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Seattle police chief's alleged relationship with employee prompts inquiries, roils department

caption: Adrian Diaz smiles and claps during a press conference where he was announced by Seattle mayor Bruce Harrell as the new permanent Seattle Police Chief on Tuesday, September 20, 2022, at Seattle City Hall.
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Adrian Diaz smiles and claps during a press conference where he was announced by Seattle mayor Bruce Harrell as the new permanent Seattle Police Chief on Tuesday, September 20, 2022, at Seattle City Hall.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

The rumor started spreading in February.

Whispers that Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz was involved in a romantic relationship with a woman he would, months later, hire to be a high ranking advisor who reports to him.

After the advisor started on the job, the rumor reached a fever pitch, fueling an ongoing distraction across the department. It was discussed, according to six officers from different parts of the department, at unit meetings, a staff-wide union meeting, and on the street corner during All-Star Week. It was mentioned in a scathing letter by a retiring lieutenant and posted to a conservative Facebook group.

Diaz himself addressed it with his command staff, according to two sources, telling them that he believed the rumor started with one of them — and that he intended to investigate.

Diaz has denied the relationship was ever romantic through his attorney, Ted Buck, a defense lawyer who has long represented Seattle cops. Buck told KUOW that Diaz and the advisor are friends, nothing more.

“This is a man who has family, who has children,” Buck said. “Are they romantic friends? No, they are not.”

What started as water cooler chatter about the big boss has morphed into a hydra of internal probes and fact finding missions. One investigation came at Diaz’s behest to ferret out the rumormongers — the chief went so far as to involve the FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland Security, according to Buck.

The FBI and Homeland Security declined to comment.

The latest inquiry turns the spotlight on Diaz. For the past two months, the Office of Police Accountability, the city’s police watchdog agency, has been conducting a preliminary investigation into Diaz’s alleged relationship with his advisor, who was hired with a salary of $163,900.

The intake investigation was instigated by several anonymous complaints to the office, alleging behavior that would violate city policy on supervisor/employee relationships, which says the department will not “knowingly place employees with a family or personal relationship in a supervisor/subordinate assignment.”

The OPA director, with the Office of Inspector General, will determine whether or not the allegations warrant further investigation, according to an OPA process for complaints directed at the police chief.

“It’s created a lot of tension for people who feel overworked right now, who are looking for leadership, and they see the chief doing something they perceive as nakedly corrupt,” said a police department staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity.

KUOW granted Seattle Police staffers anonymity because department policy forbids them from speaking with the press without official approval. Twenty current and former city and police employees were interviewed for this story.

These investigations come at what should be a high point of Diaz’s career. He was finally sworn in as police chief in January, after two and a half years in an interim role, and he announced his executive team in July. The federal consent decree, which has cast a shadow over the department for 11 years, appears to be winding down.

Instead, Diaz finds himself playing a futile game of gossip whack-a-mole as the department is under strain. Homicides are at a nearly three-decade high, and staffing is tight, with the department down 600 officers over three years.

Diaz first heard about the rumors in February, his attorney Ted Buck said, three or four months before the advisor assumed her role. KUOW is not naming her because she has not been accused of wrongdoing. She did not respond to requests for an interview.

When Diaz heard the rumor, he told his supervisor, Monisha Harrell, who was senior deputy mayor at the time. Jeremy Racca, chief of staff and general counsel for the mayor, also spoke with Diaz and asked him about the rumor, according to a statement from the mayor’s office.

“The mayor’s office has asked about this and were told it’s untrue,” said Jamie Housen, spokesperson for Mayor Bruce Harrell, in July. “We have not been given any substantive evidence that would require us to look into it more.”

Monisha Harrell is no longer with the mayor’s office but told KUOW she did not believe the rumor.

“It’s very clear to me that somebody is attempting to undermine the chief,” Monisha Harrell said. “I think it’s pretty disturbing.”

Diaz also went to the city’s Ethics and Elections Commission to disclose the rumor, because, according to Buck, he was at a loss of what to do.

According to Buck, Diaz said, “This is a rumor that's going on. You do anything you need to do to address this.”

“This is not the behavior of a person who is trying to cover anything up,” Buck said. “He has been transparent throughout this process.”

The commission took no action.

According to Buck, Diaz consulted with the FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland Security about rumors that some officers were following the advisor, which Buck said would be “highly improper.”

“I don't believe that they found anything worthy of investigating,” Buck said of the federal agencies.

This was in the months before she started the job. She lives close to one of the precincts, which might explain why officers at that precinct talked about seeing Diaz going into her building. Buck confirmed that Diaz has visited her apartment, as the two are friends.

Diaz didn’t necessarily believe that his officers were tracking the advisor, Buck said. “But that's not something that you leave any possible doubt out there about,” he said. “You can't have police officers following private citizens around for no reason.”

Buck said that Diaz wants to quash the rumor because he is a family man, worried about the impact such a widely known rumor would have on his wife and children.

The chief has identified one person he believes may have spread the rumor, Buck said. That person, a civilian who was recently hired, is now the subject of an internal human resources investigation, Buck said.

Several officers who spoke with KUOW said they are speaking out because they believe that Diaz’s strong response — bringing the situation to federal agencies to possibly investigate — indicates their boss has gone too far.

One person interviewed said they worried about ramifications for colleagues. “Will he keep going until none of us are left?” the person asked.

Others have said the rumor is a distraction at a time when the department is dealing with a massive staffing shortage, and the advisor is expected to have a role in recruiting. The advisor’s LinkedIn resume indicates she has no experience in civil service or hiring.

“You have a leader that is making poor leadership decisions and setting an example of privilege and corruption,” said a Seattle police supervisor speaking on condition of anonymity. “People will follow that example.”

Diaz did not advertise the advisor’s position, nor did he conduct a search, before making a decision, according to police spokesman John O’Neil. City policy allows heads of departments to hire top level staff without posting the job.

Still, it is an unusual move in a department that has, according to one high-level source, almost always advertised positions in which an external candidate was chosen.

Buck, the attorney, said there was nothing unusual about this hire.

When KUOW asked the Seattle Police Department in June if Diaz had disclosed a conflict of interest related to the advisor hire, police spokesperson John O’Neil wrote by email, “No conflicts of interest are associated with this hire and, as a result, none were disclosed.”

The Office of Police Accountability has been investigating the complaints at the intake level for 60 days. Normally complaints are bound by a 30-day intake timeline, but complaints against the chief don’t have a timeline.

During this intake process the police accountability office must consult with Seattle’s Office of Inspector General. Independently, they will determine if this is worth investigating further — or should be dropped.

Reach Ashley Hiruko at Reach Isolde Raftery at or via direct message on Instagram @isoldedenise.

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