January 2024

Seattle’s 2020 Violent Police Response Worse Than Responses in Any Democratic Country

Seattle News:

First off, the City of Seattle settled in an excessive force lawsuit involving 50 protesters who were injured during the summer of 2020, paying them $10 million. In addition, the City spent around $30 million on legal costs defending the case. And in a year when the City is facing a huge budget deficit to boot! I covered this story here at the Urbanist. A particularly shocking quote:

Dr. Clifford Stott, an expert hired by the City to analyze the early days of the protests, said he had not seen that level of aggressive violent police response against protesters in any democratic state.”

The law firm who represented the plaintiffs says they’d like to release the hundreds of hours of depositions they took from figures such as former Mayor Durkan, former Chief Best, current Chief Diaz, and a bunch of other police. If they’re able to make good on this promise, we might see some further interesting information emerge.

Today the closing arguments were delivered in the case against the Stop the Sweeps protester currently being tried at Seattle Municipal Court. The protester is being charged with misdemeanor obstruction in the sort of case that usually doesn’t make it to trial. The protestor allegedly tried to prevent an RV from being towed by standing on its roof while a spare tire was being obtained. The delay was only 12 minutes. 

This follows what might be becoming a disturbing national trend of an attempt to criminalize people for helping other people, either by making sure their home doesn’t get towed or by trying to give them food. You can see Ashley Nerbovig’s live tweets at the trial today here. We are now awaiting a verdict.

Also this week, the OPA found that the remarks of Officer Daniel Auderer about the death of student Jaahnavi Kandula, which took place about a year ago, were “inhumane,” “biased,” and “callous.” A disciplinary hearing was supposed to be held this Tuesday, and we are now waiting for Chief Diaz to announce his decision as to what discipline Officer Auderer will receive. 

The officer who struck and killed Jaanavi Kandula with his vehicle, Kevin Dave, was fired from the Tucson Police Department in 2013. Meanwhile, as reported in Publicola

SPD has not released information about what discipline, if any, Dave has received, and the King County Prosecutor’s Office has not revealed whether it will prosecute him.”

In what many (including myself) were calling a foregone conclusion, the City Council voted 5-3 to appoint losing D2 candidate Tanya Woo to the open city-wide seat on the Council. 

And Mayor Harrell announced the City is facing even more significant fiscal challenges now than was forecast a mere few months ago and is therefore instituting a hiring freeze. The hiring freeze will impact almost all city departments, except for–you guessed it!–the Seattle Police Department. The Seattle Fire Department and the CARE department will also be exempt from the hiring freeze. The city would have likely hired 800-900 regular employees and over 1,000 temporary employees in 2024. 

This move illustrates the human impact of austerity in the city. More jobs are likely to be lost to address the $229 million deficit for 2025, and basic city services are likely to be impacted. 

King County News:

King County held its first Law and Justice committee meeting of the year this week, now chaired by new CM Jorge Barón. The committee heard a presentation about the County’s gun violence prevention efforts, which are partially funded by American Rescue Plan dollars that run out at the end of the year. Given the program only has a $13 million budget over the biennium (which means $6.5 million per year), this isn’t perhaps an insurmountable gap. My understanding has been that part of this $6.5 million is already being covered by the City of Seattle. In fact, this highlights how gun violence prevention programs are already underfunded in our region and how much they urgently need further investment. 

You can look at the list of current legislation in process that is likely to be heard by this committee in 2024. 

King County also held its first Budget & Fiscal Management committee meeting of the year this week. The committee is now chaired by CM Girmay Zahilay. You can read my live tweets here. It provided a good overview of the King County budget process.

The most important point to highlight is that if you want to share your budget input and priorities, you should reach out to departments and councilmembers very soon. The committee will pass a budget priorities motion in March or April.

WA State News:

It’s hard to believe that we’re already at the end of Week 3 of this legislative session. The first cut-off date is Wednesday, January 31, so we’re going to see a lot of dead bills next week.

