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United States v. City of Seattle

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

January 10, 2018





         Before the court are two motions: (1) an “emergency” motion by the personal representative of the estate of Charleena Lyles (“the Estate”) to intervene in this proceeding (MTI (Dkt. # 427)); and (2) a motion by Defendant City of Seattle (“the City”) for an order declaring it to be in full and effective compliance with the Consent Decree (FEC Mot. (Dkt. # 419); see also Consent Decree (Dkt. # 3-1 (attaching Settlement Agreement); Dkt. # 8 (order provisionally approving the Settlement Agreement); Dkt. # 13 (order modifying and preliminarily approving the Settlement Agreement))). The court has reviewed the Estate's, the parties', and Amicus Curiae Community Police Commission's (“the CPC”) submissions concerning these motions, the relevant portions of the record, and the applicable law. Being fully advised, [1] the court DENIES the Estate's motion to intervene and GRANTS the City's motion.


         The parties entered the Consent Decree to settle Plaintiff United States of America's (“the Government”) claim invoking 42 U.S.C. § 14141, which authorizes a suit to “eliminate” “a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers . . . that deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”[2] The Consent Decree requires the Seattle Police Department (“SPD”) to comply with two phases: (1) SPD must attain “full and effective compliance” with the Consent Decree (“Phase I”), and then (2) sustain that compliance for two years (“Phase II”). (Consent Decree ¶¶ 229-30.) The question the City places before the court is whether the City has accomplished Phase I.

         The Consent Decree maps two paths to full and effective compliance. (Id. ¶ 182.) The first path is through “compliance reviews and audits.” (Id.) Utilizing this path, the City must show that it “incorporated the requirement into policy, ” trained personnel to “fulfill their responsibilities pursuant to the requirement, ” and “ensured that the requirement is being carried out in practice.” (Id. ¶ 184.) Alternatively, the City can demonstrate full and effective compliance through “outcome assessments.” (Id. ¶ 182.) “[I]f the City is able to establish, through outcome measures, that the purposes of the [Consent Decree] have been met, the decree may terminate even if the City is not in full and effective compliance with the specific process terms.” (Id. ¶ 186.) These outcome assessments may include “[u]se of [f]orce [measurements, ” “[t]raining [measurements, ” “[s]upervision [measurements, ” and “[accountability [m]easurements.” (Id. ¶ 189.)

         Beginning in September 2014, the parties and the Monitor began discussing how to systemically evaluate whether the Consent Decree's required policies and training were being “carried out in practice” and how to “define and measure ‘full and effective compliance.'” (See U.S. Resp. (Dkt. # 422) at 5) (citing Diaz Decl. (Dkt. # 422-1) ¶ 2, Ex. A).) As a result, “compliance work groups” were set up including members of the Monitoring Team, the Government, and the City's attorneys. (See id.) These work groups met six times in 2014 and 2015 with the purpose of identifying: (1) all the material requirements of the Consent Decree; and (2) how to determine compliance with each of them, including (a) what data should be gathered, (b) who should gather and review the data, (c) when individual assessments and audit should occur, and (d) how to work out any disputes. (Id. (citing Diaz Decl. ¶ 3, Ex. B).)

         The March 17, 2015, Third Year Monitoring Plan (Dkt. # 195) grew out of these collaborative work group meetings and thus enumerated the areas the audits would cover and the process that would be used for what became the “ten assessments.” (Id.) The resulting ten assessments were systemic reviews and represented a collaborative effort of the City, the Government, and the Monitor across both a substantial period of time and significant number and scope of discrete cases, incidents, or instances.[3] (See Id. at 6 (citing First Systemic Assessment (Dkt. # 231) at 8-9).) The ten assessments were conducted and completed between March 2015 and June 2017. (Id.) Over time, the Monitor concluded that SPD had achieved “initial compliance” in each of the ten areas.[4](See FEC Mot. at 7-8, App. A.) The Monitor defines “initial compliance” as meaning that “SPD's performance over a material time period and across incidents suggests that [SPD] has reached a level of performance in that defined area that is consistent with complying with the terms of the Court-enforced [Consent Decree].” (See Compliance // Status Report (“CSR”) (Dkt. # 416) at 3 (quoting 1st Systemic Assessment (“SA”) (Dkt. # 231) at 6-7).)

         On September 8, 2017, the Monitor filed his Compliance Status Report, which outlined the Monitor's views on SPD's progress in complying with the Consent Decree. (See generally id.) In his report, the Monitor distinguishes between a determination that SPD has achieved “initial compliance” in the assessment areas and a determination that SPD has attained “full and effective compliance” with the Consent Decree such that the two-year maintenance period can begin. (See Id. at 2-3.) The Monitor notes that SPD's “progress to date constitutes significant success, ” but declines to opine on whether SPD has met “full and effective compliance” with the Consent Decree because such a determination is the court's “prerogative.” (Id. at 2.)

         In his report, the Monitor also highlights a number of concerns in nearly every assessment area, including:

         • lieutenants and captains, who are not yet sufficiently identifying and addressing certain deficiencies in Type II, precinct-level, force investigations (id. at 4-5);

         • the disparity between the FRB's identification of possible use-of-force policy violations and the number of violations identified by the chain of command (id. at 6);

          • the consistency with which SPD follows up on FRB recommendations (id. at 7);

         • SPD's relationship with certain “isolated communities” and the level of trust these communities place in SPD (id. at 9-11);

         • the quality, consistency, and timeliness of OPA interviews (id. at 12-13);

         • the thoroughness of OPA investigations raising potential criminal or terminable offenses (such as false statements) (id. at 13-14);

         • the intersection between crisis intervention and use-of-force and whether particular high-profile incidents, like the death of Ms. Lyles, are ...

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