Mayor hails judge’s Seattle police reforms decision, but says it’s just a start

SEATTLE — A landmark ruling involving the city of Seattle came down Wednesday when a federal judge ruled the Seattle Police Department is in “full and effective compliance” with court-ordered reforms.

The Justice Department sought the reforms following complaints of the police department’s use of excessive force.

In 2012, Seattle agreed to adopt new policies to address officers’ use of excessive force and to train police on ways to prevent racial bias in their work.

“I think there’s probably no other city in the country where the U.S. attorney has been the person signing the consent decree and then will be the mayor to make sure that it gets removed,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said at a news conference after the ruling.

A federal investigation in 2011 found that SPD used excessive force when fighting crime and worked in ways that could result in discriminatory policing.

“This was after there had been a series of events, almost all of them captured on video, that showed that usually young men of color were being disproportionately treated by the police department and the force was being used in ways that was simply not appropriate,” Durkan said.

Durkan noted the tragic slaying of John T. Williams, a Native American woodcarver, fatally shot by an SPD officer in 2010 while crossing a street carrying his carving knife and a small piece of wood.

More recent cases include that of Charleena Lyles, a pregnant 30-year-old African American mother of four. She was shot and killed in June by two white officers who said Lyles had pulled knives on them while they were investigating a burglary call at her apartment.

And the story of Che Taylor, fatally shot by SPD in 2016; officers said Taylor reached for a handgun. But police dash-cam video doesn’t clearly show what happened. Taylor’s brother, Andre is now an activist on police accountability.

“Mayor Durkan called me and explained that the decision was handed down and she was aware that there was still a lot of work to be done and that was hopeful,” Taylor said.

He said he’s more focused on the work yet to be done.

“De-escalation is probably one of the primary things that the nation needs, not just our city, but the nation. I think that if these policies and training would have been in place before, it could have made a difference in the Charleena Lyles case and also my brother's case. I’m looking forward to seeing what it looks like in real time,”  Taylor said.

A co-chair of the Seattle Community Police Commission, Enrique Gonzalez, agreed.

“This is not a moment to say that people are now safe and we can all be happy and we can all just pretend that nothing ever happened. This is a moment to acknowledge that people have been killed, people have been lost -- our loved ones. And that means we now have a system we can begin to apply to those accountability measures we want to see happen in our city,” Gonzalez said.

Before closing out her press conference, Durkan made this promise: “The next police chief for the city of Seattle will be someone who will make sure that we continue with this very important process of police reforms.”

As part of the agreement struck back in 2012 , SPD will continue to be monitored by the court for two years to make sure new reforms stay in place.