SEATTLE — Three days after holding a news conference to defend Seattle's police chief for erasing a misconduct finding against an officer, Mayor Ed Murray partially reversed course Monday, reinstating the original finding and saying the decision to lift it did not look like the kind of police reform his administration has promised.
"This was a mistake," Murray said. "And today I am fixing that mistake."
The police department's Office of Professional Accountability found that Officer John Marion acted unprofessionally last July when he and a King County sheriff's deputy harassed Dominic Holden, an editor at the Seattle weekly newspaper the Stranger, who had stopped to take photographs of police activity at a public transit plaza.
Marion told Holden the area was private property — it wasn't — and threatened to "come to the Stranger and bother you at work and see how you like it, how about that?"
The sheriff's deputy, who had a long history of complaints, was later fired. Marion, an eight-year Seattle police veteran, was found to have committed misconduct and given a one-day suspension, but Harry Bailey, the interim police chief, lifted those in favor of imposing additional training requirements.
Under Monday's reversal, Marion will not have to serve the one-day suspension, but the misconduct finding will remain on his record.
Though relatively minor, the case garnered attention because it seemed to illustrate a problem the U.S. Justice Department cited in its 2011 report on the Seattle Police Department: that officers too often escalate situations unnecessarily, sometimes resulting in the use of force. Seattle agreed to make police reforms as part of a court-approved settlement with the DOJ in 2012, and Murray, elected last fall, has said carrying out such changes are a top priority.
Murray said the chief's intent, to require more training for the officer, was good, "but because of how we handled it, our actions do not look like reform to members of the public. To many, our actions look like the opposite of reform. So we have some work to do."
The Seattle Police Officers Guild had appealed the suspension and misconduct finding, saying that while Marion admitted he could have handled things better, the confrontation with Holden did not rise to the level of misconduct. Bailey was agreeing to settle that appeal when he dropped the suspension and misconduct finding.
On Monday, the union said Marion had agreed to have the misconduct finding reinstated "to move on with his career and to put this unfortunate incident behind him."
Marion worked with his chain of command to create a presentation about best practices in working with the public and has been required to speak at precinct roll calls about what he learned.