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caption: FILE: Seattle police officers stand near the intersection of 5th and Pine Streets on Friday, November 24, 2017, during a Black Lives Matter rally in Seattle.
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FILE: Seattle police officers stand near the intersection of 5th and Pine Streets on Friday, November 24, 2017, during a Black Lives Matter rally in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seattle police accountability office investigating actions of officers in D.C. during Capitol Building attack

The head of Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability says the agency's investigation will focus on the words and actions of at least two Seattle police officers, who allegedly attended last week’s pro-Trump rally that devolved into an insurrection at the Capitol Building.

Andrew Myerberg said his office will evaluate whether the officers engaged in any activities that would violate SPD policies against undermining public trust and confidence in the department.

“Our job for the next couple months will be to delve into those facts, to interview the officers, to pull together other evidence, to create a picture of what occurred and obviously to figure out, were there more officers who were involved?" he said. "All officers right now are on notice that if they were at the rally, they should be self-reporting to their supervisors."

Myerberg added that his office will refer the case for criminal investigation if they find evidence that the officers engaged in illegal activities related to storming the U.S Capitol.

“We expect we’ll have full cooperation from these officers,” he said. “It’s a requirement of their employment at SPD. So we don’t see any difficulty with getting to the bottom of these questions.”

He said the investigation got underway last week when a fellow SPD officer saw a photo of the officers that appeared to be from the pro-Trump rally, and reported it up the chain of command.

That tip was forwarded to the Office of Police Accountability on Thursday by Thomas Mahaffey, assistant chief of SPD's patrol operations bureau. Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz put both officers on administrative leave.

"If any SPD officers were directly involved in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, I will immediately terminate them," Diaz said in a statement.

Myerberg said that normally, attending a political rally would be allowed under SPD policies on professionalism and discretion.

“I want to be abundantly clear that officers don’t abandon their First Amendment rights just because they become a police officer or join the Seattle Police Department,” he said.

But officers can’t engage in activities that would undermine public trust, even on their own time.

To Myerberg, it’s clear that many participants of last week’s insurrection came to Washington, D.C., with the intent to break the law by invading the Capitol Building.

“Did the officers involved engage in that? Were they actively planning that? Did they engage in pre-rally conversations that showed an intent to do so? Those are the types of things that we’d want to know,” he said.

He added that threats, discussion of violence or illegal acts, or biased statements against protected groups would cross the line and violate SPD policies.

The Office of Police Accountability has also received complaints about statements by Seattle Police Officers Guild president Mike Solan, who in addition to blaming far-right extremists for last week's attack, has shifted unsubstantiated blame to far-left agitators. Solan’s statements have been widely condemned by city officials and law enforcement organizations like the state’s Fraternal Order of Police.

But his position as Guild president gives him certain protections.

“If the union president was engaging in law enforcement activities and violated policy, we would have jurisdiction over that. But it’s a little bit trickier if that person is posting in their a capacity as union president,” Myerberg said. “I think we’re going to do our intake and then whatever we decide, we’ll make clear to the public — whether we’re going to move forward with it or whether we don’t have jurisdiction over those statements.”

Solan is not on administrative leave, unlike the other two officers. Myerberg said it is up to Chief Diaz, but “my gut is that that decision was made because of the possibility that those individuals could have engaged in criminal activity or could have been involved in possible insurrection, not just because they attended the rally.”

Seattle City Council President Lorena González said any members of law enforcement who participated in the insurrection should be held accountable.

“I am deeply concerned by the news that SPD officers were in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday and may have participated in the deadly and seditious mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol,” she said. “I’m also astounded that SPOG President Mike Solan would promote conspiracy theories suggesting that Black Lives Matter activists and not Trump-supporting white nationalists were responsible for the attacks.”

Retired Bothell police chief Carol Cummings said she agrees with Chief Diaz’s handling of the case.

“Should it be found that those officers simply went to the rally and then returned home, so be it. Trump is still the president and people have the right to attend political rallies," she said. "But, should they have participated in this ravaging of our Capitol, should it be determined that they vandalized the grounds, entered the Capitol building or committed any other criminal act, then the response should be swift and severe.”

As for Solan’s statements, Cummings said he “seems to have forgotten that he represents all the SPD officers," as president of the guild, adding that "the call for him to apologize or — better yet, resign — is one that I support.”

“What I fear about both of these situations is that somehow, they will confirm for many people that such beliefs are uniform among law enforcement officers," Cummings continued. "That is, of course, deeply untrue and it is also a serious disservice to the brave officers in D.C. who, despite being horribly outnumbered, struggled to keep the mob from entering the building.”