Seattle, WA

Seattle cop suspended for calling a Black officer a ‘thug’

Justin Ward

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Seattle police officers outside the East precinct during the 2020 uprising following the murder of George Floyd.(Derek Simeone / CC-BY/ flickr.com/photos/dereksimeone/50201028793/in/photostream/)

Seattle police officer Andrew Marks was suspended for telling a Black coworker that he looked like a “[expletive] thug,” according to a disciplinary report released in June. Marks was apparently personally offended by the outfit the Black officer was wearing when he entered the North Precinct locker room, which consisted of an Under Armour shirt, sweatpants and Crocs.

After changing into his uniform, the Black officer confronted Marks, saying “Do I look like a thug now?” and Marks doubled down on his earlier comments, nearly leading to a fight between the two.

The Office of Police Accountability, SPD’s oversight organization, only sustained allegations of unprofessional behavior against Marks but not the greater charge of racial bias, arguing that they could not prove Marks had racist intent when he called the Black officer a “thug.”

As a test of bias, the OPA looked at Marks’ discretionary detentions — also known as Terry stops — over six months and found no signs of racial bias. There were only two during that time.

However, publicly available data shows that nearly 40 percent of Marks’ Terry stops targeted Black Seattleites and 14 percent, Indigenous people, who make up 7 percent and less than 1 percent of the city’s population, respectively.

As the Black officer pointed out in his OPA interview, the term “thug” has specific racial connotations when applied to Black people. The OPA director acknowledged “it is inordinately unlikely that [Marks] would have called a similarly dressed White officer a “thug” and, even though [Marks] said it was common for people to come into work dressed as the Complainant.”

Nevertheless, the OPA ruled that the facts of the case were not “conclusive” based on the necessary level of proof. The Seattle police union contract requires more than a preponderance of evidence in “stigmatizing” offenses, which is not defined and could be interpreted to mean almost anything.

OPA interviewed another Black officer who knew both the complainant and Marks. That officer said that he heard secondhand that Marks had made similar comments before, but he had never personally witnessed this, so he could only regard it as “hearsay.”

Both officers told the OPA that racism is rampant in the department and they were frustrated with the inaction of management. They said that they have elevated complaints of racist remarks to command but nothing was ever done about it.

Black officers fear retaliation, the two officers told OPA. In this case, the complaint was filed by a sergeant on the Black officer’s behalf. It likely wouldn’t have come to light if it hadn’t been witnessed by multiple people.

Since 2012, the Seattle Police Department has been under a federal consent decree. One of the primary reasons is a pattern of disproportionate force against racial minorities, the homeless and the mentally ill.

After nearly a decade of reform, this pattern has held.

A review of the use-of-force data shows that Marks uses force against Black people more than three times the rate predicted by the Black proportion of the Seattle population — which is par for the course for the department.

SPD has also had a number of high-profile racist incidents since the start of the consent decree. Officer Lora Alcantara was caught on camera calling a suspect a racial slur and lying to investigators. Not only is Alcantara still on the force— she has since been promoted to lieutenant.

Officer Frank Poblocki stalked and harassed a Black man who had insulted him while Poblocki was towing the man’s car. He used the police database to find where the man worked and set up an office chair outside to demand an apology. Though he also lied to investigators — a fireable offense under the union contract — Poblocki’s job was saved through the personal intervention of Chief Carmen Best.

In 2018, Det. Salvatore Ditusa was allowed to retire in lieu of termination after he was caught using the N-word while working off-duty for Seattle City Light. More recently, officer Todd Novisedlak was canned after his ex-girlfriend produced multiple racist text messages. In one, he referred to a female officer as an “angry Black lesbian.” Novisedlak called a Black sergeant a “monkey” and a Latino officer a “lazy Mexican.”

In response to the incident with officer Marks, the OPA recommended the department implement a “zero-tolerance policy” on the use of the word “thug” to describe Black people and expand bias training to “to amplify the experiences of BIPOC communities”

When the OPA asked them about training, both Black officers who were interviewed said they had little hope that it would do much good.

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Justin Ward is an investigative reporter specializing in police accountability as well as local politics, housing and homelessness.

Seattle, WA
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