Confusion and misinformation resulted when new police reform laws became effective in July. This webinar aims to demystify the intent of the police reform legislation and its impact on local policies affecting our community. The 90-minute webinar will feature a panel presentation with legislators, and representatives from local government, behavioral health services, and law enforcement. It will be followed by a Q and A session between the audience and panelists.
Alex Ramel – 40th District Representative
Roger Goodman – 45th District Representative, House Public Safety Chair
John Lovick – 44th District Representative; House Pro Tem Speaker; former state trooper, Snohomish County Sheriff, and County Executive
Hollie Huthman – Bellingham City Council Member and local business owner
Malora Christensen and Tommy McAuliffe – LEAD and Grace Diversion Program Managers
Jerilyn Klix – Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office, Deputy Behavioral Health Officer
Questions for panelists may be posed while registering for the event or during the webinar.
For decades, people mistreated by police have called for reform that includes, at a minimum, holding officers accountable. Over the past year, the Riveters’ Justice System Committee (JSC) has supported these efforts by contacting government officials, advocating for improvements to police union contracts, and supporting legislative bills.
To better understand the current state of police accountability within Whatcom County, the JSC obtained officer-related complaint records from Bellingham, Blaine, and Ferndale, and lawsuit settlement information from Bellingham, Blaine, Everson, Ferndale, Lynden, and Whatcom County. A review of these documents provides insight into how complaints are investigated, the degree to which officers are held accountable, and the cost to local governments when the public feels harmed by police conduct.
In a series of posts, we’ll describe how BPD handled a traffic stop and racial-profiling complaint that led to Bellingham recently paying a $100,000 settlement, how much police-related lawsuit settlements cost local governments, and what police complaint records can tell us. We’ll also share recommendations for better policing from national organizations.
***CLICK ON EACH PART TO EXPAND DETAILS***
Part 1: Investigating a complaint against an officer
Let’s start with the settlement mentioned above. As reported by the Bellingham Herald, Alfredo “Lelo” Juarez and his parents filed a civil rights lawsuit in April 2016 against Officer Serad, the Mayor, and the Police Chief after an internal investigation found that Serad had not violated police policy.
The incident: In 2015, Officer Serad pulled Lelo over for driving the wrong direction on a one-way street. He had three passengers in the car at the time. During the stop, Lelo lied about his age and was evasive about his driver’s license status.
In response, Officer Serad:
verified Lelo understood him (to check for language barriers)
told Lelo that if he’s unable to confirm his identity, then he would be unable to confirm Lelo was in the country legally and determine whether Lelo has any warrants
asked Lelo how he entered the country illegally (after learning Lelo was undocumented)
called Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) for assistance within minutes of learning Lelo was undocumented
repeatedly told Lelo he was not free to leave
turned off his body cam video while speaking with CBP
detained Lelo until Border Patrol arrived on scene
The interaction with CBP led to Lelo’s 24-hour detention in an immigration detention center. He was 15 years old at the time. Having felt BPD racially-profiled Lelo, he and his parents filed a complaint, which prompted BPD to conduct an investigation.
BPD’s complaint investigation: Most police departments investigate complaints internally and that was the case here; BPD assigned the investigation to a lieutenant within the department. The investigation report includes a summary of the complaint, officer interviews, records reviewed, body cam video footage review, and findings. The investigator attempted to interview one passenger identified during the stop but had no success.
During the investigation, Officer Serad acknowledged that he’d never before called CBP for a similar traffic stop. He also said that his typical response when he can’t confirm someone’s identity is to have a passenger take the driver home. He’d also cite the driver for not having a valid license or other relevant infractions.
According to the information in the report, the investigator took Officer Serad’s word that he didn’t realize the car occupants appeared to be Hispanic, that he did not let the driver’s race, ethnicity or nationality impact the level of enforcement; and he didn’t remember the details of his call with CBP (which the body cam didn’t capture because Officer Serad stopped recording).
Investigation results: Despite the questions asked and actions taken by Officer Serad during the traffic stop (including the sharing of Lelo’s location), the investigator determined that Officer Serad behaved in a manner consistent with the police department’s policy, which provides equal protection of the law and equal service to the public…regardless of immigration status.
In contrast to Officer Serad’s own testimony, the investigator noted in the investigation report that “no information was discovered to suggest that Officer Serad handled the call differently because of the driver’s race, ethnicity, national origin…” and determined he did not violate police policy. This appears at odds with the investigator’s recommendation that Serad receive retraining on immigration violations, DACA, and the racial-based profiling policy.
JSC concerns about the investigation process and result:
It did not include interviews with civilian witnesses or Border Patrol agents (called during the traffic stop).
It did not include review of the Customs and Border Patrol call.
