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Thursday, April 18, 2013 - Page updated at 09:00 p.m.

City committee finally briefed on what happened on May Day

By Mike Carter
Seattle Times staff reporter

It took the City Council nearly a year to get the Seattle Police Department’s official accounting of its troubled response to the May Day demonstrations, hearing what went wrong last year and how it won’t happen again in two weeks.

Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer, seated next to Police Chief John Diaz, apologized to Councilman Bruce Harrell and the other members of the council’s public-safety committee for the “attenuated circumstances” that resulted in months of delay in the release of the SPD’s May Day after-action report and a second, independent review paid for by the department.

Kimerer and Diaz did not explain, under pointed questioning by Harrell, the committee chairman, why the department never responded to Harrell’s five official emails and a letter seeking answers about the delay in releasing the after-action report.

The department also defended its decision to withhold, despite a Seattle Times public-disclosure request, a highly critical memo written by the May Day incident commander. Kimerer said the SPD was acting under legal advice that the memo — written by Capt. Joseph Kessler last June — was part of a “deliberative process” as the May Day reports were compiled.

The department said Kessler’s report was not sanctioned — even though he was the incident commander that day — but that the concerns it raised led to the decision to seek an outside review.

Diaz has said he intentionally withheld the memo — which is sharply critical of the role in May Day of one of his assistant chiefs, Mike Sanford — because he didn’t want it to distract from the official versions. Kimerer said its release would have had “deleterious consequences.”

Kimerer was pressed about the public-disclosure issue by Harrell and committee members Nick Licata and Jean Godden. Harrell, an attorney, said, “I don’t see how it would fit into an exemption.”

He also pointed out that the council was never told of the existence of the Kessler memo.

“I don’t see how we can say with a straight face that this was an open and transparent process,” he said.

Harrell also questioned — without response — why the SPD did not release its own after-action report, which Kimerer said was mostly done by July. Its release was put on hold until the independent report, written by retired Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Michael Hillmann, was completed.

“It makes no sense if they are supposed to be unrelated to one another,” he said

Both reports were highly critical of the SPD’s failure to anticipate the violence that rocked the downtown core during last year’s May Day celebration, much of it committed by black-clad anarchists. Police eventually had to resort to force, including the use of pepper spray, to attempt to disperse the crowds.

The Hillmann report listed a litany of failures that led to the violence, and both Hillmann and Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh cite leadership and tactical failures by Kessler.

Kessler’s memo blamed many of the failures on Sanford’s interference during the May Day march, including a headlong charge into a group of protesters to make an arrest that resulted in him having to be rescued by officers who used force to extricate him from the crowd.

The Seattle Police Managers Association, comprised of its captains and lieutenants, has come to Kessler’s defense and has accused the command staff of unfairly targeting him while protecting Sanford.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or

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