Mayor McGinn: Negotiations with Justice Dept. ongoing


by KING 5 News

Posted on July 26, 2012 at 11:06 AM

Updated Thursday, Jul 26 at 10:11 PM

Mayor Mike McGinn said late Thursday that the city has not yet reached a deal with the Department of Justice on a plan to fix problems inside the Seattle Police Department, but he said negotiations on an agreement are ongoing.

"It's an important deal, and there's complex issues and the parties have been really hard at work at it, because it matters not just to ... the issues that DOJ has raised but, of course, the effectiveness of our police officers and our budget," McGinn said.

"So these are complex issues. The discussions have been extensive and detailed and they're ongling," McGinn said.

Throughout the day Thursday sources told KING 5 that a tentative deal was in hand.

"It's my understanding an agreement has been reached," said Councilman Bruce Harrell, chair of the council's public safety committee.

Harrell said he was heading to a meeting Thursday evening where he expected to be briefed on the tentative deal.

Councilman Tim Burgess said he was briefed on the tentative deal Thursday evening and called it encouraging. He hinted that the major areas of contention involving SPD officers' use of excessive force had been resolved. The talks are down to "dotting the Is and crossing the Ts," he said.

Burgess and other sources told KING 5 that the agreement could be announced to the public on Friday. Sources said a team has been working almost around the clock over the past several days, and the Seattle Times reported that McGinn "has been involved in face-to-face meetings with officials from the [DOJ] Civil Right's Division."

Sources said the tentative agreement gives the Justice Department what it has been asking for:

-- A consent decree, with the city admitting that SPD officers used too much force in the past and are now committed to fixing that problem.

-- The agreement will be filed in federal court and will be overseen by a judge.

-- The city pays for a monitor whose job is to make sure SPD is complying.

The monitor is seen as key to ensuring the SPD reforms are carried out. He or she would have the power to haul city officials before a federal judge if the reforms are not being implemented.

Harrell said the tentative deal needs to be reviewed by the council before it can be announced.

"Several questions, one would be the cost of implementing the agreement to make sure we're not just paying for lawyers or monitors filing papers," Harrell said. "For change to be meaningful and sustainable it has to be bought in by the rank and file and command staff.  I want to make sure this agreement is done that way."

The Department of Justice is threatening to sue the city if a deal isn’t reached by next Wednesday, August 1.

The DOJ has been demanding major changes in how SPD operates since finding a “pattern and practice of excessive force” by officers in a report issued last December.

In that report, federal investigators concluded that inadequate supervision and training led SPD officers to too quickly resort to the use of weapons like batons and flashlights, and to escalate confrontations even when arresting people for minor offenses.

The Justice Department investigation was launched following the fatal shooting of a homeless Native American woodcarver in 2010 and other reported uses of force against minority suspects, some caught on camera.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and other groups called for the inquiry after a Seattle officer shot and killedwoodcarver John T. Williams after he crossed a street downtown. The officer, Ian Birk, was not charged. He resigned after the police department determined the shooting was not justified.

Other incidents captured on surveillance video include officers stomping on a man and threatening to beat the "Mexican piss" out of him; an officer kicking a black youth with his hands up in a convenience store following a drug buy-bust operation; and officers tackling and kicking a black man who showed up in a police evidence room to pick up belongings after he was mistakenly released from jail.

The DOJ probe was aimed at determining whether Seattle police have a "pattern or practice" of violating civil rights or discriminatory policing, and if so, what they should do to improve.

In March, Mayor Mike McGinn and SPD Chief John Diaz announced a 20-point reform plan dubbed SPD 20/20. Its initatives fall under five broad categories: protecting the rights of citizens, improving training and education for SPD officers that reflect Seattle's values, earning public trust, embracing data-driven practices, and partnering with the public.

The Justice Department said at the time that they were pleased with the 20/20 reform plan, but they said they still planned to seek a court order to ensure SPD adopts changes outlined in their own report.

Background on DOJ investigation into Seattle Police Dept.:

Justice Dept. launches investigation into Seattle Police Dept. (March 31, 2011)

What the DOJ report on Seattle says (Dec. 16, 2011)

VIDEO TIMELINE: Cases that lead to DOJ investigation of SPD (Dec. 16, 2011)

Seattle mayor, police unveil 20-part reform plan (March 29, 2012)

Feds to seek court order for Seattle police reforms (March 30, 2012)

SPD reforms could cost the city $41 million, mayor says (May 14, 2012)

DOJ reform: What Seattle can learn from Cincinnati (May 18, 2012)

McGinn defends handling of negotiations with Justice Dept. (July 17, 2012)

 With reporting from KING 5's Linda Byron, Robert Mak, Jim Forman and Linda Brill.