A followup on the Seattle journalist harrassed by police for taking pictures
Dominic Holden is the news editor for The Stranger, an independent newspaper in Seattle, who was harrassed by a King County Sheriff’s Deputy because he was taking pictures of an investigation, and later by a Seattle Police Officer because he asked who was in charge. LGF reader Political Atheist wrote a page about it here, and Holden himself wrote about it here. Holden has since filed complaints against both officers (one of whom, the Sheriff’s Deputy, has had 12 sustained complaints of misconduct against him), and Holden writes about how the process has developed so far:
Yesterday, Seattle Police Department chief Jim Pugel sent an e-mail to all his police officers, and posted the identical statement on the SPD Blotter, about my story on misconduct by Seattle cops and King County Sheriff’s deputies. I haven’t had a chance to write about it until now—who knew filing official complaints, testifying in recorded affidavits, and talking to lawyers takes so freakin’ long? No wonder most people never do it. I’m working on a longer story about the complaint process. But for now, here’s Chief Pugel’s statement:
I am aware of the article by Mr. Holden in the Stranger Slog documenting the allegation of rudeness by one of my police officers.
Once we learned of the incident the department immediately referred the complaint to the Office of Professional Accountability. I have discussed it with OPA Director Pierce Murphy.
While I cannot comment on the specific complaint, the allegation, if true, does not match what the department teaches in our LEED (Listen and Explain with Empathy and Dignity) training, nor with the four cornerstones of my administration which are ‘Excellence, Justice, Humility and Harm Reduction’.
I have known Mr. Holden personally for many years, have regular communications with him and have assured him that we will get to the truth.
Pugel is a good guy, and a solid chief, and I appreciate the department is conducting this investigation. But he’s missing a key point: I’m not alleging that a Seattle police officer was rude to me. Rudeness would be a cop telling me to fuck off. Rudeness is mocking my questions. Rudeness is saying my momma’s so dumb she stared at a box of juice because it said “concentrate.”
I’m alleging something more serious. Responding to a simple question about who’s in charge, Officer John Marion escalated a normal interaction by asking where I worked, requesting a business card, and then, with what I believe was malicious intent, repeatedly threatening to come “bother” me at my office. That’s harassment. That’s a deliberate attempt at intimidation.
Since Wednesday, I’ve filed a complaint against the King County Sheriff’s deputy who threatened to arrest me for taking photos of the police on public property (I’ll write more about this soon). And I’ve filed a complaint against Officer Marion, as Pugel points out. But I wouldn’t have filed a complaint against someone for being rude. Considering Officer Marion was so irrational as to escalate the encounter into a threat of harassment, I don’t doubt that he’s irrational enough to act on that threat.
But it’s not clear that Officer Marion’s behavior qualifies as anything more than rudeness under SPD’s policies. Pierce Murphy, director of the Office of Professional Accountability, who is in charge of all internal police investigations, called me yesterday to talk about the incident. He acknowledged that my complaint was about Officer Marion threatening “to harass you at your place of work, not that he was being a jerk.” But the question for him isn’t whether that was a violation of Washington State law or the city’s criminal code; it’s whether Marion violated something specific in SPD’s own policy and procedure manual. Murphy isn’t certain a relevant policy exists. After only two months on the job, Murphy said, “I don’t claim to know the SPD policy manual in and out yet.” I asked him what happens if a complaint doesn’t fall neatly into a category for which there’s a penalty, a question that Murphy described as “a hypothetical.”
One other note: The DOJ has investigated the SPD for instances of excessive force, and in 2011 they found that officers were regularly and carelessly escalating routine encounters with the public into agitated and sometime violent circumstances. You can read that report here.
You really should read Holden’s entire article here.