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Police oversight board leaders ignored complaints against former police chief Adrian Diaz: letter to council

Police oversight board leaders ignored complaints against former police chief Adrian Diaz: letter to council

An unsigned letter to the Seattle City Council accuses the city’s two police oversight agencies of intentionally ignoring complaints of workplace harassment and discrimination against former police chief Adrian Diaz.

Ten potentially credible complaints were filed against the former police chief, but all were delayed, some for as long as 16 months, the letter says, a claim supported by documents obtained by KUOW.

KUOW confirmed that the letter was written by a whistleblower from the Office of Police Accountability.

The letter comes after a tumultuous year for Seattle police that culminated in the firing of the police chief in May. The letter argues that the system that holds the police chief accountable has failed — specifically because Gino Betts, head of the Office of Police Accountability, and Lisa Judge, head of the Office of the Inspector General for Public Safety, have neglected the cases.

Related: Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz out; former Sheriff Sue Rahr interim

The Seattle City Council unanimously reappointed Judge last Tuesday for another six-year term.

KUOW forwarded the letter to four current and former employees of the Office of Police Accountability who said the letter’s allegations matched what they experienced: flawed leadership and ignored cases. KUOW also forwarded the letter to Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office, which responded that the way these investigations are being conducted will be assessed under an independent investigation.

Betts told KUOW via email that he would not comment on the letter. Judge did not respond to a request for comment.

The letter writers argue that the internal dispute in the department did not need to last so long. An investigation could have clarified earlier whether the complaints were justified.

“Diaz deserves to be exonerated if he is innocent,” it says. “If he is guilty, taxpayers should not have to continue to pay for him.”

Diaz also said this in an interview with radio host Jason Rantz: “I spent eleven months on an investigation and they didn’t interview anyone.”

Related: Seattle police chief’s alleged relationship with female co-worker sparks investigation and throws department into turmoil

Kirsten Arrowood, a former chief of investigations for the Office of Police Accountability, told KUOW that the letter reflected what she viewed as “unnecessary delays.”

Before Arrowood left office last year, he filed a complaint against Betts, accusing him of harassment and misconduct. Human resources declined to investigate, saying the behavior was not pervasive.

Mayor Bruce Harrell eventually demoted Chief Diaz in late May, arguing that mounting lawsuits against the chief’s appointment had created a distraction. The lawsuits accuse Diaz of harassment and racial and gender discrimination.

Harrell’s office told KUOW last week that the mayor is “continually looking for ways to improve our accountability system, which may include targeted changes to the Chief of Police Investigations Order.”

The Seattle City Council declined to comment for this story.

Sue Rahr, who replaced Diaz as interim chief, told KUOW’s Libby Denkmann in June that she thought the oversight process deserved a closer look. “A long delay doesn’t help. And we need to find a way to shorten it.”

The heads of the supervisory authorities could ignore the cases, the letter says, because there is no binding deadline for complaints against the police chief – unlike complaints against ordinary police officers.

The letter alleges a cover-up: serious complaints against Diaz were not investigated, while obviously false complaints were ignored to give the impression that the authorities’ procedures were working.

Both sworn and civilian employees of the Office of Police Accountability protested “internally” against Betts’ handling of these cases, the letter said.

In 2022, the Seattle City Council changed the process for investigating complaints against police chiefs after it was discovered that three complaints against former police chief Carmen Best had been dragged out for 18 months. The new process included a complaint notification process that involved the city’s top leadership but did not provide a timeline for the investigation, allowing investigators to keep complaints open indefinitely. The ordinance also prohibits intake from being handled by anyone other than the two civilian lead investigators.

The letter provides examples of alleged mishandled cases:

  • A February 2023 complaint involving a high-ranking female Seattle Police employee who alleges Diaz discriminated against and retaliated against her is still in the recording phase more than 17 months later.
  • A complaint accusing Diaz of abusing his status as a boss to gain access to the Taylor Swift concert in July 2023. Seattle police classify exploiting employment for personal gain as serious misconduct. The case is still in the intake phase after nearly a year.
  • A complaint accused Diaz of getting his security driver to run personal errands, including driving out of town to get beef jerky and driving Diaz to Portland to catch a flight to a Huskies game. According to the letter, “Betts intervened and personally held the case for two and a half weeks … and (the) Office of the Inspector General mysteriously delayed classifying the case for an additional two months before referring it to an outside law firm.”
  • A complaint accusing Diaz of retaliating against a former Seattle police officer who spoke out publicly about sexism in the police force. The complaint states that Diaz disclosed in a press release that the woman had applied for a position as an assistant chief with the Seattle Police Department after she left the police force. The complaint is still in the intake phase, although an investigator filed a detailed intake report three months ago in April.

“The City of Seattle must take action,” the letter says. “Seattle’s accountability systems are robust when it comes to rank-and-file employees. But when it comes to high-level people, they are silenced.”