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News / Northwest

Seattle mayor hires firm to investigate SPD sexism, harassment claims

By David Kroman, The Seattle Times
Published: May 5, 2024, 4:08pm

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell is hiring an outside investigator to look into claims of gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the Seattle Police Department, he said in a letter to members of the Seattle City Council on Tuesday night.

The decision to hire Marcella Fleming Reed of MFR Associates, who investigates workplace harassment and discrimination claims, comes days after four women within SPD filed a $5 million tort claim alleging sexual discrimination and harassment by Chief Adrian Diaz and other department leaders. Representatives with SPD have pushed back strongly against the allegations.

“As I have stated previously, my administration is committed to building a police service that is representative of our community, including ensuring women are empowered and able to succeed. Indeed, this is my clear expectation for SPD and its command staff,” Harrell said in his letter. “To this end, I take these recent allegations very seriously and believe it is essential for public trust and confidence to commission an external and independent review.”

Last week’s tort claim is one link of a chain of recent allegations against the department. In January, a 27-year veteran of the department, assistant chief Deanna Nollette, filed a lawsuit against SPD and Diaz alleging gender, wage and job discrimination. Detective Denise “Cookie” Bouldin filed a lawsuit alleging she faced daily racism and gender discrimination during her 43 years with SPD.

The department also commissioned a review of its goal to have women make up 30% of staff by 2030. The so-called 30×30 report, made public earlier this year, described female employees’ allegations of sexual harassment in the police force and a culture that discourages women from leadership.

The most recent claim is from four women: Kame Spencer, Judinna Gulpan, Valerie Carson and Lauren Truscott. It primarily focuses on Diaz, Lt. John O’Neil, who heads the department’s communications office, and human resource manager Rebecca McKechnie. The claim alleges the women were the subject of “predatory and grooming” behavior, were passed over for promotions and were treated poorly in public.

“Chief Diaz seemingly engaged in predatory and discriminatory behavior,” the claim reads. “Even worse … as the Department is actively trying to recruit women into the Department, it is actively punishing women for refusing to submit to male supervisors’ bullying and harassing behavior.”

The department pushed back on the allegations, saying “it will not respond to the personal attacks rooted in rough estimations of hearsay reflecting, at their core, individual perceptions of victimhood that are unsupported and — in some instances — belied by the comprehensive investigations that will no doubt ultimately be of record.”

In his letter, Harrell said the city would take the allegations seriously.

“We will not malign those who come forward and, to the contrary, will give these claims the close attention they deserve,” he said. “Our goal is to understand the implications of these allegations and take actions as appropriate.”

An attorney for the four women, Sumeer Singla, questioned why the investigation was coming now, rather than when the 30×30 report was published.

“For me it feels more like damage control rather than addressing an issue that they’ve know for over six months,” he said Tuesday.

Brian Maxey, SPD’s chief operating officer, said the department “fully supports the investigation and looks forward to the greater clarity it promises.”

The Seattle Police Department is struggling to recruit new officers to its ranks as it bleeds staff. A top priority of the new City Council is to reverse those trends. Some members have expressed frustration about the reported environment for women within the department, as laid out in the 30×30 report.

“I read it and was very, very, very troubled,” Councilmember Cathy Moore said last month.

Material from Seattle Times archives was used in this report.