Police watchdog bosses ignored complaints against former chief Adrian Diaz: letter to council

An unsigned letter to the Seattle City Council alleges the city’s two police supervisors willfully ignored workplace harassment and discrimination complaints against former Police Chief Adrian Diaz.

Ten potentially credible complaints were filed against the former police chief, but all were delayed, some up to 16 months, the letter says, a claim supported by records obtained by KUOW.

KUOW confirmed that the letter was written by a whistleblower within the Office of Police Accountability.

The letter comes after a tumultuous year for the Seattle Police Department, which led to the ousting of the chief in May. The letter alleges that the system that holds police chiefs accountable has failed — particularly because Gino Betts, director of the Office of Police Accountability, and Lisa Judge, director of the Office of the Inspector General for Public Safety, neglected the cases.

Related: Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz Out; former Sheriff Sue Rahr interim

The Seattle City Council reappointed the judge for another six years in a unanimous vote last week on Tuesday.

KUOW shared the letter with four current and former employees of the Office of Police Accountability, who said its claims are consistent with what they’ve witnessed: poor leadership and ignored cases. KUOW also shared the letter with Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office, which responded that how these investigations are handled will be assessed during an independent investigation.

Betts told KUOW via email that he would not comment on the letter. The judge did not respond to a request for comment.

The letter writers argue that the internal strife at the department need not have been so protracted – an investigation could have determined whether the complaints had merit sooner.

“Diaz deserves to be acquitted if he is innocent of what he has been accused of,” it said. “If he is guilty of what he is accused of, the taxpayers should not have to continue to pay him.”

Diaz said as much when he interviewed radio host Jason Rantz. “I’ve spent 11 months on an investigation (and) they haven’t interviewed anyone.”

Related: Seattle police chief’s alleged relationship with employees leads to inquiries, roils department

Kirsten Arrowood, a former investigative supervisor at the Office of Police Accountability, told KUOW that the letter accurately reflects what she sees as “unnecessary delays.”

Before leaving office last year, Arrowood filed a complaint against Betts alleging harassment and misconduct. Human resources declined to investigate, claiming the behavior was not consistent.

Mayor Bruce Harrell finally demoted Chief Diaz in late May, saying the mounting lawsuits naming the chief had become a distraction. The lawsuits accuse Diaz of harassment and racial and gender discrimination. Diaz denied these claims through his lawyer.

Harrell’s office told KUOW last week that the mayor is “constantly looking for ways to improve our accountability system, which may include targeted changes to the police chief’s investigative ordinance.”

The Seattle City Council declined to comment for this story.

Sue Rahr, who replaced Diaz as interim chief, told KUOW’s Libby Denkmann in June that she believes the oversight process deserves a closer look. “Having a long lag time doesn’t help. And we have to find a way to reduce it.”

Watchdog directors were able to ignore the cases, the letter explains, because complaints against the police chief don’t have a mandatory timeline — unlike complaints against rank-and-file officers.

The letter alleges a cover-up, saying serious complaints filed against Diaz were left uninvestigated, while apparently false complaints were closed to make it look like the agencies’ procedures were working.

Both sworn and civilian staff at the Office of Police Accountability have “internally protested” Betts’ handling of these cases, the letter said.

In 2022, the Seattle City Council changed the process for investigating complaints against police chiefs after it was discovered that three complaints against former Chief Carmen Best had been pending for 18 months. The new process included a complaint-reporting procedure that circles the city’s top brass, but omitted a timeline for the investigation, effectively allowing investigators to keep complaints open indefinitely. The regulation also prohibits anyone other than the two civilian investigative supervisors from making the intake.

The letter gives examples of alleged mishandled cases:

  • A February 2023 complaint involving a high-ranking female Seattle police officer alleged that Diaz discriminated against and repressed them. It remains in intake phase after more than 17 months.
  • A complaint accused Diaz of using his status as a manager to “tag in” to the Taylor Swift concert in July 2023. Seattle police policy characterizes the use of employment for personal gain as serious misconduct. The case remains in the intake phase after almost a year.
  • A complaint that accused Diaz of having his security driver run personal errands, including driving out of town for beef jerky and driving Diaz down to Portland to catch a flight to a Huskies game. According to the letter, Betts intervened and personally held the case for two and a half weeks … and (the) office of the inspector general mysteriously delayed the classification of the case for another two months before sending it to a third-party law firm.”
  • A complaint that accused Diaz of retaliating against a former female Seattle officer who spoke out publicly about sexism on the police force. The complaint says Diaz disclosed via press release that the woman had applied for a Seattle Police deputy chief job after she left. It remains in the intake phase despite an investigator filing a detailed intake report three months ago in April.

“The City of Seattle must take action,” the letter said. “Seattle’s accountability systems are robust when it comes to rank-and-file employees. But they get muzzled when it comes to looking at high-ranking people.”

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