SEATTLE – The US Department of Justice issued a strongly worded letter late Wednesday, urging the Seattle Police Department to limit protections for officers.
The nine page letter, sent to Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, suggests SPD limit so called “Garrity Protection” against self incrimination for officers. Currently, officers who are under investigation can invoke the practice while giving a statement to superiors. However, DOJ says “These practices compromise both SPD’s ability to supervise officers’ use of force, and its ability to fully and efficiently conduct criminal and administrative investigations. Put simply: This practice makes it too difficult to quickly exonerate officers who have followed policy and to properly discipline officers who have not.” The letter also says “SPD…should make it clear that all use of force statements should be true and voluntary.”
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes cited the “Garrity Protection” in his decision to drop a case Wednesday against Seattle Police Officer James Lee. The veteran officer was charged with assault, after he was accused of kicking a young man during an arrest in October 2010. He gave his account of the incident to superiors, after invoking Garrity. Holmes says only recently did his attorney agree to release the statement. Holmes says the statement, as well as new expert testimony and evidence, caused him to believe Lee acted properly.
“If I knew what I knew now, I would have had a different initial decision,” admitted Holmes.
Seattle Police Spokesman Sean Whitcomb said Wednesday the department was still reviewing the document. Aaron Pickus, spokesman for Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, said the office was also still reading through the long letter and declining comment for now. Seattle Police Guild President Rich O’Neil did not return a phone call for comment.
Lee is still employed, and working in another department at SPD.
Bo Hoston, the cousin of the young man who was involving in the Lee incident, said Wednesday he was disappointed in Holmes decision.