SEATTLE - An organization aimed at reforming Seattle Police Department practices has condemned the department for deciding to issue fake radio transmissions saying that the Proud Boys were marching in downtown, causing alarm in already-tense protests in 2020.
Earlier this month, it was discovered that Seattle police exchanged detailed fake radio transmissions about a nonexistent group of menacing right-wing extremists at a crucial moment during 2020 racial justice protests, an investigation by the city’s police watchdog group shows.
The approved "misinformation effort" happened June 8, 2020, hours after the police department abandoned its East Precinct and as protesters were starting to set up the temporary zone that was later called the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or CHOP.
The officers who participated described a group gathering by City Hall and delivered reports such as, "It looks like a few of them might be open carrying," and: "Hearing from the Proud Boys group. … They may be looking for somewhere else for confrontation."
Though some people in the zone may have brought guns regardless of the chatter, the ruse "improperly added fuel to the fire," Office of Police Accountability Director Andrew Myerberg concluded in a report released Jan. 5.
In response, the Seattle Community Police Commission (SCPC) condemned the actions. SCPC is an organization that was formed from a mandate in 2017 to provide community input on needed reforms.
In a statement, SCPC said:
"We, Seattle’s Community Police Commission, write to condemn the Seattle Police Department’s decision to falsely claim—at the height of the protests against George Floyd’s murder— that armed groups of white nationalists were marching towards protestors. This lie, which came one day after a protestor was shot, was irresponsible, unprofessional, unethical, and unacceptable.
It almost certainly escalated tensions in the CHOP/CHAZ, impacted other City departments, had a chilling effect on free speech, and, in hindsight, raises the specter of the six SPD officers who participated in the January 6 attempted coup. The officers responsible for and involved in this ruse must be held accountable, far beyond the recommendations of the OPA investigation, which sustained findings only for two police supervisors—both of whom are no longer with SPD—and none of the other four officers who were involved.
In 2018, a Seattle resident died by suicide after he was the target of an SPD ruse. After that incident, OPA recommended improved training for SPD officers; clearly those efforts were insufficient. Mayor Harrell and the City Council must work together to pass robust accountability legislation that prevents officers from using ruses in our City.
The fact that this investigation was completed in September 2021 but not released until December 30, 2021 is concerning in and of its own. It raises questions about why no one in SPD exposed the ruse earlier, why OPA delayed the release of its investigation, how that delay negatively impacted the outcomes and potential findings that could lead to officer discipline, and broader concerns about the recent announcement that OPA Director Myerberg has been appointed Public Safety Director in the Harrell Administration."
It appears unlikely that anyone involved will face punitive actions. The two employees who ordered and supervised the misinformation effort and who Myerberg sustained allegations of policy violations against have left the department, according to the case summary.
There was no investigation into the hoax until late 2020, when Converge Media journalist Omari Salisbury asked OPA for body camera video from the officers who had supposedly tailed the Proud Boys group. OPA couldn’t locate any relevant video and launched an investigation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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