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Seattle police carried out improper Proud Boys misinformation effort during 2020 protests, watchdog finds

Two officers violated department policy in an effort that described possibly armed members of the far-right group descending on a racial justice protest, the agency found.

Seattle police officers improperly carried out a misinformation effort that described possibly armed Proud Boys descending on a racial justice protest in the summer of 2020, according to a report from a police watchdog agency released Wednesday.

The report from the Office of Police Accountability found one officer abused the “law enforcement discretion afforded to him” and another bore responsibility for the “improper” ruse, which involved officers talking on police radios about a fake gathering of the far-right group.

It also found the two officers violated department rules by acting dishonest in a situation in which it was not warranted because there was no immediate threat or other pressing need.

The radio chatter, which was being monitored by protesters in an area that became known as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, helped inflame an already "volatile situation," the agency's director, Andrew Myerberg, wrote in the report.

"It was reasonably foreseeable to believe that the demonstrators would be afraid and concerned that the Proud Boys — some of whom were said to be open-carrying — would come to" the autonomous zone, he wrote. "It was also reasonably foreseeable to believe that this could cause demonstrators within the zone to take steps to arm and defend themselves."

The effort, which described a group of Proud Boys "starting to muster up" and acting in a "boisterous" manner, was broadcast on police radio transmissions on the night of June 8, the same day Seattle police abandoned the East Precinct and the autonomous zone was formed.

The ranking officer who was responsible for the effort said he spearheaded it because protesters "were listening to and then reacting to what we were doing over the radio," the report quotes the officer, who was a captain at the time, as saying.

The then-captain, who is not identified in the report, did not seek approval for the effort from senior officials, the report says.

The officer told the watchdog agency, an independent unit within the police department that investigates allegations of wrongdoing and refers its findings to the chief, that the effort aimed to feed "mundane, routine kind of information" to "make it look like we had more officers out there doing regular stuff."

At the time, the officer said, other law enforcement agencies that had been helping with mutual aid "abandoned" the department and his officers were being "overrun" by protesters.

"There was a big concern that, you know, we were operating on an island and we needed to be able to have the ability to respond in case something did the happen," the officer told the agency, according to the report.

The then-captain recruited another officer who organized a group of several more officers to participate in the effort, according to the report. None were identified in the report.

None of the officers the agency interviewed could recall whose idea it was to mention the Proud Boys, and the supervising officer said it wasn't his, according to the report.

He didn't believe referencing the group caused protesters to arm themselves, but added that the comment "probably caused some alarm and that wasn't the intent," the report says.

Only the supervising officer and the officer he recruited were found to have violated department policy in the report.

The supervising officer later became an assistant chief and retired from the department, the report says. The officer he recruited also retired.

In response to a request for comment Wednesday, the Seattle Police Department said the agency "just released their initial findings today" and that the findings "have not gone through the chain of command review or before chief" Adrian Diaz.