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February 20, 2014 at 11:56 AM

Chief reverses discipline for SPD officer who threatened journalist

Interim Seattle Police Chief Harry Bailey has reversed the disciplinary action imposed on an officer who threatened to harass a journalist, lifting a one-day suspension and instead ordering the lesser penalty of additional training.

Bailey said he concluded that rather than have the officer serve one day without pay, mandatory training provided a better opportunity to teach the officer he did something wrong and show him how to deal with citizens. Bailey said the one day without pay can be substituted by forfeiting a vacation day.

“So why not get the officer trained?” Bailey said in an interview today.

Bailey said he believed that a misconduct finding against Officer John Marion would remain in place, but then acknowledged he wasn’t sure a training referral amounted to formal finding of misconduct. Normally, training referrals are not considered to be a misconduct finding on an officer’s record.

Bailey, who was appointed interim chief last month by Mayor Ed Murray, said he took the action as part of a sweeping review of more than 25 pending grievances stemming from backlogged disciplinary actions imposed by former interim Chief Jim Pugel and former Police Chief John Diaz.

He said he wants to “get all of these things cleaned up before the new chief comes,” a reference to Murray’s goal to find a permanent chief by the end of April.

Bailey said he was working with the City Attorney’s Office and the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) to resolve some of the cases.

Among the matters Bailey is reconsidering is the high-profile case of Officer Garth Haynes, a Seattle police officer who, during an off-duty incident, stepped on the head of a handcuffed man after a fight outside a Ballard nightclub in 2010. Haynes was found to have used excessive force, although Diaz decided to withhold imposing a 10-day suspension providing the officer stayed out of trouble.

Bailey, a retired assistant Seattle police chief who once served as SPOG official during his career, rejected any suggestion that he was returning a favor for the guild’s supporting his appointment to interim chief.

“So if the question is if this is payback, no it isn’t,” he said, adding, “That is not a road I would travel.”

Marion’s one-day suspension was ordered last month by Pugel, who found Marion acted unprofessionally during a July 30 encounter in the International District with Dominic Holden, the news editor of the weekly newspaper The Stranger.

According to Holden, who wrote about the incident, he was on his bicycle when he saw a half-dozen officers surrounding a man at a transit station near Jackson Street. Holden got off his bike to observe and to take notes and pictures, he said. While he was taking pictures from the public sidewalk, which is legal, a deputy with the King County Sheriff’s Office threatened to arrest him, Holden reported.

Holden wrote that when he questioned Marion about who was in charge of the scene, Marion “became furious” and began threatening to harass Holden at his place of employment.

On Jan. 9, Seattle police found that the complaint brought by Holden against Marion was legitimate, or “founded,” and imposed the one-day suspension without pay.

In response, Holden wrote in an article that a “relaxing” day off seemed too light a penalty.

Pierce Murphy, director of the Seattle Police Department’s Office of Professional Accountability, said in January that Marion’s conduct was “indefensible” and that the officer was being held accountable for his actions.

Murphy said a day without pay is not a slap on the wrist. Noting that discipline can range from oral reprimands to termination, he said “once you get into taking money away from a person, you are moving into the area of more significant discipline.”

Earlier this month, King County Sheriff John Urquhart fired the deputy who threatened to arrest Holden, Patrick Saulet, a 27-year veteran with a troubled disciplinary history.

Holden, reached by phone today, blasted Bailey’s action, saying the one-day suspension itself was “weak and ignored evidence” that Marion was trying to suppress his right to report on police conduct.

“But now, the new interim chief is placing the arguments of police officers and their union over the legitimate complaints of citizens,” Holden said.

Holden said the department always has the opportunity to train officers how to de-escalate conflict, noting the department is under a federal court order to do so as part of a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice to curtail excessive force and biased policing.

“So the claim that he simply needs more training and this is the only way to do it is transparently specious,” Holden said.

Comments | More in General news, Government, The Blotter | Topics: Harry Bailey, Seattle Police Department, The Stranger

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