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Seattle police improperly faked Proud Boys radio talk during 2020 protests, watchdog group finds

Officers may have used fake radio chatter in an attempt to see if their radio transmissions were compromised, a lieutenant said.

SEATTLE — An investigation by Seattle's Office of Police Accountability (OPA) shows officers exchanged fake radio transmissions about a nonexistent group of right-wing extremists at a crucial moment during 2020 racial justice protests.

Fake radio chatter on June 8, 2020 about members of the Proud Boys marching around downtown Seattle, some possibly carrying guns, and then heading to confront protesters on Capitol Hill was an improper “ruse,” or dishonest ploy, that exacerbated a volatile situation, according to OPA's report.

A lieutenant with the Seattle Police Operations Center told OPA the radio communications may have been made to test "the response of individuals who the department believed was monitoring its communication channels."

The Proud Boys is a far-right extremist group with a reputation for street violence. 

June 8, 2020, was the day the Seattle Police Department abandoned the East Precinct in the Capitol Hill neighborhood following protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

Protesters set up camp around the East Precinct and called it the "Capitol Hill Organized Protest," better known as CHOP. The CHOP covered six city blocks and lasted until July 1, 2020, when police cleared the area and eventually re-entered the precinct.

The officers that engaged in the misinformation effort did so in "compliance with orders from the chain of command," according to the report. That chain of command involved an assistant chief, since retired from the department, who approved, ordered and led the effort, according to the report. The OPA states that the assistant chief should bear the responsibility for what occurred.

It is further alleged that another police department employee "improperly supervised the ruse." That employee, retired from the department when he was interviewed by OPA, said he was assigned to participate and organize some officers.

Four other employees participated.

OPA found that the assistant chief abused the discretion afforded to him by: approving and overseeing a misinformation effort without issuing proper guidelines; did not ensure the effort was properly supervised, with the involved officers saying they had not engaged in this type of effort previously; and did not properly document the effort.

Additionally, OPA found that while there was an interest in ensuring police communications were not being monitored, there is no evidence that there was a threat to officer or public safety.

Furthermore, the use of the Proud Boys – knowing that the transmission was being monitored – made an already volatile situation worse, according to OPA. It was foreseeable to believe that CHOP demonstrators would be concerned about the Proud Boys and show up to the protest zone armed, according to the report.