A companion GBI bill has now been introduced in the Senate and will receive a hearing on Tuesday, January 30 at 10:30am. You can sign in PRO for the bill now. 

Recent Headlines:

 

Tacoma Pays $3 Million to the 3 Cops who Killed Manuel Ellis

Seattle News:

First off, I have a new piece in The Urbanist all about what to look for in the new SPOG contract we’re expecting to see sometime this year. New information about the Executive’s bargaining priorities was recently made public in a report from the Court Monitor, and I discuss that as well as explaining the various accountability provisions that are currently missing from the contract and referencing other considerations to take into account when analyzing and understanding the contract.

We now know the new CM members of the Labor Relations Policy Committee: CMs Nelson, Rivera, Kettle, Moore, and Strauss. These CMs will be able to potentially set new bargaining parameters with SPOG. If they decide to set new parameters that are more favorable to SPOG, this could expedite the negotiation process and cause us to see a new potential contract sooner. More favorable parameters could include increased compensation of various kinds and/or decreased accountability measures. 

Meanwhile, the process to select the vacant CM seat on the City Council continues. The Council selected 8 finalists on Friday. The leading contender is Tanya Woo, who ran for the D2 seat in the most recent election. Insiders were saying at one point she had six of the eight votes for the seat. 

However, Vivan Song, a current member of the Seattle School Board, was selected by CM Strauss and is also in the running. She was just endorsed by the MLK Labor Council. 

Business interests and the Mayor’s Office seem to be aligning behind Tanya Woo. As Publicola reported, Tim Ceis, an insider at City Hall, emailed supporters of the independent expenditure campaigns that funded the moderate slate that had so much election success last November, telling them that said election success entitles them to a say about the vacant seat, saying, “I don’t believe all of you worked so hard and gave so much to let unions and the left decide who gets this seat.”

Much speculation abounds about who will run for the seat this November. You can read more analysis on the current politics at play here.

A public forum for the 8 candidates will be held on Thursday, January 18 from 5:30-7:30pm at City Hall and also streaming on the Seattle Channel. The City Council chose the Seattle CityClub to host the event, passing over the Transit Riders Union. The final vote on the appointment will be on Tuesday, January 23.

January 23 is also the anniversary of the death of Jaahnavi Kandula. The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has still not publicly stated whether they will be filing criminal charges against the officer who hit and killed Kandula with his vehicle. The complaint against Daniel Auderer, the SPOG vice president and SPD officer who was recorded laughing about Kandula’s death, is also still pending

PROTEC-17, which has over 2,700 members in the City of Seattle, has reached a tentative agreement with the City that will cover 2023-2026. They will receive a 5% cost of living adjustment (COLA) for 2023, a 4.5% COLA for 2024, and for 2025 and 2026 they’ll receive a COLA tied to the local consumer price index between 2-4%. 

Tacoma News:

The news broke this week that in an internal Tacoma Police Department (TPD) investigation, the three Tacoma police officers involved in the killing of Manuel Ellis were cleared of violating rules and using excessive force, with the exception of one officer failing to be courteous. The officers will be paid $500k each to leave their employment with TPD voluntarily. They were also paid a cumulative $1.5 million in pay (and accrued a lot of vacation days to boot) while being on leave since June 2020. This means they each received around $1 million for the last three and a half years while doing no work. And because they were cleared of violating any rules, they could theoretically be hired elsewhere as police officers.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office is opening a federal review of the legal case against the three officers. As The Seattle Times reports: “It’s not clear from the U.S. attorney’s limited statement about the review whether it will be confined to the actions of the three officers, or more broadly examine the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department’s initial investigation of Ellis’ death, or possibly the court case.”

At the Tacoma City Council meeting on Tuesday evening, councilmembers discussed a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the Tacoma Police Union Local #6. Wages are being increased 6.5% in 2024, 7% in 2025, and in 2026 they will be increased 100% of the local consumer price index to fall between 1-5%, with an additional guarantee of remaining the current first place ranking in the market. 

