I think that’s a point that you’ve ignored in your stories. And I would add that the police officer involved is willing to sit down in mediation with the complainant, and come to some sort of understanding about what happened.

?reporter: Mayor Murray, regardless of when these suspensions were doled out, or when these penalties were doled out, or when these cases were decided on, do you have any concern that this undermines the whole OPA process? Every time you change a decision like this. Now we’re up to, I think, seven is what was reported earlier.

Ed Murray: So, first of all, you need to realize that this has been ongoing practice. That when there are cases pending there’s a review by the police department, as there was under Chief Pugel, and the City Attorney’s office, to decide which of these cases probably should not be pursued. That is current practice. So, it happened before we got here. What I said we need to do, and I’ve asked Barney Meleckie to do, is actually to review this process so that we come up with a process that both helps the public, helps the officer, and furthers the reform process.

?reporter: Who made the final decision on these other six cases, to approve removing the sustained finding of misconduct?

Ed Murray: This was, there was, again, a process went on in December. I believe it was December. (turns to face someone behind him) Am I correct? September? September. So I would ask– Some sense I can tell you who, but I’d have to refer you to the prior individuals who held these positions. But there was a day meeting on a series of cases. In that meeting was the then– whoever represented the command staff at that point, and representatives of the City Attorney’s office, who decided on these six cases.

?reporter: Did they make the active decision at that point to reverse the finding? Was it formal–

Ed Murray: The recommendation was made, yes, and Chief Bailey signed off on it when we got into office and I appointed him.

?reporter: So who signed the documents that actually– Who signed the document with Rich O’Neil that reversed these decisions?

Ed Murray: (turns) Do you know … Do you want to speak to this? I think that… You’re the lawyer.

?HR: I’m the HR person. There was a process that went on, a mediation process that went on in September, to the best that I understand, and none of us in the room were at that process. These are people who predated us. At that particular mediation where a number of grievances were looked at. They did not meet resolution, to our understanding, on any of those grievances. Subsequent to that meeting there were additional negotiations that went on, and prior command staff in consultation, our understanding, in consultation with the City Attorney’s office, came to an understanding that six of those grievances would be resolved in the way that you are referring to now. Those decisions were made prior to the change of administration. The actual settlement agreements were signed, I understand (turns to Bailey) by Chief Bailey (Bailey nods) but he was not part of the negotiation or the decision. The decisions had already been made, and he was the signatory at that time.

?reporter: Were they reviewed to determine the facts and circumstances of each case?

?HR: That’s something that I think you would need to address to the law department.

?reporter: There’s apparently 25 cases that are, overall, under review. What’s the status of the remaining case–

Ed Murray: Well, as again, this is a usual thing that has been happening for– under current practice, where you have a series of decisions that are being made, and the appropriate language, I think, is called grievance, here. Process has been initiated by the officer involved. At this point, I have heard different numbers. We’re trying to nail that number down. And those would go through the same process that’s currently in place and was in place. As I said, we’re gonna to take a close look at how this has happened in the past, and decide if this is the best process moving forward. Barney Maleki will initiate that. We’ll certainly consult the monitor for his opinion. There are best practices in the country that don’t have such a convoluted, and I would say somewhat byzantine grievance process. There are two different bodies that officers can appeal to. They can choose. That’s an example of just how byzantine this is. So, you know, five weeks into this, we’re attempting to reform the police department. We’re attempting to speed it up, and there are gonna be more things like this that we come across.

?reporter: Will there be any more cases overturned?

Ed Murray: I have no idea. We’ll have to see what the City Attorney’s office recommends and what we– what the chief recommends to me. And at some point, you appoint to people, and you have trust and faith that those people can make good decisions. And I reviewed these decisions, and under the current structure, I believe that we have made the right decision. Now under a different structure, or if there were a history of complaints, I might not find those the correct decision.

?reporter: Would all the remaining six change the training referrals?

Ed Murray: I don’t know.

?reporter: Mr. Mayor, in terms of Officer Marion, Why do you think it’s a better idea that he get training as opposed to getting both training and a day off?

