SEATTLE – A public forum on accountability by the Seattle Police Department erupted in angry words, finger-pointing and demands for the police chief to step down Thursday night.
The forum at City Hall called "Where Do We Go from Here?" included Mayor Mike McGinn and Police Chief John Diaz. It followed several controversial incidents involving Seattle police over the past year, including the shooting death of a homeless man by an officer.
The evening began on a conciliatory note. Before the forum, Chief Diaz had a private discussion and shook hands with Rick Williams, the brother of John T. Williams. John T., a homeless man and woodcarver, was shot to death by Officer Ian Birk in downtown Seattle last summer. Rick Williams says he wants to see criminal charges filed against Birk. Prosecutors have not yet made a decision on that.
As the night progressed, tempers flared quickly. A forum meant to bring people together to improve police accountability in Seattle led to accusations and calls for Diaz to resign.
Mayor McGinn told the packed meeting room that he agrees the Seattle Police Department's use of force practices need to be examined by federal authorities.
"We welcome that," said McGinn.
But despite a number of high-profile incidents caught on tape, Chief Diaz denied that Seattle has a systematic problem.
"I'm glad that the (Department of Justice) is coming in to look, especially at that question," said Diaz. "If you're asking me, 'do I see a pattern of this involving minorities,' the answer is no."
After hearing that, one man in the audience stood up and went on a profanity-laced tirade, yelling at Diaz. He was told to leave, which he did, but not before raising his middle finger.
A group of masked protesters outside the meeting hall chanted "Cops. Pigs. Murderers."
Police Guild President Rich O'Neill defended the department's officers, suggesting recent incidents of force could have been different if people had followed orders.
"In each one of the incidents, the person was asked to do something and the person did not comply," said O'Neill.
But other panelists challenged the department to take a second look at how they handle citizens, particularly citizens of color.
Chief Diaz says he is reviewing training procedures and is planning to attend some of the street skills sessions given to rookie officers.