City attorney stops release of report critical of police
Seattle Times staff reporter
The Seattle City Attorney's Office has blocked the release of a "very critical" report on the police department written by its civilian review board.
Peter Holmes, an attorney and the chairman of the Office of Professional Accountability Review Board, said he was told Friday that release of the report -- which was set for Monday -- could expose him and its other author to possible civil liability such as defamation.
This year, however, new city rules went into effect that provide the same legal protection to review-board members as city employees in case they are sued.
The review board's report deals with the police department's investigation into a controversial drug bust in January involving Seattle police officers Gregory Neubert and Michael Tietjen.
Holmes said the report "shows serious problems in the department" and that he believes politics may have played a role in the city attorney's opinion.
The report "is embarrassing," Holmes said. "I'm not surprised they don't want it made public." He characterized it as "very critical."
Holmes and City Attorney Tom Carr have clashed over the review board's role before. A spokeswoman in Carr's office said she could not discuss advice given to a client and that Carr would have no comment.
City Council President Nick Licata defended Carr, saying the city attorney gave the review board's report to others in the office to handle because of Carr's conflict with Holmes.
Licata pulled the item off Monday's council agenda and said he, Holmes and representatives from the city attorney's office will meet next week to try to resolve the issue and release the report.
The board is appointed by the City Council and its mission is to review the workings of the Office of Professional Accountability. That office directs internal police investigations.
The board, established in 2002, has not released reports in the past, saying it feared being sued by the police union, police officers or others who disagreed with its findings.
In May 2006, the council addressed the liability issue, approving rules that gave the review board members the same protection as city employees, meaning the city would insure them if they were sued while carrying out their jobs.
The council also approved a new ordinance that grants the board members access to unredacted internal-investigation files. The Seattle Police Officers Guild has filed an unfair-labor-practice complaint over the board's access to files.
The ordinance went into effect this year.
"What I can say right now is that, on the advice of counsel, we should not release the report," Holmes said.
Holmes and review board member Bradley Moerick -- a former police officer -- last month voted to review the internal investigation into a controversial drug bust in January by Neubert and Tietjen.
The arrest of a convicted downtown drug dealer, George "Troy" Patterson, was caught on videotape, and the tape conflicted with the written reports of the incident and raised questions about the officers' honesty and credibility.
Patterson claimed the officers roughed him up and then planted drugs on him. Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske exonerated the officers on those charges but disciplined them for a relatively minor policy violation for not documenting the arrest and release of another suspect at the scene.
A civilian auditor, former U.S. attorney Kate Pflaumer, has already reviewed the investigation and concluded that officers lied in their reports, hindered the internal probe and that one of them confiscated a small amount of marijuana from a suspect but failed to place it in evidence.
Kerlikowske did not return a call for comment Friday. He has said he does not believe his officers lied and that he and Pflaumer agreed no drugs were planted or excessive force used.
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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