Seattle, WA – A police oversight committee has announced that its investigation has determined that Seattle Police Department (SPD) brass hadn’t violated department policy or broken any laws when they ordered officers to abandon the East Precinct station house during the riots after George Floyd’s death.
Seattle police officers were ordered to abandon the police station on June 9 amidst riots following George Floyd’s death in the custody of the Minneapolis police.
Police leadership made the difficult decision to order the evacuation amidst rumors that that rioters were coming to burn the facility down.
The Seattle Office of Police Accountability (OPA) announced on Oct. 4 that its investigation had determined that evacuating the police precinct located in what at the time was called the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) was a “reasonable decision,” KING reported.
CHAZ later became known as CHOP, or the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest.
“Evidence indicates that the chief and assistant chief made the best decisions they could under high-stress, unprecedented circumstances,” OPA Director Andrew Myerberg said in a statement.
Police struggled for more than a week to keep the East Precinct safe but protesters removed the barricades they erected on a nightly basis, KING reported.
On June 8, 2020, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan ordered police to remove the barricades around the police station.
The next night, officers were ordered to abandon the East Precinct, KING reported.
OPA’s investigation found that then-Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best had delegated the decision-making about the East Precinct to an assistant chief who consulted with other commanders before ordering the evacuation.
The move led to complaints that the police department had abandoned the community in the Capitol Hill area, KING reported.
Critics complained that police had abandoned the area after activists manning barricades around the area refused to allow police and ambulances into the area after the shootings.
An investigation was launched after a group of residents, businesses, and property owners filed a lawsuit against the city for depriving them of the rights to their own properties by allowing the cop-free autonomous zone to continue.
“This lawsuit is about the constitutional and other legal rights of Plaintiffs—businesses, employees, and residents in and around CHOP—which have been overrun by the City of Seattle’s unprecedented decision to abandon and close off an entire city neighborhood, leaving it unchecked by the police, unserved by fire and emergency health services, and inaccessible to the public at large,” the complaint alleged.
But OPA said its investigation didn’t find any evidence that re-opening the East Precinct or the streets around it would have tamped down the criminal activity in the area at that time, KING reported.
“To find otherwise would be to engage in hindsight analysis divorced from the immense pressures and time constraints that the Assistant Chief faced at the time,” Myerberg said in his statement. “No one can definitively say that any alternative strategy — even if one were feasible — would have produced better results.”
OPA recommended that the department better communicate such a major move to the public ahead of doing it in the future so as to avoid the panic and speculation that occurred when officers abandoned the East Precinct, KING reported.
The civilian panel’s recommendations didn’t seem to acknowledge that the problems at the East Precinct continued for months after that initial evacuation.
On July 24, 2020, at least 59 law enforcement officers were injured when rioters blew a hole through the wall of the East Precinct, looted and destroyed nearby businesses, and set occupied buildings aflame.