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Aug 24, 2007
V 35 Issue 34

 
 
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3 Seattle Councilmembers meet SPD Asst.Chief Metz about Belltown Gay-bashing
3 Seattle Councilmembers meet SPD Asst.Chief Metz about Belltown Gay-bashing
Police to issue reminder bulletin to officers about reporting procedures

by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

Three members of the Seattle City Council met with Assistant Police Chief Nick Metz on Friday, August 17, to discuss the alleged mishandling of a Gay-bashing in Belltown earlier in August. The closed door meeting was frank and productive, according to one participant.

Openly Gay/Lesbian City Councilmembers Tom Rasmussen and Sally Clark were joined by fellow Council President Nick Licata for the sit down meeting in Rasmussen's City Hall offices. Brian Hawksford, Rasmussen's senior aide, was also present. Sally Clark had suggested meeting with Seattle's Chief of Police Gil Kerlikowske after reading media reports about the attack. Rasmussen scheduled the meeting on their behalf.

The councilmembers had hoped to meet directly with the Chief, but the Chief delegated leading assistant Metz instead. In retrospect, those in attendance say Metz may have been the better choice. Metz supervises the bias crimes unit and has a more intimate knowledge of how bias crimes are reported and investigated.

"The purpose of the meeting was to have a clear conversation with Seattle Police Department command leadership about what we were hearing about the incident in Belltown and what follow up actions were under way, so that we could have a clear understanding and not have it be just from the media accounts," says Clark. "What Assistant Chief Nick Metz was able to do was give us a better idea about how department reports are handled and followed up; what happened the evening of the attack; and what steps have been taken subsequently to crack down on the alleged perpetrator."

Michael Wrenn and Aaron Hudy were attacked just before midnight on Saturday, August 4, while walking in the 2200 block of First Avenue. The male attacker asked the men, "What, are you guys fags?" before beginning his attack. Wrenn suffered a bloody nose and cuts to his chin and forearm. He also developed two black eyes and bruises on his body as a result of the violence. His friend, Aaron Hudy, who was standing beside Wrenn at the time of the Gay-bashing, also suffered a bruise on his arm. Both men say they told police repeatedly that they believed the attack to be a bias crime, but the responding police officer when filing his report, failed to classify the incident as such and seemingly acted in an unprofessional manner.

"There are certainly questions I have about how this responding officer finalized his report," says Clark. "I know this is a concern we have had over time ever since bias crimes became tracked and became a priority in the police department...You still have the problem of whether or not an officer realized a bias crime happened."

According to Clark, officers receive limited training on bias crimes at Washington State's Law Enforcement Academy and additional training when they are hired by the SPD. She said the amount of instruction at the Academy "could be increased."

"When officers come to work for Seattle from the state's Academy, there are a number of other courses they have to go through to become a police officer in the city. There is some work on bias crimes that is included in that course work," says Clark. "When they are out on the street that is when you have people trying to make judgment calls about what may or not be a bias crime. Assistant Chief Metz assured Councilmembers Rasmussen, Licata and myself that the message they give to officers is, 'If there is any doubt about it being a bias crime, check the box. Check the box, because that means that it will get channeled to a bias crimes investigator and that person can then make the determination about whether what happened truly translates to a bias crime, according to state and local law'.

"What we want is not to have officers trying to make some kind of legal analysis on the street. We want them doing their job of catching bad guys and helping good people. If they think there is bias in the crime, then, they need to check the box and pass it along to an investigator who can do further case work on it."

Metz told the councilmembers that a bulletin will be sent out to officers reminding them to check the "bias crime" box on the incident reporting form when they encounter a potential bias crime, even when in doubt.

Clark said that she considers Seattle to have one of the "countries best" systems for tracking bias crimes, but says, "nothing is error proof and is only as good as the people participating."

"I will give the Seattle Police Department kudos for having a great system in place; the country's best system in trying to highlight the importance of recognizing bias crimes and making sure reports reflect that, so that there can be the right kind of follow up and the right kind of prosecution," she says.

The meeting also revealed new details about the inner workings of the SPD investigation into the attack. Police don't have the last name of the attacker but were looking at yearbooks to track down his full name, according to one participant. On the night of the attack, the men traveling with the perpetrator said they knew him from high school, but couldn't remember his last name. Police have also had a hard time reaching the victims, as of the meeting between Metz and the councilmembers, and have only exchanged voicemails thus far in the investigation.

Five Gay-bashings have been reported by the SGN in recent months. Three bashings occurred in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, while the other two took place in Pioneer Square and Belltown. Clark says the incidents have not gone unnoticed by Rasmussen and herself.

"We used the Belltown one as the focus of the conversation. Certainly, there is a recognition that summer has brought out more bashings than anybody wants to see," she says.

Calls on Thursday to the SPD media relations office seeking updates in the cases was not unreturned by press time.

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