Douglas Wagoner and Nia Franco
This May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month, the Seattle Police Commission is shedding light on the Seattle Police Department’s history of violent behavior towards people in critical mental health conditions and the lack of discipline among the officers involved. Often after these shooting deaths, the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) recommends policy and training changes. While these changes are necessary, they are meaningless unless officers are held accountable for policy violations and their training.
Terry Caverwent through a mental health crisis in May 2020, according to several callers. When the officers found Mr. Caver, they No an attempt to create time and distance as stated in SPD policy and escalated the situation by breaking in with police dogs and chasing Mr. Caver. The OPA investigation found that the handler violated the SPD’s de-escalation policy and their actions directly contributed to Caver’s death. The officer received 20 day suspensionwhich they will appeal in the arbitration process.
Charlene Liles, who called the SPD to report a burglary, was shot seven times by SPD officers as they arrived on the scene. The officers used lethal force on Lyles because the taser-trained officer did not have his own taser, violating Department policy. Although the investigation acknowledged the failure of the stun gun, the officer was given only two day suspension.
Ryan Smith was shot and killed in his home by SPD officers in May 2019 after his girlfriend called 911 for help. Upon arrival, SPD officers broke down the door of their house, spotted Smith with a knife on his side, ordered him to lie on the ground and opened fire, all within six seconds. One officer involved in Smith’s death had previously been involved in three other officer-involved shootouts. In the end, OPA ruled shooting legal and properAs a result, no disciplinary action was taken.
Derek Hayden was killed by SPD officers in February 2021. Port officers called in the SPD for help, and shortly after arriving, the police opened fire on Hayden, killing him on the spot. He posed no threat to anyone but himself. An investigation has recently been completed and led to a one-day suspension of one of the SPD officers involved and a three-day suspension of another.
The killing of mentally disturbed members of the community by SPD officers must stop. While SPD has adjusted training and revised policies, much more work remains to be done. For example, the Police Leaders Research Forum (PERF). advises police departments not to immediately point guns at people in crisis who have knives.; this recommendation should be incorporated into SAP practice. Another promising idea is to expand the use of civilian lifeguards, such as the Health One program in Seattle. But the bottom line is that officers should be held accountable for real, tangible policy violations, especially when those violations involve the killing of civilians. Inaction, written reprimands and brief suspensions are inappropriate disciplinary actions and do not live up to community expectations when a community member is killed by the very officers who are meant to serve and protect.
The Seattle Local Police Commission believes that the lack of meaningful discipline is a major obstacle to stopping officer misconduct. Until this barrier to discipline is removed, we will continue to see officers react deadly to people going through a mental health crisis. Today, acting chief of staff Diaz can make it clear to officers that violations of the use of force and de-escalation policy will be punished with the strictest penalties, up to and including dismissal. Our community deserves no less.
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