Seattle police officer John Marion


As we’ve seen so many times in the past, the Seattle Police Department waited until all the media buzz died down before reducing the disciplinary action against a police officer for threatening a citizen for taking pictures of police in public.

But unlike in previous incidents where the local media ignores the decision, the citizen in question was none other than Dominic Holden, editor of the alternative weekly, The Stranger, who raised so much hell through his articles that he got a King County Sheriff’s deputy fired for also threatening him that day.

Dominic Holden

Dominic Holden

So Holden did what he does best when he learned about the police chief’s decision to discipline Seattle police officer John Marion with “training,” instead of a one-day suspension as was the original action against the officer.

He wrote about it, then bitched about it on Facebook. And that got the attention of the local television and newspaper reporters who made inquiries, including to the mayor.

At first, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray defended interim police chief Harry Bailey’s decision, telling reporters that it was for the better because “training” leads to “changing behavior,” not taking into account that perhaps they should train the officers before they hand them a badge and a gun.

But Holden did not buy into the typical political rhetoric that so many other reporters seem to buy into these days, so he called the mayor out during a press conference on Friday.

According to NBC News:

(Mayor) Murray is defending Interim Police Chief Harry Bailey, who reduced the penalty of Seattle Police Officer John Marion. Marion originally got a one-day suspension for threatening to harass Dominic Holden, who is a reporter and news editor for The Stranger newspaper. The punishment was changed to Marion being required to get more training.

“While this could be perceived as a lesser punishment under the current legal framework, Chief Bailey believes, and I support him, that the framework for this process is reflective of what is most constructive,” said the mayor. “Training. Changing behavior.”

The one-day suspension, Murray says, would not be as effective because Marion, or any other officer who is suspended, could use vacation pay to make up the hours and income he would’ve lost.

Holden says Marion was let off too easy, and argues that the officer could have been ordered to go through more training, in addition to the one-day suspension.

“Training is not a punishment,” said Holden. “Training is what we should be doing no matter what. What police officers do is punish people who do wrong, and we need the same standards for them as they give us.”

Holden also says the interim chief mis-led city officials, including the mayor, by trying to pretend he had not reduced the officer’s punishment.

“The letter you sent to the mayor and city council says you concurred with the finding of misconduct,” Holden challenged Bailey during Friday’s press conference.

Like many veteran politicians, Murray figured that by holding a press conference on Friday, the media would report on it and forget all about following up on it by Monday.

But true to his style,Holden wouldn’t let it go, hammering away at the mayor and the chief on The Stranger:

Seattle interim police chief Harry Bailey was clear yesterday when he announced that he reopened a case against an officer found guilty of misconduct: He simply lightened the penalty. Instead of a one-day suspension, which was imposed by the last chief, Bailey gave the cop additional training. Bailey insisted to theSeattle Times, mayor, city council, and me that while this penalty was more gentle for Officer John Marion, he had upheld the misconduct verdict itself.

By keeping that misconduct decision in place, Marion’s record would include a demerit to be considered for any future misconduct cases.

But interviews today reveal that is not what Chief Bailey did—and people at theSeattle Times, SPD, and City Hall suggest that Bailey knew he was misleading city officials. Bailey informed the SPD’s discipline office on Tuesday that he actually eliminated the misconduct verdict, thereby leaving Officer Marion’s record unblemished.

Still, Chief Bailey went on to mislead the mayor and Seattle City Council in a letter last night, which has raised questions about the chief’s honesty and integrity handling 25 other cases (which he is reopening to potentially scotch additional misconduct decisions against officers).

By Monday, the mayor called another press conference, admitting he had screwed up, saying it was all a big misunderstanding.

According to KIRO Radio in Seattle:

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray on Monday called it a mistake to reverse the finding of misconduct against a police officer who got into an argument with a newspaper editor last summer.

The admission comes after days of back-and-forth about what an appropriate punishment for Officer John Marion should be.

Officer Marion had been ordered to serve a one-day suspension for an incident involvingThe Stranger’s Dominic Holden, during which he was caught on tape telling Holden he would come to his place of work to bother him. The discipline came with a finding of misconduct that would have gone on Marion’s personnel file.

Last week, the department came under fire after it was reported that newly-appointed Interim Police Chief Harry Bailey had reversed the finding of misconduct against Marion, instead ordering him to undergo additional training to help change his behavior.

Holden summed up it nicely in his piece Monday morning:

This flip-flop sends a broader message. When Officer Marion and the police union first wanted this misconduct finding reversed last week, they got it. Yet when, in response, the public, politicians, and media kicked up dirt about this individual case, the officer got in trouble again. But the public doesn’t hear about most cases, and in those instances, apparently the police union can steamroll the process, get the mayor and chief to cave, and reverse punishment. That’s a backward precedent. It suggests that political winds and subjective whims trump actual rules for misconduct. That leads victims to believe their complaints won’t get a fair shake and for the public to believe, the in the mayor’s own words, we have “the opposite of reform.”

Without a doubt, the media played a huge role in this reversal but even more so, the people who not only read and commented on his columns, but shared them through social media sites to the point where it just became way too embarrassing for the mayor and chief.

Remember this story next time you are thinking of joining in on our PINAC call floods to police departments. We do have power. We just have to use that power in unison for it to be truly effective.

Good job, Dominic!

Check out the initial press conference where he is more upset about the “leak” that allowed the media to know how they tried to mislead the people. And also note how the reporters made him squirm. Great stuff!