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Independent journalist reflects on uncovering undocumented ruse by Seattle police

Officers used two-way radio traffic to serve as a distraction during the 2020 protests. An investigation determined it could have made a tense situation worse.

SEATTLE — Omari Salisbury was in the middle of it all during the summer of 2020. 

"We were live streaming the whole time," he said about those long days and nights near Cal Anderson Park and the handful of blocks that were known as the CHAZ or CHOP.

He remembers the oddity of June 8, 2020 in particular, and how the crowd seemed to get agitated over a rumor near the Seattle Police Department's East Precinct.  

"Did it change the posture of the people that were there? Yeah 100 percent," he said about the word on the street that a group of Proud Boys were marching to the area to take on protestors. 

It was a moment, amidst the daily updates, the owner of Converge Media said got lost until months later. He started reviewing old footage and said there was a comment from one of the people in the protest zone about grabbing guns to take on the group. 

It's what made him question what was reality, and what was not. 

He asked for records and searched for radio transmissions. Nothing. He finally found some police dispatches, and forwarded them to the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), who he said got back to him. 

"They were perplexed," he said on Tuesday. 

That's because there was no evidence, accounting, or documentation that a group of Proud Boys ever marched on Capitol Hill. No body cam or surveillance video. 

Late last week, OPA reported that it was all a ruse by Seattle police. Legal in definition, the two-way radio traffic was approved by command staff to serve as a distraction during a chaotic time. Yet, OPA did not recommend discipline, despite the fact the office warned there could have been severe consequences by the actions. 

"I think we need ruses documented," said Seattle Councilmember Lisa Herbold on Tuesday, before leading a review of the tactics in a committee meeting. 

OPA Director Andrew Myerberg, who led the investigation, credited Salisbury for bringing it to the city's attention, and that, "This was a really poor decision from everyone involved," adding, "It was a bad idea." 

New Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell added, "that cannot be how we operate," and that "it does bother me that there was no documentation." 

It was unclear whether Herbold or any others would pitch legislation to amend the legality of the technique. 

Seattle police didn't immediately respond to questions about the hearing. 

Interim Chief Adrian Diaz is scheduled to appear next to Mayor Bruce Harrell on Wednesday to address the issue. 

Salisbury said he'll continue to ask questions about that period in Seattle's history.  

"You don't even hear any kind of remorse," he said. "You tarnished the name and the credibility of your organization. Where are the people who are coming out and saying that? The damage that might have been done now to the credibility of to our organization, was it worth this?"

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