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Longtime Seattle Police leader sues Police Chief Adrian Diaz for sexism

caption: Seattle Police Assistant Chief Deanna Nollette
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Seattle Police Assistant Chief Deanna Nollette
Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times

Deanna Nollette, a veteran Seattle cop of 27 years and former assistant chief, filed a lawsuit this week alleging that Police Chief Adrian Diaz “has a history of misogyny” and is “demeaning to women in the police force.”

The lawsuit states that Diaz excluded women commanders from command staff social events, and would only offer travel, training, and networking opportunities to male officers. It alleges that Diaz excluded the input of female command staff when making important personnel decisions.

The lawsuit says that on one occasion, Diaz created a flag football team to foster team building. When Nollette raised the possibility that women would not want to play with their male colleagues, Diaz allegedly said that “the women can be cheerleaders.”

"It is reprehensible that an organization responsible for law enforcement is headed by a man who regularly violates the laws against discrimination,” Nollette’s attorney Judith Lonnquist said by email.

On another occasion, according to a former command staffer, Nollette asked Diaz why he had hired a former TV news anchor to his team. Diaz told Nollette the woman was tired of getting “random dick pics.”

Ted Buck, Diaz's personal attorney, said in an email that the allegations are "wholly unfounded" and that Diaz looks forward to defending his record.

“Chief Diaz is disappointed that a routine personnel decision has led to these demonstrably false claims,” Buck said. “The chief’s overt support of women in departmental leadership has been clear and consistent.”

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Buck wrote that a large portion of Seattle Police executive command staff are women and because of Diaz, the department joined the 30x30 Initiative, with a goal of reaching 30 percent of women in police recruit classes by 2030.

The Seattle City Attorney’s Office declined to comment for this story.

Nollette is one of at least three longtime employees who have filed lawsuits against Seattle Police in the last three years, two of whom have specifically named Diaz.

Detective Denise “Cookie” Bouldin, an African American woman, sued the department last November alleging that police employees and superiors subjected her to race and gender discrimination. After she reported that officers allowed their personal pets to roam free, she was told she would be transferred to a different precinct, and dog feces was left in front of her locker. The “hostile work environment” had increased in recent years, according to Bouldin’s lawsuit.

Captain Stephen Hirjak, an Asian American man, sued Diaz in 2021 for racial discrimination, claiming that Diaz had unfairly demoted and blamed him for a police clash in 2020 during the protests after the murder of George Floyd. The lawsuit settled last year without admission of wrongdoing and the city agreeing to pay Hirjak and his legal representation close to $600,000.

Nollette’s lawsuit alleges that Diaz retaliated against her after Nollette filed a discrimination complaint against Diaz in February 2022.

Nollette later asked that investigation of the complaint wait until after the police chief had been selected, a position she applied for, over fear that the complaint would harm her chances. The lawsuit states that the city ignored Nollette’s request, proceeded with an investigation, but no action was taken against Diaz.

Diaz was sworn in as permanent police chief in January 2023. Then Diaz demoted Nollette and Eric Greening – who also applied for the police chief job – from their positions as assistant chief.

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Nollette soon after went on medical leave for four months because of the “emotional toll Diaz’s discrimination took,” the lawsuit states. When she returned to work, Diaz allegedly assigned her to work for a less experienced and newly-promoted white male captain.

"I am heartbroken to have been placed in an adversarial position against a department that I have loved and given 100% to for almost 28 years,” Nollette wrote through her attorney. “I have a responsibility to try to ensure that women who are with or join SPD have a fair and equitable opportunity."

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