SEATTLE -- The Seattle Police Department has opened an internal investigation into allegations that some officers have mishandled drunken-driving arrests, possibly compromising dozens of current and past cases.
The investigation has forced the department to pull all but one member of its squad that enforces driving-under-the-influence (DUI) laws from their duties, according to Seattle police.
The investigation is focused on accusations that arrest reports weren't properly screened and approved by a sergeant in the department's DUI squad, sources familiar with the matter told The Seattle Times. Seattle police confirmed the internal investigation Monday, saying it involves violations of a department policy requiring that all arrests be screened in person by a supervisor.
Among the allegations is that the sergeant routinely did not report to work and approved DUI arrests by telephone, one source said.
A hand stamp was then used by officers to affix the sergeant's name to reports, one source said.
The practice has been going for about a year, another source said.
Dozens of current and past cases might be compromised, said Kimberly Mills, spokeswoman for Seattle's City Attorney's Office.
The investigation is the latest turmoil to hit the department, which is under review by the U.S. Department of Justice over allegations that officers used excessive force in several high-profile cases.
The DUI investigation, among other things, is looking at whether the Police Department has adequate procedures to ensure that front-line supervisors are performing their jobs.
In a written statement, the department said that in mid-February, Traffic Capt. Richard Belshay began a review of some "supervisory inconsistencies" within the Traffic Section's DUI squad.
"Upon closer examination, it was determined that administrative policy violations were in fact occurring," the department's statement said.
Police Chief John Diaz was briefed and Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh of Special Operations, who oversees Traffic, forwarded the information to the department's Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), the statement said.
An investigation was opened March 8 into the conduct of the sergeant, the statement said.
The investigation has since been broadened into the conduct of three other officers assigned to the DUI squad.
The sergeant and officers were administratively reassigned on March 16, the department said. They include a 32-year sergeant, a 23-year officer and two 12-year officers.
One DUI squad officer has not been named in this investigation and remains on duty, the statement said.
"The scope of the investigation at this point focuses on the administrative policy violation of screening all arrests with a supervisor in person, which department policy requires," the statement said. "This investigation is in its infancy. The scope may change as new information is developed."
Every time an officer arrests or detains someone, the Seattle Police Department manual states that a sergeant "shall be notified so that an in person review of the incident can occur ..."
Once at the scene, supervisors are supposed to review the circumstances of the arrest and the condition of the suspect. The supervisor is supposed to evaluate the appropriateness of any offense charged, sign off on any jail booking or release, and ensure evidence is properly collected and preserved, according to the manual.
Seattle Police commanders have met with Craig Sims, head of the Criminal Division at the City Attorney's Office, and advised him of the internal investigation, the statement said.
Police commanders believe that these concerns are limited to the DUI squad, according to the statement.
The DUI squad is comprised of one sergeant and four officers and works nighttime hours.
"Efforts are underway providing for temporary backfill for these duties while the involved employees are on administrative reassignment," the department said. "The crime of Driving Under the Influence is also regularly enforced by on-duty Seattle Police officers outside of the Traffic Section. DUI enforcement and the safety of citizens on Seattle's roadways remains a Seattle Police priority."
The City Attorney's Office, which handles most DUI cases in Seattle, said it has been notified of the investigation, said Kimberly Mills, spokeswoman for the office.
Mills said her office is reviewing cases and is awaiting further information from the Police Department on cases that might be compromised.
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