Seattle's Office of Police Accountability (OPA) released its findings from a months' long investigation into the abandonment of the Police Department's East Precinct on June 8, 2020, following 10 days of riots in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
The decision to abandon the precinct led to the establishment of the deadly and infamous Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ). The OPA has ruled that the abandonment of the precinct did not violate any laws or department policies. But the finger of blame for the millions of dollars in damage, a 250 percent increase in crime including rapes, robberies and murders, can be pointed at many.
Mayor Jenny Durkan and former Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best both claimed it was not their decision to abandon the precinct. It was later revealed that both of their texts, as well as those of Fire Chief Harold Scoggins were all deleted from that time period, adding to the mystery.
Two SPD leaders were investigated by the OPA for the evacuation orders and referred to in the report as "then Chief of Police" and the "Assistant Chief of Patrol Operations." Though the report did not name either person, Best was SPD chief at the time, and Assistant Chief Thomas Mahaffey is head of the department's patrol operations.
As a result of the ongoing riots, SPD closed off access to the street in front of the precinct with fencing and barricades to "maintain a perimeter around the East Precinct," according to the OPA .
The agency added that SPD eventually found that the fencing "ineffective" and it was "repeatedly dismantled by demonstrators." Rioters thew objects and launched explosives at officers and the police responded with tear gas and other crowd control devices.
SPD command staff was worried about maintaining a perimeter around the precinct because they had received intelligence from the FBI that government buildings, including the East Precinct, could be targeted for arson by the rioters.
According to the report, there was "significant political pressure for SPD to change tactics and de-escalate tensions."
According to the report, on June 8 Mayor Jenny Durkan's office ordered Best to remove the barricades and allow "protesters" to pass by the precinct.
Best then delegated the "specifics of maintaining continuous police operations within the confines of the East Precinct to her Assistant Chief." That evening, the assistant chief and other command staff, decided to order the evacuation the precinct.
Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller, told The Seattle Times that during a June 8 meeting with Durkan, Best and others the police were against letting protesters any closer to the precinct.
According to Sixkiller, after the argument, the police commanders met in a side room and then left. Sixkiller assumed they would return with a decision but instead watched on tv at the city's emergency operations center as officers evacuated the precinct.
The report is unclear if Best knew about the decision to leave the precinct, even though she has claimed in interviews that it was a surprise to her.
According to the OPA, during his first interview the assistant chief said he never discussed the evacuation with Best, but informed her about removing sensitive items. In a second interview, he claimed he told Best "…exactly what we were going to do."
Mahaffey has been named in one of several lawsuits against the city as the person who gave the order to abandon the precinct.
Had the command staff acted against Best's orders it could have been ruled insubordination at minimum, but potentially far worse. Yet, even though Best claimed during her interview with OPA that she "wasn't part of that decision," Best defended Mahaffey's decision to abandon the precinct.
The investigation began after Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold and community members filed complaints. Herbold, chairperson of the Seattle City Council's Public Safety Committee, has been a longtime advocate for defunding the police and stood with fellow council members Andrew Lewis, Dan Strauss, Teresa Mosqueda with Antifa and BLM against the police during the riots.
Herbold may have had a personal axe to grind with Best after the council member asked the former chief without proof, to arrest a political adversary for what she falsely assumed was a political stunt. The chief failed to comply.
The OPA ruled that SPD leaders did not violate policies or the law for their decision to abandon the East Precinct during the anti-police riots. Yet during the riots attacking the police officers, the Mayor ordered the fencing protecting the precinct removed, yet installed barricades to protect armed occupies of six square blocks of the city.
A police command staff may have disobeyed a direct order from the police chief, a police chief that claimed she never gave the order, but that she has complete confidence in those that may have disobeyed an order, which resulted in a month of violence death and destruction inside the autonomous zone. Add to that a city council that marched with the rioters against the police, and Governor Jay Inslee who claimed he did not even know the zone was happening and failed to send in the National Guard.
Two black teens are dead, four others were shot. Businesses were destroyed. Assaults, rapes and other crime became the norm, and no one is being held responsible or will take responsibility for a disaster that became an international symbol of law and order falling into anarchy. Every level of government failed, including those charged with investigating the failures, and it appears that no one will be held accountable.