The Body Worn Camera (BWC) and In-Car Video policy is being removed from the CBA and placed in the police manual. Language has been removed from the CBA that required the City to delay compelled statements until after criminal investigations and charges are complete.

One of the most interesting changes is that officers charged with crimes that, if sustained, would cause them to lose their commission, will be placed on an investigative suspension without pay. This includes felonies, gross misdemeanor domestic violence charges, or an offense with sexual motivation. 

Advocates are criticizing the new CBA, saying it doesn’t contain anything having to do with police oversight or conditions for firing police. 

WA State News:

The state legislative session continues!
You can watch the hearing for SHB 1045, the bill to establish a basic income pilot program, here. Its companion bill, SB 6196, has been introduced in the Senate, and a hearing is expected sometime around the end of the month. 

You can sign in PRO for SB 5975, a bill that would allow the Housing Trust Fund to provide loans and grants to social housing. The deadline is 9:30am on Friday, 1/19.

You can sign in PRO for HB 2065, a bill that would make last year’s legislation to cease using juvenile points in sentencing retroactive.

Three accountability bills are currently moving through the House:

  • HB 1445 would give the attorney general the right to investigate and sue law enforcement departments for systemic discriminatory practices.
  • HB 1579 would establish an independent prosecutor for pursuing police misconduct cases who is free from the conflict of interest inherent for County Prosecutors, who work closely with law enforcement.
  • HB 2027 would close a loophole to make sure all law enforcement personnel are subject to the same certification, background checks, and training requirements. 

Five gun control laws are currently being discussed in session. You can read more about each of the five proposed bills in the second half of this newsletter.

The Washington Observer also discusses HB 1479 at length, which deals with student confinement and isolation. I highly recommend reading this piece to learn more about this issue.

Recent Headlines:

Washington State Has 4th HighestJail Death Rate in the US

Seattle News:

As one of her first acts as Council President, Sara Nelson has fired Central Staff Director Esther Handy. In her place will be Ben Noble, a denizen of Central Staff from the days of Bruce Harrell and Tim Burgess. Noble most recently served as the Mayor’s Budget Director and then the Director of the Office of Economic and Revenue Forecasts. 

The Stranger has this to say about this move:

Though axing the head of central staff fits within her purview as president, Nelson’s highly atypical move flies in the face of the new council’s “good governance” messaging. Replacing a perceived progressive with a clear fiscal conservative makes a mockery of the purported objectivity of central staff.”

However, Publicola reports that Noble “is widely known for his old-school commitment to neutrality, which is one reason he has survived at the city for 23 years under a wide range of mayoral administrations and council members.” Most of the current Central Staff has not worked with Noble, who left Central Staff in 2013.

The Council’s main piece of business right now is appointing a replacement for CM Mosqueda, who holds one of the two city-wide Council seats. The Council received 72 qualified applicants. They are holding a special meeting tomorrow, 1/12, with a public comment opportunity starting at 2pm. At this meeting they will decide on the finalists for the position, as well as deciding which community organization will host the public forum that will take place sometime next week. The two organizations in the running are the Transit Riders Union and Seattle CityClub. 

The new council members are also busy hiring their staff and getting their offices in order. CM Hollingsworth of D3 has hired Anthony Derrick as her chief of staff. Derrick has served in the past as Communications Director for the City Attorney’s Office under Ann Davison and as Mayor Durkan’s press secretary. She also hired Logan Bowers as her policy director, who you might remember for his unsuccessful primary run for the City Council D3 seat in 2019.

While the Black Lives Memorial Garden in Cal Anderson Park was forcibly removed in late December, it sounds like that area’s legacy of sweeps is continuing, with another sweep occurring late in the evening of January 4. Before the removal of the garden, it had been swept 76 times

Bryan Kirschner wrote an op-ed in The Urbanist discussing the inefficiency of SPD. To understand the full thrust of his argument, I suggest reading the whole piece, but here is a sample:

If you’re seeing a pattern here, it’s that the mayor and police chief kneecapped the department’s ability to investigate serious crime in order to backfill officers handling calls that don’t require officers to handle.

