The Seattle Police Department is seeking a judge’s help in firing a parking lot officer who made a comment endorsing the lynching.
- Jonathan Skeie was previously fired in early 2021 for his statement – but is now back at work after being reinstated by a referee.
Rollback: Acting Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz fired Skeie last year after Skeie said, “I don’t understand why we can’t just bring back the lynching,” or a very similar statement, according to reports. internal investigation files submitted to the court.
- Skeie made the comment in front of two other parking enforcement officers while working in the office in June 2020, during the height of Black Lives Matter protests in the city, the documents show.
Driving the news: The police department and the city filed a motion in King County Superior Court last week, asking a judge to overturn the January arbitration award that returned Skeie’s job.
- The city’s motion argues that arbitrator Richard Eadie’s decision was “wrong” and violates the state’s anti-discrimination and anti-harassment law.
- In that January arbitration order, Eadie ruled that the police department’s dismissal of Skeie was “excessive” and inconsistent with how similar cases had been handled before.
- Skeie received a 30-day suspension, but was reinstated and returned to work since April.
Why is this important: The police department and the city say the arbitrator’s decision to rehire Skeie — who was fired for racially-based harassment — sends a damaging message that the racism of city employees will go unpunished.
- The case also tests the city’s ability to challenge the decisions of umpires, who some Seattle and Washington state officials say should not be able to easily overturn police chiefs’ disciplinary actions.
To note : Although Skeie was a civilian employee of the police department at the time of his termination, he has since been transferred to the city’s transportation department, along with the rest of Seattle’s parking enforcement division.
The context: According to the city’s internal investigation, Skeie made the lynching comment at the office while discussing the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, as well as Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th,” which focuses on racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
- In a follow-up interview with an investigator, Skeie said he didn’t understand the racial connotations of the word “lynching” and thought the term had the same meaning as “hanging” or capital punishment.
- Skeie said he was trying to convey his frustration and anger that those arrested during the protests had received only a “slap on the wrist”, according to the investigator’s report.
What they say: The police department and the city say the context makes Skeie’s comment all the more offensive.
- In their court filing, the police department and the city say, “It cannot be ignored that Mr. Skeie’s racist statement advocated ‘lynching,’ not in the abstract, but for use against Black Lives Matter protesters. “
- They argue the arbitrator’s decision placed too much emphasis on Skeie’s previously unblemished disciplinary record, as well as the way he later apologized via text message to a colleague.
- In a statement to Axios, a spokesperson for Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said, “Mayor Harrell believes that employee language and behavior should reflect our city’s inclusive values, so Seattle communities trust that we are here to serve and support them.
The other side: In a brief filed with the arbitrator, the Seattle Parking Enforcement Officers’ Guild wrote that Diaz’s dismissal of Skeie “was deeply inconsistent and disparate with his lax approach to discipline for other, more serious offenses.”
- A lawyer representing Skeie and the parking attendant guild did not respond to messages from Axios.
- When contacted by email, Eadie, the umpire, declined to comment, citing the pending case.
And after: The city asks the judge to fire Skeie again and declare that the arbitrator’s decision violated state law.
- The judge could take action on the case later this month.