Did Seattle’s police chief lie to the city council on purpose?


SPD chief Kathleen O’Toole.

According to The Stranger, Seattle police chief Kathleen O’Toole told the city council last week that during the #BlackLivesMatter protests that have rocked the city for months, police “certainly never told protesters where to march.” This was met, The Stranger reports, with cries to the contrary from the crowd.

As The Stranger and my boss at Capitol Hill Seattle have reported, O’Toole’s statement is spectacularly false. At times, the SPD’s entire strategy has appeared to consist of controlling protests’ movement, often with the apparent goal of keeping them away from Seattle’s affluent downtown business district. For instance, here’s a photo I took at a November march in which a police riot line is stopping protesters from crossing the I-5 overpass from Capitol Hill to downtown:

Screenshot 2015-02-15 at 8.38.59 PMSo O’Toole’s protestation is patently false. What I’m curious about, though, is whether she meant to lie to the council. It’s possible that O’Toole, who has been lauded by city government insiders as a one-woman solution to the department’s endemic accountability problems, has been misled by her subordinates (and ignored media coverage of the protests) and genuinely believes that SPD’s role has been limited to public safety assistance.

On the other hand, she could be quibbling: a sophist could argue that SPD hasn’t been telling the protesters where to march but only where they can’t march. This is, of course, a distinction without difference; it would be like saying, “I didn’t drink any water, I just ingested it through my mouth.”

Or she could be flat-out lying. In any event, O’Toole’s statement gives some pretty powerful ammo to critics of the very police officers she was so inaccurately discussing.

(Or I suppose there’s a fourth option: that The Stranger‘s article lacks some kind of important context for O’Toole’s statement. But Heidi Groover is too good a reporter for that, so I’m ready to dismiss this possibility out of hand.)


One comment

  1. SPD Sgt. Sean Whitcomb told me officers reported being ‘assaulted’ by umbrellas at Boren and Pine, making the protest ‘unlawful’, hence barring the march from entering downtown. Anyone on the ground knows that’s BS, but I imagine O’Toole’s ‘lying’ and use of that narrative was probably a combination of misinformation from officers on the ground and her lack of motivation to seriously scrutinize the information she was receiving. Whitcomb’s quotes: http://bit.ly/1A7c4m7

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