We know with 100% certainty that they did not need to do this, because other police departments are already using alternative responders to handle these types of calls.”

King County News:

Choose 180 has announced a new executive director: Nneka Payne.

CM Mosqueda has been sworn in as a councilmember of King County, and she will be chairing the Health and Human Services committee. Not only does this committee oversee issues relating to affordable housing, but it also has purview over the County’s gun violence prevention programs, which reside under Public Health.

Washington State News:

A Seattle Times op-ed discusses our state’s jail fatality crisis and demands better (and independent) oversight:

What we found demonstrates that immediate action is required. Even accounting for Washington’s population growth, the Washington jail death rate nearly tripled between 2000 and 2019 — an increase 16 times that of the national average. Outpacing other states, Washington now has the fourth-highest rate of jail deaths in the nation.”

The internal investigation of the officers responsible for the death of Manual Ellis has been completed, but the release of the findings is being delayed until next Tuesday, January 16. Meetings between the officers and the police chief are scheduled to take place this Friday. This investigation will determine whether the officers in question can remain at the Tacoma Police Department.

House Bill 1994, a bill that would “allow defendants in misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor cases to request a dismissal if they complete court-ordered conditions that vary by case,” received a hearing on Tuesday. King 5 goes on to report: 

“The bill’s prime sponsor, Darya Farivar (D) 46th District, said that most people who enter the criminal justice system do so because of their disabilities, and this bill will reduce an overwhelmed prison system and reduce the rate of recidivism. 

“What this bill does is it allows our only neutral party in the courtroom to make a decision that could lead to increased success in a more meaningful way than incarceration has been proven to do in the past,” said Farivar. “This is not a blank check to anyone. This is an opportunity to be creative and to meet people where they’re at, which I think is really missing in our criminal legal systems.””

Unsurprisingly, City Attorney Ann Davison opposes this bill. 

National News:

The Guardian ran a story this week on 2023’s record number of killings by the police in the US: “Police in the US killed at least 1,232 people last year, making 2023 the deadliest year for homicides committed by law enforcement in more than a decade, according to newly released data.

On police killings vs the national homicide rate: “The record number of police killings happened in a year that saw a significant decrease in homicides, according to preliminary reports of 2023 murder rates; one analyst said the roughly 13% decrease in homicides last year appears to be the largest year-to-year drop on record, and reports have also signaled drops in other violent and property crimes.”

On disparate impacts on people of color: “In 2023, Black people were killed at a rate 2.6 times higher than white people, Mapping Police Violence found. Last year, 290 people killed by police were Black, making up 23.5% of victims, while Black Americans make up roughly 14% of the total population. Native Americans were killed at a rate 2.2 times greater than white people, and Latinos were killed at a rate 1.3 times greater.”

Recent Headlines:

 

SPD Breaks the Law about Kids’ Rights 96% of the Time

Housekeeping:

Happy New Year! I hope you have all had a great beginning to your 2024. 

Thanks to your generosity, I’m pleased to let you know that the hosting costs for Notes from the Emerald City have now been covered. Thank you so much for your continued support!

Seattle News:

First off, the OIG completed an audit on “SPD compliance with youth access to legal counsel requirements” and released it in a particularly egregious news dump the Friday before Christmas. The audit found that SPD is in compliance with the law requiring them to provide youths with access to a lawyer before interviewing them only 4% of the time

As former CM Herbold told the Seattle Times: ““This is one of the most straightforward civil rights protections we’ve enacted — police should not be able to question children until they have talked to a lawyer,” said Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who requested the audit. “That Seattle police officers were only following this law 4% of the time is very disappointing. We know it’s possible to comply with this law — nearly every law enforcement agency in Washington state appears to have done so.””

Just another example of the exceptionalism of SPD–that they are above the law as it suits them. But given this is an issue of the civil rights of CHILDREN, you’d think there would be a greater outcry.

