SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle’s police oversight office says the abandonment of a precinct by officers during last summer’s racial justice protests didn’t violate laws or departmental policies.
The Office of Police Accountability on Monday released its findings from a monthslong investigation into the abandonment of the precinct on June 8, 2020, after 10 days of protests over George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer in late May.
The Seattle Times reports that two department leaders were investigated in connection with the evacuation orders — the then-chief of police and the assistant chief of patrol operations.
Though the Office of Police Accountability didn’t name either person in its report, Carmen Best was Seattle’s police chief at the time, and Assistant Chief Thomas Mahaffey heads the department’s patrol operations.
In the oversight office’s investigation, police leaders faced four allegations of misconduct: that they failed to take responsibility for their respective commands, did not adhere to laws or policy, used improper discretion and were unprofessional. None of the allegations was sustained by the office.
The precinct was abandoned a little over a week after nightly protests on Capitol Hill made their way to the building.
During that time, the Seattle Police Department closed off street access with fence barricades to “maintain a perimeter around the East Precinct,” the Monday Office of Police Accountability statement said.
The barricades became flashpoints for nightly standoffs between police and protesters, often resulting in protesters throwing objects at officers and officers using tear gas, blast balls and other weapons against the crowd.
Angelo Calfo, a lawyer who represents a group suing the city over the precinct’s abandonment, declined to comment to the newspaper, saying he had yet to read the report. His clients include residents and businesses who allege they were harmed by the evacuation of the precinct and subsequent unrest in the area.
While the watchdog group found that the decision to leave the precinct was consistent with department policy, Andrew Myerberg, Office of Police Accountability director, recommended that in the future the police department use more transparency when communicating about decisions of public concern.
“In this case, the public and media were forced to speculate as to what occurred,” he said. “In OPA’s estimation, this created a sense of distrust and belief that there was something nefarious at play, when, in fact, there wasn’t.”
The Seattle Police Department said in a statement Monday that the department “recognizes its 2020 response to protests — especially in the weeks after George Floyd’s murder — negatively impacted many people of Seattle.”
Since the watchdog investigation began, the police department said it has adopted new tactics, including reducing the department’s visible footprint around crowded events; clarifying the rights, roles and identification of volunteer medics, media and legal observers; emphasizing de-escalation tactics when controlling crowds; and providing consistency in warnings around using less-lethal tools.
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