Justice Dept. launches investigation into Seattle PD


by KING 5 News and Associated press


Posted on March 31, 2011 at 10:10 AM

Updated Thursday, Mar 31 at 5:15 PM

SEATTLE -  The Justice Department is launching a formal civil rights investigation of the Seattle Police Department following the fatal shooting of a First Nations woodcarver and other incidents of force used against minority suspects.

"The Justice Department will seek to determine whether there are systemic violations of the Constitution or federal law by officers of the SPD," the DOJ said in a press release.

"We'll do ride-alongs, go to precincts, we'll hire experts in police practices. So we'll look at how interactions between police and community happen," U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said.

The DOJ said Thursday's announcement is separate from any ongoing federal criminal investigation involving the Seattle Police Department.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and other groups called for the inquiry after a Seattle officer shot and killed woodcarver John T. Williams after he crossed a street downtown. The officer, Ian Birk, was not charged. He resigned earlier this year after the police department determined the shooting was not justified.

Other incidents captured on surveillance video include officers stomping on a man and threatening to beat the "Mexican piss" out of him; an officer kicking a black youth with his hands up in a convenience store following a drug buy-bust operation; and officers tackling and kicking a black man who showed up in a police evidence room to pick up belongings after he was mistakenly released from jail.

"I have been assured that there are no preconceived outcomes," Seattle Police Chief John Diaz said in a press release. "This announcement follows a preliminary investigation conducted by the DOJ during which they thanked us for our transparency and cooperation. The DOJ looks forward to working with us to strengthen our department.

Diaz did not grant interviews Thursday, but he did not cancel a pre-scheduled meeting with the Seattle Times Editorial Board.

"We will look at everything they're looking at and, if we need to change something, we're going to change it," Diaz told the Times.

Watch the interview with The Times in the player below

Rank and file officers are not allowed to talk to the media, but the police union president describes the investigation as embarrassing.

"They're gonna do what they're gonna do, but we have a good place and they'll find that out when they do an investigation," said Police Guild President Rich O'Neill.

"I wish i could say the police department has done everything right in the past year, but it hasn't. We've made mistakes," said Seattle City Councilman Mike O'Brien.

ACLU of Washington spokesman Doug Honig welcomed the announcement.

"We think the DOJ has a lot of experience and expertise in dealing with situations like this around the country," he said. "Our hope is that they can make recommendations that will help the city of Seattle curtail the use of excessive force in the future."