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Seattle mayor taps outside investigator to address Seattle Police sexism claims

caption: Mayor Bruce Harrell answers reporter questions during a press conference Wednesday, May 1, at city hall.
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Mayor Bruce Harrell answers reporter questions during a press conference Wednesday, May 1, at city hall.
KUOW Photo/Isolde Raftery

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said he will hire an outside investigator to examine allegations of sexism and harassment being made by female officers at Seattle Police, he wrote in a letter to city councilmembers Tuesday.

“We will not malign those who come forward and, to the contrary, will give these claims the close attention they deserve,” Harrell wrote.

The mayor’s announcement came four days after four female officers filed a tort claim alleging that Chief Adrian Diaz engaged in “predatory” and “grooming” behavior, and that he enabled Lt. John O’Neil’s alleged harassment against several women.

RELATED: Seattle cop accuses Chief Diaz of ‘predatory behavior’ and ‘grooming’

Harrell’s tone was in stark contrast with how the Seattle Police Department has responded to these allegations. Last week, the department described the women’s stories as “individual perceptions of victimhood.”

KUOW asked Harrell about his confidence in Diaz as police chief.

“I evaluate all of my department heads, all my leaders, and he’s not immune from that,” Harrell said Wednesday morning at city hall. “I also respect the due process that occurs in a situation like this.”

Harrell also said he'd get to the bottom of specific allegations of harassment against Diaz himself.

The mayor said he expects excellence from his department leaders. “I'm confident that this chief and his command staff understand that I will evaluate it that way.”

Harrell said he would hire Marcella Fleming Reed of MFR Associates to evaluate gender discrimination and harassment investigations performed by the city and police department to determine if they were thorough, evidence-backed, and handled appropriately.

Diaz’s personal attorney, Ted Buck, said in a statement to KUOW last week that the claims against Diaz are false.

The Seattle Police Department Office of Public Affairs said in a statement last week that it “does not litigate tort claims in the media.”

“For that reason, the department will not respond to the personal attacks rooted in rough estimations of hearsay reflecting, at their core, individual perceptions of victimhood that are unsupported and – in some instances – belied by the comprehensive investigations that will no doubt ultimately be of record,” they said in the statement.

RELATED: Seattle police lieutenant condemns Chief Diaz, says he enables department ‘serial harasser’

The tort claim was filed after one of the four female officers, Lt. Lauren Truscott, raised internal alarms against Diaz and O’Neil in March when, upon reviewing past complaints, she said she noticed a troubling pattern.

Two officers, Kame Spencer and Judinna Gulpan, had filed internal complaints against O’Neil, their supervisor, with allegations that he sexually harassed them. Another officer, Valerie Carson, filed a complaint against O’Neil that alleged he retaliated against her when she filed for medical leave.

As investigations were ongoing, O’Neil, the head of the media affairs unit, was promoted to lieutenant.

The four women are asking for $5 million in damages.

Sumeer Singla, their attorney, said if the mayor was truly sincere about doing an investigation into complaints lodged against the police department, it should have begun months ago when several female officers reported a prevalent culture of sexism in a department-commissioned report.

“Why is it starting now when four women have come forward?” Singla said.

Councilmember Rob Saka, vice chair of the public safety committee, wrote in a statement to KUOW that he was “deeply troubled” by reports of sexual harassment and gender discrimination stemming from the police department.

“That type of behavior has no place in our police department,” he wrote. “I plan to exercise my oversight authority to get to the bottom of these culture issues. To that end, I support the women on the force and plan to be in conversation about what we can do as a city to better support them.”

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