Ed Murray: Well, you know, again: the day off can be a day off with pay. And I think you don’t pass the red face test with the public when you say a day off with pay. Yeah, you could do that, as I answered Dominic Holden’s question, you could absolutely do that. But I agree with Chief Bailey that it doesn’t accomplish the goal of changing behavior. It just accomplishes the goal of giving someone a day off with pay. And I don’t think that builds confidence in the people who live in this city, that we’re actually trying to change behavior.

?reporter: What kind of training ore you talking about in regards? What’s a day of training look like?

Harry Bailey: In this case, it wasn’t a day of training. It was several weeks of training, when this particular officer had to go out and talk to his roll calls in his precincts, talking about how to better address issues with the community, and how not to– you know, things not to do. So for me, to stand before your peers and admit that, you know, something have happened to you and how you can work to make it better seemed to be a better way at getting at the behavior issue than just simply checking a box with the day off and letting it go.

Brandi Kruse: Mr. Mayor, you’ve mentioned right away that– to emphasize that the reason, I believe, that Mr.– Officer Marion’s discipline changed came came out was a leak to the press. Somewhere along the time, would there have been a release of that change, to the public?

Ed Murray: Sure.

Brandi Kruse: And how would that happen? How do those– If there’s changes in discipline, how does the public find out about it?

Harry Bailey: Each time there’s a change, whoever the chief may be, to that process, there must be a letter written to the Mayor and to the City Council explaining why that happened and the reason, and when the change is made, there’s a sixty day limit that those letters have to go out.

Brandi Kruse: But then is there a way that the public at large can find out about a change?

Harry Bailey: Um, (chuckles) I suspect that through public disclosure you probably can get… (turns to left) I suspect… But it’d only have to be when those cases are completely closed, the letters have been sent out, and there’s no response back either from the Mayor or the City Council.

Dominic Holden: Chief Bailey, you told the Seattle Times yesterday, and then me, and then the Mayor and the council that you concurred with the finding of misconduct and that you just wanted to change the penalty. When I spoke today with Pierce Murphy, the head of the OPA, he said that by changing the penalty or training, that negates the misconduct finding. Could you verify—

Harry Bailey: Mr. Holder, I think the reason I told you on several occasions, the reason I returned your phone call, simply was the fact that you were a complainant in an OPA investigation, not that I was giving you an interview for your paper, and if you’ve talked to Pierce Murphy, then you need to go back and ask him for the reason why he said what he did.

Dominic Holden: The letter that you sent to the Mayor and to the City Council says that you concurred with the finding of misconduct, yet you’re contradicted by Pierce Murphy. And it looks like you were telling City Hall officials something that was not true, and given that you sent him that information on Tuesday, it looks like it’s something that you knew was not true.

Ed Murray: First of all Dominic, I understood from the chief and from my staff that this was a legal change in the status of the discipline. I believe that our OPA process, and what are best practices to reform the police department are not in sync with each other. I don’t believe that a finding that just leads to a day off is really an up-to-date process. I think that the finding that they found should have been able to stay the same but we’re working under a construct here that doesn’t allow for that level of flexibility when you assign the different punishment to it.

Dominic Holden: I think we’re dealing with the larger honesty issue, though. On the one hand, you have a chief who knows when he submits something to the OPA on Tuesday what the legal implications are, yet the information that he is passing out to the media, to the complainant, and to city hall is something different. If you want a reformed police department, don’t you want a chief in charge who’s honest with you?

Ed Murray: So, first of all, I disagree with you. I believe that the information is consistent and doesn’t contradict itself. Although anyone can make any interpretations they want. Second of all, we are restoring honesty to this police department. We are making personnel changes to ensure that this department is honest. We had the US attorney general’s office here for the first time since this process started years ago, regarding the consent degree, who said that Seattle is finally making process. So I just simply disagree. I believe we have a chief who is honest. I believe we have a chief who is taking action against individuals who need to have action taken against, and I believe we have a chief, after many years, who is restoring the public’s faith in this department by who he is and by how he’s acting.

Dominic Holden: I mean, to be absolutely clear, though, the letter that was sent to you said, in unambiguous terms, that the OPA director recommended a disposition of sustained, and I concur with the disposition. Yet he does not concur with the disposition, in fact the disposition has changed.