BPD staff conducted the investigation instead of an independent (and preferably, civilian-led) oversight board.
Officer Serad admitted to handling this call differently than normal. Undoubtedly, Serad’s decision to contact CBP was because of Lelo’s immigration status. It was also in contrast to BPD’s policy, which stated a person of questionable immigration status must be “conducted in the same manner as those for any other person…and without regard to immigration status”.
Officer Serad was not held accountable for contacting Customs and Border Patrol about an undocumented resident because immigration status was not the sole basis for Lelo’s stop or detainment.
Current law prohibits law enforcement working with federal immigration authorities: In 2019, the Keep Washington Working Act began restricting various forms of collaboration and information-sharing with federal immigration enforcement by police, sheriffs, jails, and local and state authorities. The interaction described above is strictly prohibited under this law and yet, according to an August 2021 report by the University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights (UWCHR), law enforcement agencies in 13 researched counties (which did not include Whatcom) continue to summon federal immigration authorities to the scene of traffic stops, to provide tips about the location of specific individuals, and to participate in multi-agency task force operations that include civil immigration arrests. Examples provided in the report from other counties are nearly identical to how Officer Serad summoned CBP to the scene of the Lelo Juarez traffic stop.
The JSC contacted UWCHR to learn when they will complete their extensive review of immigration records collected from Whatcom County. We will take action if these interactions continue to occur locally, as reported by residents that are undocumented.
Part 2: Tracking police officer complaints
Part 3: Costs of police-related lawsuit settlements
Part 4: Police reform recommendations from civil rights experts
The Justice System Committee reviewed police union contracts up for negotiation. Bellingham, Blaine, and Lynden will negotiate police union contracts in fall 2021. Ferndale and Whatcom County contracts will renew in 2022.
Learn about the minimum changes needed to ensure accountability to the public by reading these summaries prepared for Whatcom County law enforcement agencies.
Since January, the Justice System Committee has been tracking justice-system related bills filed during the 2021 legislative session. All bills listed below have been signed into law.
HB 1001 – Authorizes the development of a 2-year grant program to encourage a broader diversity of candidates to seek careers in law enforcement. Effective date: 7/25/2021
HB 1054 – Requires law enforcement agencies impose new training and policies for vehicular pursuits; bans using chokeholds and neck restraints; establishes guidelines for using tear gas; requires developing a model policy for using police dogs to apprehend or arrest people; bans acquiring or using certain specified military equipment; and prohibits concealing badge identification information. Effective date: 7/25/2021
HB 1088 – Requires law enforcement agencies to report officer misconduct, affecting credibility or any act of an officer that may be exculpatory to a criminal defendant, to prosecuting authorities. Effective date: 7/25/2021
HB 1089– Requires the State Auditor to review completed deadly force investigations and allows the State Auditor to audit entire departments for compliance with standards. Effective date: 7/25/2021
HB 1109 – Expands the statutory rights for sexual assault survivors and requires status updates on cases tied to previously unsubmitted sexual assault kits collected prior to July 2015. Effective date: 4/26/2021
HB 1267– Establishes the Office of Independent Investigations to investigate deadly force incidents involving officers. Effective date: 7/25/2021
HB 1310 – Requires the Attorney General to develop model use of force and de-escalation tactics that law enforcement agencies must adopt. Authorizes using tear gas only to alleviate risk of serious harm during a riot.Effective date: 7/25/2021
SB 5051 – Establishes the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission to create and administer standards and processes for certification, suspension, and decertification of officers. Removes confidentiality of complaints, investigations, and disciplinary actions; and requires it be maintained on a public database. Effective date: 7/25/2021
SB 5055– Standardizes and improves arbitrator selection procedures and prevents law enforcement personnel from entering into a contract that prohibits civilian review of officer disciplinary actions. Effective date: 7/25/2021
SB 5066–Requires an officer to report another officer’s misconduct and immediately intervene when another officer is using excessive force. Effective date: 7/25/2021
SB 5259 – Requires reporting, collecting, and publishing information about law enforcement use-of-force interactions with the communities they serve.Effective date: 7/25/2021
SB 5263 – Repeals existing laws that create hurdles for police accountability and prevent families and victims from recovering monetary damages.Effective date: 7/25/2021
SB 5476 – Temporarily recriminalizes simple drug offenses as misdemeanors (as a “fix” to the Supreme Court’s decision in the State v Blake case) and requires that a person be offered diversion to services at least twice before they can be prosecuted. Effective date: 7/25/2021
Incarceration and Re-Entry
HB 1044– Expands opportunities for postsecondary education in prisons; requires an annual report on recidivism rates post release for those in these programs; and requires the Dept. of Corrections accommodate those with learning disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, and cognitive impairments. Effective date: 7/25/2021
HB 1078– Automatically restores voting rights to felons after they’ve completed a total confinement sentence. Effective date 1/1/2022.
