A Seattle officer was suspended after a police watchdog found that a lie the officer told a hit-and-run suspect contributed to the man's suicide.
The unidentified man got into a minor fender-bender in May 2018 and fled the scene. Two officers with the Seattle Police Department investigating the crash were sent to an address connected with the man to get a statement, according to a report from the Office of Police Accountability, an independent office within the Seattle Police Department .
The report states that both officers knew that the hit-and-run was a minor crash and no one was injured. But when they arrived at the home one of the officers told a woman who answered the door that they were looking for the driver because he was involved in a hit-and-run that left a woman in critical condition. The officer said the injured woman might not survive, the report says.
Body camera footage showed that the woman at the home, who was a friend of the driver's, was visibly upset over what the officer said.
After the officers left, the woman called her friend and told him what the officer said. She advised he get an attorney.
Friends of the driver told investigators with the Office of Police Accountability that in the days following the police visit, the man grew increasingly upset and worried.
One friend said the man told him that the fender-bender happened when his car rolled backward, striking the other vehicle. The man said he had left the scene, but did not remember anyone being injured in the crash, the friend said.
The report states the driver had been a drug addict for 20 years and had prior legal trouble. The friend told investigators that the man said he was not high at the time of the crash.
The man’s roommate told investigators that the day before his death, he "became increasingly worried” and started talking about suicide. The roommate found the man dead on June 3, 2018, less than a week after the crash.
After his death, his family and friends began looking into the crash and learned that no one had been injured or died. They filed a complaint with the Office of Police Accountability, which prompted an investigation into the officer’s actions.
The watchdog completed its investigation in November. The officer said the ruse was needed to get information and he did not think he was responsible for the man’s suicide. The officer's partner told investigators that the officer said he knew the ruse was a lie, “but it’s fun.”
While officers are allowed to use a ruse, investigators said the officer’s lie “shocked the conscience” and was inconsistent with the police department’s policy.
Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said in a statement that she agrees with the watchdog's findings and suspended the officer for six days without pay, according to a police statement Thursday.
“The officer’s actions did not meet SPD’s standards of acceptable use of discretion and were not consistent with the standards of professionalism or training,” Best said. “In 2019, the Seattle Police Department provided in-service training to all sergeants, officers and detectives on the appropriate use of ruses during criminal investigations.”
The identities of the involved officer and the man who died were not revealed.