A King County detective mocked a protester's death online — then his boss took him down
A King County Sheriff’s detective could be terminated for social media posts and comments he made over the summer relating to the protests for civil rights and racial justice in Seattle.
One of those memes, “All Lives Splatter,” was posted as two protesters were in critical condition after a driver struck them on Interstate 5. One of those protesters later died.
On Wednesday, Undersheriff Patti Cole-Tindall, the second in command at the King County Sheriff's Office, recommended that Det. Michael Brown be fired for conduct unbecoming, among other counts.
In a letter to Det. Brown, Cole-Tindall wrote an eviscerating critique of each of his Facebook posts, which are included below. We included her pointed analysis beneath each post.
Det. Brown has been with the King County Sheriff’s Office for 40 years, since 1980. His disciplinary record shows two other misconduct findings, both sustained, including intoxicated driving and the fallout from that event.
Det. Brown shared the social media posts in June and July, soon after the start of the protests for civil rights across the country and in Seattle. Brown said he deactivated his Facebook account after receiving death threats.
Brown denied that his posts were linked to the Black Lives Matter movement, or the protests. He insisted that he had not connected the dots between his posts and current events. For example, he claimed to not see how "All Lives Splatter" was a play on “Black Lives Matter.”
In a separate memo, Chief Troy Olmstead wrote: “At minimum, these posts demonstrated incredibly poor judgement and lack of sensitivity. At worst, the posts were written to promote violence against people expressing views that police agencies engage in biased based policing.”
June 1: "Knock em out"
The video above, posted by Det. Brown to his Facebook page, shows a Baltimore police officer punching a Black woman at a protest.
Undersheriff Patti Cole-Tindall wrote to Det. Brown: “Your endorsement of the use of force in this situation, against an African American protester, had a negative impact on the department at a time when scrutiny on police use of force, particularly against African Americans, was at the forefront of local and national debate.
“Your post has and would likely continue to be used in the future to discredit you and the Sheriff’s Office. [NOTE: The Baltimore officer was suspended.]”
June 3: "Spitting their teeth out"
Det. Brown said this post referred to the 1960s and 70s Vietnam era of protest, and not current times. The investigator and Undersheriff Patti Cole-Tindall indicated they found that difficult to believe given that Black Lives Matter protests were occurring in Seattle at the time that he posted.
“Your comment suggests that extreme measures such as knocking out teeth is a sanctioned and successful way to manage protesters," Cole-Tindall wrote.
"The protesters pictured here do not appear to be engaged in any violence, but are blocking a freeway. Such violence against protesters or rioters would not be sanctioned under our use of force policy.”
June 13: Colonel Sanders KFC post
Undersheriff Patti Cole-Tindall wrote of this post: “The argument for removal of Confederate statues is grounded in recognition that the Confederacy’s effort to maintain the system of slavery of African Americans should not be revered in the form of statues. You equate the removal of the cardboard Colonel Sanders to this statue removal effort, making light of it.”
June 21: Mocking a Black teenager who died in the autonomous zone
In a comment on Facebook, Det. Brown wrote, "Say what? The CHAZ CHOP are renaming Cal Anderson Park the Lil Renz last stand park."
He was referring to the death of 19-year-old Lorenzo Anderson, who died in the autonomous zone on Capitol Hill. For more about Anderson's death, read this story by Ashley Hiruko.
“This post downplays the violent death of a young black man connected to the controversial CHAZ/CHOP zone," Cole-Tindall wrote.
“The withdrawal of police from this area was highly controversial and drew much criticism and frustration, and was clearly an issue of public concern. The focus of this protest zone, however controversial in its methods, was racial inequality, and how such inequality is borne out through law enforcement use of force.
“Your identification as a law enforcement officer weighing in on the murder of a Black man in such a cavalier tone, rose to the level of Conduct Unbecoming.”
June 22: "Here they come"
Undersheriff Patti Cole-Tindall wrote to Det. Brown that "this post endorses police use of lethal force in a situation where such use is clearly not justified ...
“In this context, the suggestion in your post that using lethal force to 'take back' this area on Capitol Hill was damaging to your effectiveness and the effectiveness of the King County Sheriff’s Office to carry out its mission.
“I also find the message in this post amounts to advancing criminal activity or law violations.”
July 4: "All Lives Splatter" post
The post above is the one that was shared beyond Det. Brown's private group of 800 Facebook friends.
Brown posted this on the same day that two protesters, Summer Taylor and Diaz Love, were hit by a car on Interstate 5. Summer Taylor later died of their injuries.
Det. Brown defended this post to the King County Sheriff investigator, saying he had seen it on another agency's social media page, and that he shared it with the comment “Gee” to indicate surprise that an agency would share it.
The investigator did not find that convincing, and neither did Undersheriff Cole-Tindall.
“You posted this the same day that two protesters were hit by a car on a Seattle freeway, a freeway that had been closed for a protest," Cole-Tindall wrote. "The driver was arrested because the event appeared to be intentional based on the facts known that day.
"Even though both of the injured victims were alive at the time you posted this, it was known that their conditions were critical and serious."
She continued: “The message at the bottom, ‘Keep your ass off the road,’ conveys that it was the protesters’ fault that someone drove into them.
“I also find that the phrase ‘All Lives Splatter,’ and its play on the ‘Black Lives Matter,’ slogan was obvious, particularly during this time when racial inequity protests had been front and center in our community since May. I do not find it credible that you did not equate these two phrases.
“This is especially true for those of us in law enforcement, as we are the primary focus of these protests, and where the most prominent and well-known group involved is the organization of Black Lives Matter.
“This meme was created sometime after the event in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white supremacists killed a protester by driving over her.”
Cole-Tindall concluded that she was recommending Brown’s termination.
"Your ability to be effective as a law enforcement officer, given the ample material now available to discredit and undermine you and your work for this agency in court processes and beyond," she wrote. "The blow to the department’s integrity was staggering.”
She also said that the investigation would continue – and that those who commented on Brown's posts would also be examined.