HB 1295– Enhances educational institutions’ ability to extend academic credit for language and general education to youth in or released from secure facilities. Effective date: 7/25/2021
SB 5119 – Requires the Dept. of Corrections to investigate any unexpected death during incarceration and publish a report within 120 days. Effective date: 7/25/2021
SB 5304– Expands the Medicaid suspension policy to include correctional institutions, state hospitals, and other treatment facilities. Requires full reinstatement of Medicaid benefits upon release from confinement. Effective date: 7/25/2021
HB 1140 – Provides juveniles access to an attorney before waiving constitutional rights. Effective date: 7/25/2021
SB 5118 – Expands the Intrastate Detainer Act to include persons incarcerated in juvenile rehabilitation facilities and allows individuals to request to resolve untried warrants in district and municipal court.Effective date: 7/25/2021
SB 5226 – Removes the option to suspend a person’s driver’s license for a traffic infraction, for failing to respond within 15 days, or for failing to appear at a hearing. Provides an option to enter into a penalty payment plan if a person is unable to pay.Effective date: 1/1/2023
SB 5038 – Makes it a gross misdemeanor to open carry a firearm at or within 25 feet of a public demonstration, the west state capitol grounds, capital grounds buildings, and other legislative locations. Effective date: 5/12/2021
The survey questions are below in bold; responses are limited to 255 characters. We’ve included some potential responses followed by character counts in italics below each question. Feel free to use them or provide your own.:
What skills and characteristics do you want to see in our next Police Chief?
Ability to build a culture & practice of policing that reflects the values of protection & promotion of the dignity of all, especially the most vulnerable (155)
Compassion for the community, integrity, and professionalism (61)
Trustworthy and transparent (29)
Commitment to eliminating white supremacy and systemic racism in the department and in the community (100)
What background, experience, and/or achievements should we consider when selecting our next Police Chief?
Demonstrated collaboration with community members to develop policies & strategies supported by data made publicly available in communities & neighborhoods disproportionately affected by crime (193)
Experience leading a department that achieved decreases in use of force and increases in de-escalation & alternatives to arrest (128)
Experience collaborating with communities to identify problems & collaborate on implementing solutions that produce meaningful results for the community (153)
What do you believe should be the top priorities for our next Police Chief?
Advancing transparency in data and reporting and accountability to the public (78)
Civilian oversight of law enforcement to strengthen trust with the community and hold officers accountable (107)
Building relationships based on trust with immigrant, indigenous, unhoused, and visible minority communities (110)
Tracking and addressing biased policing (40)
Curbing the excessive militarization of the police force by imposing meaningful restraints and adopting best practices (119)
Partnering with the city to develop 24/7 mobile crisis intervention first responder units that are not law enforcement (119)
What else would you like us to consider when selecting our next Police Chief?
Community engagement in this process requires meaningful opportunities to engage including but not limited to open forums with questions from the public, a transparent process, and members of the public enduring disparities on the hiring committee (248)
Reducing incarceration, focusing on rehabilitation, and reducing recidivism (76)
Review & publicly disclose candidates’ complaint and misconduct records, including lawsuits filed, as an individual and for previous departments prior (151)
If you see a mask-less officer outdoors within six feet of another individual or yourself, or a mask-less law enforcement officer indoors:
Tell the officer to wear a mask over their mouth and nose, if you do not feel endangered in doing so.
Fill out a complaint form with the appropriate department as soon as possible.
Tweet current photos meeting the criteria above using tags, such as: @BellinghamPD or @whatcomsheriff, and @RivetersWA. Add hashtags, such as: #PublicSafety #MaskMandate #CommittedtoCommunity #BPDPolicy
On June 23, 2020, Governor Inslee announced a statewide mask mandate when in public spaces. As early as July 28, Sandy Robson, a Birch Bay resident, began asking Chief Doll about Bellingham Police Department’s mask-wearing policies. The JSC reported to Chief Doll on October 12 that his police officers had not worn masks during much of the summer when within six feet of community members who are unsheltered. During an October 26 City of Bellingham meeting, the JSC called on Chief Doll to direct his officers to wear masks.
Not until November 24, the same day Whatcom County Health Director reported COVID cases appearing amongst Bellingham community members who are homeless, did Chief Doll finally issue a directive requiring all police staff to wear masks.
Chief Doll and other law enforcement agencies have not even taken minimum steps to keep even the most vulnerable residents in our community safe. We need to tell them our health and safety matters.
Links to complaint forms and suggested information to include in a complaint.