The Seattle City Council plans to vote today on an expensive new contract between the City and the Seattle Police Department’s sergeants and officers. The proposed contract would cost the City about $96 million in 2024 between back pay and raises, increase SPD’s budget moving forward by about $39 million, make zero significant changes to the City’s police accountability systems, and significantly stifle any potential alternative response programs

Mayor Bruce Harrell submitted the contract to the council for approval at the end of April, and the council plans to put it straight to a full vote, bypassing a committee hearing. On Monday, Council Member Tammy Morales suggested waiting to vote on the contract to allow the public more than one opportunity to offer comment, but Council President Sara Nelson said such an allowance would delay raises and back pay for officers, so we know how she’s voting. 

Under the proposed contract, the City plans to pay entry-level officers more than $100,000 per year. The City has promised to continue to bargain over accountability measures in the next contract, but they also said that last time. Meanwhile, the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) must still contend with tight investigative deadlines, limitations on the kinds of police misconduct civilians can investigate, and an arbitration system that allows for arbiters to overturn disciplinary decisions. Let’s look at some of the latest responses to SPD officer misconduct under the disciplinary system that is dictated by the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) contract.

“...Let Your Girl Be Crazy.”

Case #2023OPA-0435

On September 29, 2023, West Precinct Officer Vontrail Lee arrived at a local university to investigate an alleged domestic violence incident. A woman had called 911 to report that her ex-boyfriend had hit her–causing her nose to bleed—pushed her, and pinned her to the ground. A university security guard said the caller also reported that her ex-boyfriend had strangled her, “making her ‘woozy … for maybe ten seconds.’” 

The OPA opened an investigation into Lee’s behavior at the call after the university’s Title IX special investigator reported that Lee failed to thoroughly investigate the incident and spoke down to the alleged victim in the case.

According to the OPA investigation, when Lee arrived on the scene he asked the woman about what happened. As she explained, he interrupted her and said, “Short version.” She said she’d broken up with the man, and they’d met up again for her to retrieve some belongings. The ex-boyfriend described what happened as “a little tussle” over the fact that the woman had tried to throw some papers out of his glove box. Lee explained Washington’s mandatory domestic violence arrest laws, and then said, “Sometimes, it’s easier to just let your girl be crazy.”

The woman told Lee that her ex-boyfriend scared her; she thought he might have connections to a gang, and he had threatened to kill her in the past. She talked about leaving school, and Lee discouraged her from that, saying, “Don’t let it change your life. You’re not the only person this has happened to.” At one point, Lee told a security guard on scene that if the alleged suspect had ties to a gang, then the woman knew that but dated him anyway. The security guard remarked, “It’s on you ma’am.” Lee replied, “Yeah,” according to the OPA investigation.

Despite the strangulation accusation, which Washington state law considers a felony, Lee arrested the man for misdemeanor assault. On the drive to the jail, Lee encouraged the man not to continue his relationship with the woman, saying that once a woman calls the police, she’ll call them again.

OPA sustained two policy violations against Lee for failing to thoroughly investigate an accusation of domestic violence and for failing to behave professionally. The OPA report said that despite the fact that Lee saw a crying woman with a bloody nose and heard her level a strangulation accusation against him, Lee still seemed to view the man as the victim of a “‘crazy’” girlfriend and of Washington’s domestic violence laws. 

SPD Chief of Police Adrian Diaz disciplined Lee with a written reprimand and ordered him to go through additional training.

Lee appeared in last week’s Bad Apples for what he reported to the OPA as an accidental tasing. Since 2019, the OPA has recorded about a dozen complaints against Lee. Between his base pay and overtime, Lee made about $278,770 in 2023. If the city council passes the new SPOG contract, then the City will owe Lee an additional $105,000 in backpay.

The Dangers of Sneakers

Case #2023OPA-0376

On August 5, 2023, Southwest Precinct Officer Alex Maldonado arrived with two other officers at a reported drugstore robbery. A 911 caller said that a man had asked for money, tried to shoplift, and then punched the caller in the leg, according to the OPA report. Maldonado and officers arrived at the store and spotted a man who matched the suspect description standing at a nearby bus stop. 

When Maldonado beckoned the man, he shook his head. Maldonado then approached and told the man to sit down on the curb. The man shook his head no again. Maldonado repeated the order, and the man asked, “Why?” Another officer said, “You’re being detained.” Maldonado took out his Taser and said he would tase the man if he refused to follow instructions. When the man continued to refuse, Maldonado tased him. Maldonado justified his actions by saying the man held a pair of shoes and “could easily swing the shoes at Officers as a weapon.”

Maldonado’s watch commander and precinct captain found the tasing justified, however a lieutenant and taser coordinator took a look at the incident and asked OPA to review it for possible violation of the department’s use-of-force policy. The taser training coordinator said the suspect had not threatened violence or acted in a violent manner. Department policy prohibits officers from using Tasers against people who are passively resisting orders. The OPA noted that Maldonado tased the man within about a minute of making contact, did not explain the reason for the stop, and overall did not try very hard to gain voluntary compliance or make a plan with other officers. The OPA found Maldonado violated both SPD’s use-of-force and Taser policies.

For these policy violations, Diaz disciplined Maldonado with a written reprimand. 

Between base pay and overtime, Maldonado made about $175,800 in 2023. Under the proposed SPOG contract, he stands to make $66,630 in back pay.

Another SPD Officer Drinks and Drives

Case #2023OPA-0020

On January 6, 2023, a Washington State Patrol Trooper arrested off-duty West Precinct Officer Katherine Magnuson for driving under the influence. The trooper pulled her over after he saw her car on the side of a state highway with a flat tire. The trooper said that they spoke with Magnuson, who seemed confused, had trouble understanding simple instructions, and slurred her words. The trooper also reported that her breath smelled of alcohol. Magnuson told the trooper she’d drank one hard seltzer that day but had also taken some medication. A breath test measured her blood alcohol content at 0.163, about twice the legal limit. 

Magnuson ultimately pled guilty to a gross misdemeanor charge of reckless driving, for which she served 15 days on electronic home monitoring. As part of her sentence, she had to attend a driving while intoxicated victim panel in addition to meeting other conditions. Diaz disciplined Magnuson with a four-day suspension.

Magnuson made about $94,000 in 2023. She joined the department in 2021 and has no other sustained OPA cases. Under the new proposed SPOG contract, the City owes her about $36,450 in backpay.