Oversight agency announces 87 investigations into Seattle Police protest conduct

The Office of Police Accountability on Friday announced 53 new investigations into the Seattle Police Department’s conduct during recent demonstrations. 

The oversight agency has received about 19,000 complaints since protests started in the city at the end of May, sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. The complaints have resulted in 87 active investigations.

The video of a screaming child being treated after getting pepper spray on his face at a demonstration on May 30 prompted about 14,000 of the complaints from the public, according to OPA Director Andrew Myerberg. 

Myerberg had initially set an ambitious goal of resolving this case in 60 days. That self-imposed deadline has come and gone. 

“I think we were shooting for the stars, but I just think it was unrealistic and that’s just the reality,” Myerberg said. 

The reality is the flow of complaints kept coming in with continued protests and clashes with police. The next big surge in cases came with demonstrations the last weekend in July. Most of the complaints accuse police officers of using excessive force.

“One of the tricky parts about these protests is that we’re being hit all at the same time with very fact-intensive, video-intensive cases,” Myerberg said.

Among the new investigations include instances of police force against legal observers, journalists and medical professionals.

“Most videos that are posted on Twitter that become viral, someone is sending those to us and even if they didn’t, we would likely open up a case,” Myerberg said.

He said when they open up a case, they look at video and underlying evidence in addition to conducting interviews with the subjects of the force, the officers involved, and witnesses from the community and the force. 

After completing an investigation report, OPA submits it for a review by the Office of Inspector General, which is where the case involving the pepper-sprayed child is currently, according to Myerberg.

Once OIG returns the report, Myerberg reviews the input and drafts the final conclusion before releasing it to the public. OPA has 180 days to complete an investigation, but the office is pressing to complete them sooner.

“I think you’re going to have people on all sides that will probably disagree with my findings and that’s just the nature of the job,” Myerberg said.

In speaking of the 87 open investigations related to demonstrations, he said with certainty that some cases will result in officer discipline while others will not, noting that what is seen by the public in a 20-second Twitter video is not the entirety of the evidence.

OPA typically receives about 1,500 complaints a year, according to Myerberg, compared with the 19,000 they’ve received in the past three months related to demonstrations. The intense public interest around these investigations prompted OPA to create a dashboard so the public can follow the progress. 

Myerberg said he expects to release findings from some of the cases in the next month.