Seattle police watchdog calls officer’s actions dangerous

SEATTLE — A Seattle police sergeant who drove an unmarked SUV onto a sidewalk toward protesters during last summer’s demonstrations violated the department’s policy to preserve life and safety, a police oversight agency said in a report released Friday.

“His operation of his motor vehicle and the risk he took simply to apprehend individuals using a strobe light were dangerous, ill-advised, and, as was shown by the numerous complaints and public concern this incident generated, undermined public trust and confidence” in the department, the Office of Police Accountability said in its report.

The killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer last May sparked protests across the country. Thousands gathered in Seattle to demonstrate against racial injustice. Interactions between protesters and Seattle police resulted in more than 19,000 complaints, mostly claiming excessive use of force.

The Office of Police Accountability is investigating the complaints and releasing its findings dozens at a time. It released the results of 15 more cases on Friday and only one had a sustained finding.

Office of Police Accountability Director Andrew Myerberg declined to identify the officers involved in the strobe light incident, saying “we are prohibited by contract from releasing officer names.” But the SUV driver told a bystander on camera that his badge number was 6645. According to the Seattle police daily rooster, that badge number belongs to Sgt. Michael Tietjen.

Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz had not seen the Office of Police Accountability report by Friday afternoon, police spokesperson Amy Clancy said. “There has been no decision regarding the officer’s status with the department,” she said, “so at this time, the SPD cannot comment.”

A message seeking comment from Tietjen was not immediately returned.

The sergeant was initially placed on administrative leave, but he was back at work as of Friday, according to Seattle police spokesman Detective Patrick Michaud.

Now that the Office of Police Accountability has completed its report on the case, it will forward recommended disciplinary action to the chief, and he will meet with the officer and make a decision on punishment, Michaud said.

The video from the incident shows the SUV accelerating onto the sidewalk as people scramble to get out of the way and one man jumped through the bushes to avoid being hit.

A bystander approached the SUV with his video running and told the driver that he saw him almost hit a “bunch of people.” The driver responded “did you see the guy who ran that I was trying to catch?”

After giving his badge number, the driver said the people he was chasing were “running like cockroaches.” He said he used to love Seattle but now it’s “pretty (expletive) dirty.”

When asked why he still works for the Seattle Police Department, the sergeant said, “because they pay me like 200 grand a year to babysit you people. I babysit these knuckleheads every night because they smash up all the businesses.”

The Office of Police Accountability said the comments violated the professionalism policy, adding that they were “inappropriate” and “unacceptable,” especially for a supervisor.

The Office of Police Accountability did not find fault with any officers in the 14 other reports released Friday. One complaint said a protester was hit in the facemask by a piece of blast ball and another said a blast ball caused an ankle injury.

Another said officers failed to de-escalate the situation before using excessive force to arrest a demonstrator.

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Follow Martha Bellisle on Twitter @MarthaBellisle

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