Renton Patch sat down with Mayor Denis Law, Police Chief Kevin Milosevich, City Attorney Larry Warren, Chief City Administrator Jay Covington and Communications Director Preeti Shridhar to talk about the surrounding a aimed at the City's police department.
Patch - Can you explain the City's internal investigation process and how it works?
Chief Admin. - The internal investigations related to the videos will go through the Police Department, with consultation from the HR Department. It depends on what the issue is. Depending on what he have, there are City policies that govern the allegations on everything from whistle-blowers to discrimination, whatever the issue is. There's a process that you follow. HR is the department that makes sure that process is handled. The investigations go through multiple departments.
Patch - Will this remain an internal investigation only, or does the City plan to consult an outside investigator?
Attorney - That hasn't even been discussed at this point. We're still trying to figure out which direction we want to go.
Patch - Will the City Council be involved in the current internal investigation?
Chief Admin. - No, it's all administrative.
Patch - Who authorized the investigations, in terms of the Cyberstalking case going beyond the department and the administration, and filing the search warrant?
Attorney - Well, typically the Police Department develops information and presents it to the judge for a warrant. In this case, one of the prosecutors in my office reviewed the facts contained within the affidavit for a search warrant and came to the conclusion that there was some probable cause to believe a crime had been committed and we'd been warranted to do a further investigation, hence the search warrant.
Patch - How many attorney hours have been devoted to this case?
Attorney - I would say two full-time equivalents for a couple of weeks.
Mayor - The difference here is we hire 'x' number of people here to work for the City Attorney's office and the Police Department. They are required to do a multitude of different tasks, so if they are diverted to doing legal work or investigative work for this process, we're not paying them overtime to do that. It's all part of the job, which means they may have to set some other projects aside for the time being. We haven't spent any additional money (to support these investigations).
Chief Admin. - A lot of our time, especially in the last couple weeks, have been responding to media requests, which are part of their job, obviously. A lot of our time, now, is responding to these requests, not on the actually investigation.
Patch - How did the City first learn of the videos?
Chief - I received a call over the weekend back in … I think it was March, or April … that the videos were out there.
Patch - Was the call from someone in the Department?
Chief - No. It was from a former employee.
Patch - Is the person involved in the videos a current employee of the City?
Mayor - The thing that's really important to keep in mind is that we've gone through two investigations: We're going through one right now. And we completed one earlier this year that involved somebody else, and that had to do with our jail. There's been discipline taken in regards to that case. The second set of videos that have been released to the media have been in the hoopla of the search warrant. That is still under investigation and there is nobody who has been identified as a potential suspect in that case. We strongly suspect that it's a police officer or someone who is tied somehow to the department. But nobody has been identified in that case.
Chief - In regards to the one video that we were aware of that posted in January of this year was investigated, and the people who were involved had been identified within the department and have been disciplined this year, including the demotion of two Police employees Charles Marsalisi (from Deputy Chief to Sergeant in early July) and Bill Judd (from Sergeant to Officer on August. 11).
Comm. Dir. - And that was an internal matter not linked at all to this recent search warrant or the potential cyberstalking.
Patch - How many people were involved with the first video?
Chief - The employees that were disciplined? Four.
Patch - When did the second set of videos appear?
Comm. Dir. - We were made aware of them by the phone call the chief received sometime in April.
Patch - What was the City's rational for pursuing the Cyberstalking case?
Attorney - There's the cyberstalking statute. If you read the statute and look at certain segments of the films, you see whether that meets the definition of the statute. The opinion of my office has been that it's probable cause to believe that Cyberstalking had been committed. It meets the words of the statute. I believe today that a crime was committed, we just don't have the identity and the information to put it all together and file the charge against somebody. You can't file a charge against Mr. Fuddlesticks. We can't get the facts in order necessary to file a charge now, but there's still a possibility of a charge, but we'd have to develop information that would support and identity. We're a long ways from a criminal charge and it doesn't look likely at this point.
Patch - So the first investigation is complete (with the exception that the employees who were disciplined have the option of an appeal process). The second internal investigation is ongoing now with the second set of videos. Will the City still press press criminal charges, related to the second investigation, if the video's creator can be identified?
