Seattle Hiring Private Investigator to Hunt for Police Whistleblower/ The Stranger by Ansel Herz

Aug 7, 2016
City Attorney Pete Holmes, like Mayor Ed Murray, is attempting to blame the rejection of the city's latest contract offer by the Seattle Police Officers Guild on aleak to The Stranger, and his office said Wednesday the city is hiring a private investigator to hunt for the source for the leak.

The current contract imposes onerous limits on the ways the city can hold its rank and file cops accountable for misconduct; the new contract would have relaxed some of those limits, without wholly doing away with them. The union's membership soundly defeated the proposal, 823 to 156, after months of secret negotiations to reach the deal between the city and SPOG's leadership.

In a statement, Holmes announced an inquisition to identify my source(s):


Rejection of the collective bargaining agreement by members of the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) threatens to set back Seattle’s federally-monitored police reform efforts. Unauthorized disclosure of a key, confidential document during union voting likely influenced the outcome; it is thus important that the City make every effort to identify the source of the disclosure as we determine our next steps...

Appropriately, this investigation will be conducted by the Seattle Ethics & Elections Commission (SEEC), under its broad investigative and enforcement powers. The City Attorney’s Office (CAO) fully supports SEEC’s investigation and will take several internal measures to increase the possibility of identifying the leak.

Holmes says he's identified every individual in his office who had access to the document we published—a summary of the city's offer to SPOG—and has instructed every employee to submit to an interview under penalty of perjury.

The city attorney concludes by asking the source of the leak to come forward "before the City expends significant resources on the investigation."


Ethics and Elections Commission Director Wayne Barnett is hiring a private investigator to pursue the source of the leak, according to the City Attorney spokesperson Kimberly Mills. "This is Pete’s way of saying he’s cooperating with Wayne’s investigation," she said.

Barnett refused to answer questions about who this investigator is, at what cost he or she will be hired, and whether there is an ongoing criminal probe. (After the leak last month, the mayor said he was in talks with the FBI over an inquiry. The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

The investigation's purpose is to determine whether the city's ethics code,which bars the disclosure of confidential information, has been violated, Barnett said.

Sensitive information is regularly leaked to reporters by city officials and whistleblowers and not every one of these leaks is investigated. In some ways, the decision to hunt down my source harkens back to the pre-reform era at SPD, when the department hired its own private investigators, including one at the cost of $12,000, to pursue Seattle Times sources who leaked information about an investigation into officer misconduct (the infamous "Mexican piss" case). But I can't find any precedent for an inquiry into a union contract leak.


"This is highly concerning and could put other sources/whistleblowers at risk," Q13 FOX reporter Brandi Kruse said yesterday. "Leak did not influence 800+ officers."

It is rather dubious for city officials to try to blame the SPOG vote on the press. The rejection of the contract by guild membership was overwhelming, and both Kruse and the Seattle Times have reported that many officers simply didn't like what was in the contract offer, including new provisions on civilian oversight.

A Queen Anne and Magnolia News called bullshit on the mayor this week in aneditorial:

It’s a stretch—to say the least—that reporting on the contract negotiations is ultimately what derailed the most recent proposal. Obviously, there must be a disconnect between the city, and the police department for SPOG members to vote so overwhelmingly against the deal (84 percent casting no votes). That’s not on the media.

But that brings up another question. Why, exactly, should the public be kept out of the loop on these negotiations? The taxpayers are, of course, the ones who elected you, Mayor Murray, and are paying the salaries of every officer on the Seattle Police Department force.

There is "near-consensus" among the the Department of Justice, Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), OPA Review Board, OPA Auditor, and the Community Police Commission that labor negotiations with the police guildshould not be kept secret.

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