Ed Murray: You know, so this is a great legal argument. We ought to be in a Jesuit seminary, and splitting hairs. Because, you know, yes. Do we believe that this guy committed an act that he– that got the ruling that it got from OPA? Yes we agree with that. Is the discipline the way to change the behavior? Unfortunately we disagree with that. But we are working under a legal construct that gives us very little, almost no room, for that kind of nuance.

Dominic Holden: Will you agree to unseal the cases as they are handed down to OPA, unseal the settlement agreements? For instance, there have been seven that have been handed down to Pierce Murphy this week, and they concern the new discipline that is being issued in those cases, and potentially new findings. Will you open those up?

Ed Murray: So, that’s a very interesting question that I would have to get back to you on. Obviously when it comes to personnel issues, there are certain laws that we can’t just violate. Whether it’s somebody that works in the Department of Neighborhoods or the Police Department, I would need to understand whether those could become part of public record or not, and then answer your question. I don’t know if anyone has anything to add (turns), we would just need to do the due diligence to be able to answer that question.

Dominic Holden: I’m sure a lot of people would appreciate being able to see that without undergoing the onerous process of the public disclosure process.

Ed Murray: I– I think that you have a point, and again, you don’t hear disagreements on your questions from me or from the chief. What you hear is we’re working under a situation that has been practiced, usual and a custom practice in this department and in this city. It is not what is considered best practice around the country, and you only have to look to California to find examples of best practice that are far less byzantine than this, which is why I asked Barney Maleki to take a look how this currently works and figure out how we can streamline it so that perhaps you won’t end up having to do the level of public disclosure requests that you man. Remember, there’s a whole series of issues that are part of collective bargaining here, that will also tie our hands, that will also have to visit at some point to change some of the aspects of this.

Dominic Holden: Chief Bailey, did you engage at all with the OPA auditor pierce Murphy or the Mayor before making these personnel decisions?

Harry Bailey: Excuse me. What was your question again?

Dominic Holden: Did you consult with the OPA director or auditor or the Mayor before making these decisions.

Harry Bailey: The process does not call for me to confer with the OPA director. Again, once the decision is made, I need to send a letter to the Mayor and to the City Council. Dominic Holden: Given, Mayor, that you were so concerned with Jim Pugel having made personnel decisions before you took office but before the election, do you think there’s a bit of a double standard that on one hand, you say, “this is the chief that I want representing me,” but at the same time, you didn’t want Interim Chief Pugel to represent—

Ed Murray: I’m sorry, I made no comment about any changes that Pu– that, that Interim Chief Pugel made.

Dominic Holden: I think I’m referring to an open secret, perhaps.

Ed Murray: I’ve made no comments. The only conversations I had around the personnel changes would have been with Chief Pugel, and the conversations between myself, he was Chief for about eight days under my watch, or the current chief, or the permanent chief. Our conversations, I’m not gonna discuss with the public. I think it would be unfortunate if one of my chiefs chose to discuss conversations with the Mayor in public.

Steve ?: Mr. Mayor, the, as I understand it specifically says that the officer will no longer be part of the early intervention system, which is part of the Justice Department’s findings. They feel that the EIS system is crucial. Do any of these agreements specifically state that the officers will, because of the misconduct investigation, they will no longer be looped into the EIS system.

Ed Murray: (turns to Bailey) Do you want to answer that?

Harry Bailey: No. Once the system is set up, it is gonna capture all of that, Steve, so it’s nothing in any that settlement that precludes those functions–any officers– being part of the EIS process.

Steve ?: Will they remain in the EIS process?

Harry Bailey: Yes.

Ed Murray: So, I’m gonna take one more question, and maybe I’ll make one more comment then take one more question. So in each of these cases, individuals in the public felt that they were not treated fairly by officers of our police force. What we are attempting to do is find a way to change that behavior. No one in the public should be treated in any way but fairly by a police officer. Regrettably, some– you know, it’ll happen on my watch and it happened on the last watch. Regrettably, from time to time, we see behavior that’s unacceptable. We’re trying to reform a police department that the Justice Department has grown angrier and angrier about. Now, that’s the goal, here. Any last questions? Thank you very much.