Mayor - Yes, well, here is the thing with the second set of videos. We're investigating a harassment and potential discrimination against employees, caused by, what we believe to be another employee. We have very strict rules against that. People can be terminated over (harassment or discrimination), and so on. The Police Department and the City Attorney's office have also determined that elements of a couple of those videos which could constitute cyberstalking. So if we find out a police officer, who once again can be held to a much higher standard, is involved, and that there may be a criminal element, we will send that to the prosecutor for potential charges. … If we were able to identify the person, and it turned out to be a City employee, and it turned out to have some illegal activity associated with it, and the prosecutor was willing to prosecute that — Yes, we would certainly do that.
Patch - What if the video's creator is not a City Employee?
Mayor - The big issue with the public is the perception that if 'Joe Q' citizen takes a shot at the police, or takes a shot at public officials that we're going to go after them on a First Amendment basis, that they don't get to be critical of us. That's so far from the truth, its almost silly. … We never would have gone after a private citizen, they have the right to say anything they want.
Attorney - As public officials, we're covered by the New York Times v. Sullivan case, and there has to be a deliberate untruth or a reckless indifference to the truth. That's a a pretty high standard, so the message generally is you better develop a thick skin if you're going to be a public official.
Comm. Dir. - It's the public's right to express their opinion and it's our duty to be mindful of that and protect it, and have a thick skin.
Patch - Is the City working with the Police Guild on this issue?
Mayor - Every employee has rights, some of them protected by the Guild, so there are processes associated with it. The Chief is communication to the Guild and keeping them informed about what is going on, but this is an internal investigation that will take place no matter what. It is part of the process.
Patch - There are a mix of allegations in the videos. Can you identify which ones are true and which ones are false?
Attorney - Most of them are so dated, they happened years ago. Like Preeti said, most are untrue, the facts are all wrong, they happened over 20 years ago. One allegation was based on a lawsuit where the officer was completely exonerated. … It's of no interest. A lot of these allegations are based on nothing more than rumors, and the facts aren't even close.
Patch - Have any other internal investigations escalated to the courts?
Chief Admin. - My memory sometimes goes back that far but, but I can't recall
Chief - If it has been determined that an officer has committed a crime, then it would go through the court process first. After the court process is concluded, then we'd do a separate internal investigation.
Chief Admin. - I can think of one attempt before I got here (around 1986). Nothing that involved a police officer, but we had a records clerk that ended up stealing, I think, the Union's money, or something like that. So it would have likely been initiated with an internal.
So that's how it happened: you get some allegation, you start to look into it, as you get information - if it looks like its going to get more serious - you bring in law enforcement, and you get to investigate it as a criminal charge.
Attorney - I can remember several incidents over that time. With hundred of employees over 37 years, you're bound to have somebody do something wrong. (Larry Warren has been with the City for 37 years, and the City currently has 682 employees).
Mayor - You have to remember that a police officer can be arrested for a DUI. It has nothing to do with the job but he can, but he can still face discipline within this department because they're held to a higher standard. If there's been any investigations for bad behavior or illegal behavior by a police officer - over the course of any of our memories - it's usually something associated with off-duty behavior that, still, they are held to a higher standard here and will face discipline within the department for those actions.
Patch - Mayor, do you think this was a mistake to pursue the Cyberstalking charges.
Mayor - I don't think we have an obligation to second guess whether people should be pursued if they are potentially breaking the law. I think the department has done the right thing in terms of trying to make sure that we do everything appropriately. It could be construed as a mistake because even - we all know it is a long shot - there are so many parameters that would have to fall into place in order for you to actually file charges. But the notion that we may have a police officer that is not only harassing fellow employees and that sort of thing, but maybe breaking the law, is something that we need to look at. And that's what we've done. … It's an internal issue that we're trying to fix, and we're not going to allow somebody internally to break the law, particularly a police officer. So if we can determine (if it's a city employee) the prosecutor is going to file charges, if we could. We have to identify somebody and still build a case.
It would be nice for us to sit back and say let's just not do it because it's going to bring unpopular attention to us, but we're just not in that world. We have to do what is appropriate and what's right, and that's what's taken place.