Seattle police want 'clarity' from UW after confusion over domestic violence case

The Seattle Police Department is seeking to clarify its relationship with the University of Washington after asking campus police to help locate a woman accused of making violent, racist threats against her former boyfriend.

In a letter this week to University of Washington Interim Police Chief Randall West and UW Vice President for Student Life Dr. Denzil J. Suite, obtained by Q13 News, Interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz detailed a May 3 incident where his officers reached out to campus police for help finding a felony domestic violence suspect. 

According to a source with knowledge of the woman’s alleged actions, she sent text messages threatening to kill her ex-boyfriend and referred to him using racial slurs. The victim had an existing court order against the woman, the source said. Q13 News has filed a public disclosure request for the incident report. 

At the time of the report, Seattle police believed the 24-year-old woman was living in a building owned by the University of Washington. 

Given the nature of the threats, Seattle police contacted UWPD to ask for assistance in locating the suspect as quickly as possible. According to the letter from Chief Diaz, at least one UWPD officer responded by suggesting their agency was prohibited from helping the Seattle Police Department and referenced June 2020 guidance from Dr. Suite and UW President Ana Mari Cauce.

In a June 2020 letter to the Black Student Union, the University responded to concerns about policing amid widespread outrage over the murder of George Floyd. The letter sought to ease concerns that campus police worked hand-in-hand with Seattle police officers. 

"The [UW Police] Department is entirely autonomous from the Seattle Police Department. We cannot ‘divest from SPD’ because we have no contractual arrangements nor financial obligations with them for services," the letter stated. 

"We have not and will not transfer detained individuals to the custody of the Seattle Police Department, nor will we transport individuals on their behalf," the letter read. 

However, the letter stated that UWPD would continue to work with SPD on matters where there is "an immediate need to ensure public safety."

So when a UWPD officer deflected SPD’s calls for assistance in the felony domestic violence case on Monday, Chief Diaz seemed perplexed. 

"Moving forward, I would appreciate clarity on how we can and cannot work together," Diaz wrote in his letter to the University this week. 

"I know we are all assessing the appropriate role that police should play in so many types of incidents, but I do hope we can agree that when serious and violent crimes are at issue, and especially when state law requires it, we both can commit to helping ensure the safety of all," Diaz concluded.

While it is unclear whether confusion on the part of a single UWPD officer prompted the lapse, or whether it stemmed from a broader directive, campus police would rely heavily on the Seattle Police Department in the event of large-scale incident — making it essential that the two agencies have a clear understanding on their rules of engagement. 

In a statement, UW told Q13 News that its "commitment to the safety of our community, particularly in regard to life-safety issues, cannot be questioned."

"The letter you are referencing was prompted by some miscommunication and draws conclusions that are inaccurate. There are significant details and information about the potential threat included in Chief Diaz’s letter that had not been provided to UWPD previously. UWPD Chief West and SPD Chief Diaz are in communication and attempting to resolve any misunderstandings," the statement read.

The Seattle Police Department told Q13 News in a statement: 

"The Seattle Police Department is dedicated to public safety. We have contacted UWPD regarding concerns about a recent request for assistance in a felony domestic violence investigation near campus. SPD has worked closely with UWPD in the past to ensure the safety of students, and we hope to gain clarity about the future of our public safety partnership."

The suspect in the May 3 incident remains at large, according to SPD, and may be out of the state.

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