First in her newsletter and then during the City Council’s first meeting of 2024, CM Morales stated that in 2024, the Council would be voting on a new SPOG contract. You can read more about the background of the SPOG contract, how these negotiations work, and recent developments in my article over at The Urbanist.

All the new Seattle council members have been sworn in, Sara Nelson has been elected as Council President, and committee assignments have been discussed. CM Kettle of D7 will be heading the new Public Safety committee. As Fox 13 reported, CM Kettle “has strong feelings about Seattle Police, saying he believes that it’s the best force in the entire country.” 

Guess he didn’t get the memo about children’s civil rights being violated.

Human Services has been broken away from Public Safety, being moved to the Housing and Human Services Committee, which will be chaired by CM Moore of D5. CM Strauss is going to try filling CM Mosqueda’s shoes as Finance (and Budget) Committee Chair. 

CM Morales, the most progressive CM left on this new Council, will be chairing the Land Use committee, which is crucial as Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan is due to be updated this year. This only happens once per decade, and as The Urbanist reported, acts as an “overhaul to Seattle’s overarching strategy for growth and infrastructure needs, ultimately defining the city’s land use and zoning map and laying out a 20-year growth strategy.”

We don’t yet know which council members will be serving on the LRPC. Whoever is selected will have the opportunity to change the bargaining parameters before what could be the closing stretch in the contract negotiations with SPOG.

As CM Mosqueda is leaving to serve on the King County Council, her replacement needs to be chosen. Candidates can apply through next Tuesday, after which there will be a public forum. The Council expects to vote on the replacement on Tuesday, January 23. This person will serve until a new council member is elected in November to complete CM Mosqueda’s term. CP Nelson announced that until the replacement is chosen, there will be no regular committee meetings, which basically scratches out the first three weeks of January. Not the most auspicious start for a new Council eager to prove themselves.

The Unified Care Team, which is responsible for sweeps of the unhoused in Seattle, released their report covering sweeps between July and September of 2023, and it’s not looking good. As Publicola reports: “…almost nine in ten people the UCT contacted prior to encampment sweeps did not end up in any form of shelter—a decline from the UCT’s previous report, which showed a 15 percent shelter enrollment rate.”

In lawsuit news, demoted SPD commander Hirjak, who alleged his demotion after the Pink Umbrella incident of the 2020 protests was discriminatory, settled his lawsuit: “The settlement said Hirjak would receive back wages and damages (totaling $54,814, according to the Seattle City Attorney’s Office) and $250,000 in other compensation. It said his attorney’s firm would receive $300,000 in attorney’s fees and costs.”

Meanwhile, the trial regarding the lawsuit between 5 Black university police officers and the University of Washington in which the officers alleged years of discrimination and racist comments ended with the jury awarding the officers $16 million. UW is considering an appeal, and only one of the five officers remains with the department.

King County News:

In 2023, fentanyl overdose deaths topped 1,050, which is a new record and much higher than 2022. There were close to 1,300 fatal overdoses total during the year. 

Meanwhile, the jury acquitted the three Tacoma police officers of Manual Ellis’ death on December 21. You can read the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability’s statement on the verdict here, which says in part: “This verdict shows the stark contrast of our state’s statutory duty to protect and preserve all human life with the reality of systemic, wrongful use of force by police.” 

The officers in question still face a civil suit from Ellis’ family that may be heading to trial, as well as an internal affairs investigation to determine whether they can retain their jobs at the Tacoma Police Department.

WA State Legislative Session:

This year’s state legislative session begins next week! This will be the short session that happens every other year, which is generally more concerned with policy than with projects requiring new spending. 

This year’s Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) bill in the House, HB 1045, has a hearing in the Appropriations Committee (where it stalled out last session) on Thursday, January 11 at 4pm. You can sign in PRO for the bill here and the short link to share with your networks is: https://bit.ly/PROGBI

It is expected that there will be a companion bill for GBI in the Senate this session as well, which is encouraging progress. Because it is a short session, it is unlikely these bills will make it all the way to a floor vote this year, but they are still well worth supporting as part of building momentum to an eventual vote.

Recent Headlines: