Jury: Seattle police chief retaliated against officers

AP News
Posted: Jul 25, 2016 7:42 PM

SEATTLE (AP) — A jury on Monday found that the Seattle police chief retaliated against two police officers who were transferred to a different precinct amid a dispute about overtime pay.

The King County jury also found in the lawsuit that Chief Kathleen O'Toole did not retaliate against a third officer, Lt. Steve Strand.

The jury deliberated for less than two days and awarded $1.9 million to veteran Sgt. Ella Elias and $932,000 to precinct commander Capt. David Proudfoot, The Seattle Times reported (http://goo.gl/U9T8ec).

"I'm just grateful that they listened to us," Elias said of the jury.

Proudfoot said the message to everyone involved was to learn to communicate better.

Strand said he was puzzled by the verdict involving him but it's time to rebuild relationships in the department.

The 12-member jury heard claims that O'Toole retaliated after Elias complained that overtime pay had been improperly steered to four favored black officers.

Elias sued the city in 2014. Proudfoot and Strand joined the suit, alleging they were transferred after challenging the department's handling of Elias.

Attorney Jessie Harris, who represents the city, said Elias, who is white, was a divisive leader who was removed from the South Precinct over a racially charged comment.

Harris also said Proudfoot and Strand were transferred for failing to address a festering situation that had become bogged down in polarizing conflicts.

O'Toole testified that she transferred the three supervisors to defuse a "powder keg" between officers, not due to the handling of overtime pay.

Elias was temporarily transferred then reprimanded and received a disciplinary transfer after telling Strand she preferred to work only with white officers under 40.

Another attorney for Elias, Lincoln Beauregard, said the sergeant made the remark after being asked, under pressure, to take on a problem officer who is Native American. He told jurors Elias wishes she had not made that comment.

Seattle City Attorney Peter Holmes said in a statement after the verdict that he was disappointed in the jury's decision and that all avenues for relief from the verdict including an appeal were being explored.

"Had Chief O'Toole not addressed the hostile, racially tainted work environment she encountered, the city likely would have been held financially liable," Holmes wrote. "In taking action, we suffered this unfortunate result. The city continues to struggle to regain management of our police department."

The verdict does not reflect the new leadership and dynamic in the South Precinct, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said in a statement, noting that he and O'Toole inherited a police department with management issues and racial tension.

"I support the decision she made in this case and have encouraged her to continue to make decisions that support the reform of the department," Murray wrote.


Information from: The Seattle Times, http://www.seattletimes.com