SEATTLE - Two Seattle police officers broke the law and violated department policy when they entered a prohibited area outside the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, according to an investigation conducted by the city’s Office of Police Accountability.
The six-month investigation was made public Thursday after months of speculation over the actions of six off-duty Seattle officers who were in D.C. on the day pro-Trump rioters descended on the U.S. Capitol in an effort to stop certification of the 2020 presidential election.
Of the six officers, OPA found that three engaged in actions consistent with First Amendment-protected activities. No discipline is recommended against those officers, who attended President Trump’s "Stop the Steal" rally earlier that day.
Investigators were unable to determine whether another officer broke any law or SPD policy, but could not exonerate the officer either. The official finding against that officer was listed as "inconclusive."
In the case of the two officers found to have been in the crowd that stormed the Capitol, OPA has recommended termination. Such an action will ultimately be up to Interim Chief of Police Adrian Diaz, although he pledged in a January 8 statement that he would fire any officers who were found to have taken part.
"The Department fully supports all lawful expressions of First Amendment freedom of speech, but the violent mob and events that unfolded at the U.S. Capitol were unlawful and resulted in the death of another police officer," Diaz said. "If any SPD officers were directly involved in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, I will immediately terminate them."
While neither of the officers is accused of entering the Capitol building, a still image taken from video showed them standing in a "clearly prohibited area" next to the building, investigators claimed.
"A photo pulled from a video shows the officers smiling while in close proximity to the Capitol as rioters lined the steps and climbed the walls and scaffolding," OPA said in a statement.
OPA declined to make the image public, pending a formal resolution in the case. The image was one of three provided to OPA by the FBI, which did not give investigators the full video, citing a pending criminal case against the person who recorded it.
"Their conduct is made even more egregious by the events that were going on around them. While they smiled and looked at the Capitol Building, as captured by the video stills, rioters defiled the seat of American democracy and assaulted numerous fellow officers," said OPA Director Andrew Myerberg. "That they, as SPD officers, were direct witnesses to the acts that were going on around them, including the scaling of the Capitol Building walls, but did and said nothing, compounds this."
The four officers not found to have committed wrongdoing are on active duty. The two employees found to have violated law and policy have been placed on administrative leave, according to SPD.
Office of Police Accountability findings
Both officers accused of being part of the crowd that descended on the Capitol building denied willful wrongdoing. Both claimed there was no indication that the area was prohibited and no sign of criminal activity in their immediate area. OPA investigators said the claims where not consistent with photo evidence and that the area was posted with signs that read: "AREA CLOSED: By order of the United States Capitol Police Board."
"OPA has consistently found that ignorance of the law is not a defense. This is the case for community members and, even more so, for SPD employees," the OPA investigation read. "Based on the totality of the evidence, OPA finds that Named Employee #1 and Named Employee #2 were trespassing and that they knew or, at the very least, should have known that this was the case. When they did so, they violated Washington, D.C. law."
One of the officers accused of wrongdoing told OPA he felt he was being discriminated against due to his political ideology and that he was in D.C. to "support a free and fair election."
As part of the probe, OPA investigators traveled to D.C. for a site visit, reviewed video, restaurant receipts, hotel key card logs, cellphone data, emails, and other documentation that could show where the officers were from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on January 6.
According to OPA, the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) asked Chief Adrian Diaz to stop investigators from having access to the officers’ personal cellphones and other data - calling it unconstitutional.
Chief Diaz refused.
One of the officers declined to provide documentation and now faces a separate investigation for insubordination and failure to comply with an OPA investigation. That officer is among those not facing discipline related to activities in D.C.
SPOG has filed a grievance over the request for documents.
The OPA said it did not discover any previously unknown SPD employees who were in D.C. on the day of the siege.
An attorney representing the officers declined to comment for this story. Q13 News has an interview scheduled with SPOG and will update this story accordingly.
Seattle Police released the following statement after the report was released:
"The Seattle Police Department has received the Office of Police Accountability’s completed investigation into complaints brought against six SPD officers who were determined to be in Washington, D.C. during the insurrection on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
"Chief Adrian Diaz has been clear that he will hold accountable any SPD officer involved in the insurrection, including disciplinary action up to and including termination.
"Due process for public personnel who hold a property interest in their employment is governed by both state and federal law. For transparency of process, the chart below sets forth the steps required to ensure that disciplinary action imposed is legal and binding.
"In accordance with the steps set forth above to ensure due process, Chief Diaz intends to issue his disciplinary decision within the next 30 days. "
The Seattle Community Policing Commission, mandated under a consent decree ruling between SPD and federal authorities, called the officers participation concerning:
"The concerns raised by the CPC and many other organizations about extremism within the ranks of SPD are serious. Of the 31 police officers from across the nation known to be at the Capitol that day, 6 are Seattle Police officers – more than any other police department in the country."
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