Jun 13, 2022 - News

Two cops acted with reckless disregard for the truth, judge says

Illustration of a police cap on dark background under spotlights.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A judge is standing by his 2021 ruling that two Seattle detectives acted with reckless disregard for the truth in obtaining a search warrant.

  • That decision could damage the detectives' ability to testify as witnesses in other criminal cases, the police department says.

Why it matters: Our criminal justice system relies on the assumption that police will tell the truth.

Driving the news: Last Friday, the Seattle Police Department went to court to ask a judge to consider revising his October ruling that found that two Seattle detectives, Terry Bailey and Benjamin Hughey, were untruthful.

  • In that ruling, King County Superior Court Judge David Whedbee said that Bailey and Hughey engaged in "chicanery" when they left important information out of a search warrant application.

At Friday's hearing, however, Whedbee rejected the city's attempt to get him to take back his findings, saying it's not his job to tailor his rulings to avoid hurting the careers of law enforcement officers.

  • "The court has no control over what might happen downstream," Whedbee said.
  • That leaves Hughey and Bailey with a finding of untruthfulness on their records, which defense attorneys can now use in court to cast doubt on the detectives' word.

What they're saying: Neither Bailey nor Hughey responded to Axios' attempts to contact them for this story.

  • A spokesperson for the Seattle Police Department, Patrick Michaud, wrote in an email to Axios that the department "maintains its support for these detectives, who SPD believes conducted a lawful investigation and at all times responded truthfully to the questions posed."

Context: Whedbee's October 2021 ruling found that Bailey and Hughey lacked credibility when they said they didn't see a white latex glove next to a clear, plastic baggie in the door of a suspect's car.

  • In seeking a search warrant for the car, the detectives said the bag appeared to have a whitish substance inside, which they said looked like crack cocaine.
  • Later investigation revealed there was no such substance in the baggie.
  • Whedbee said the detectives' failure to mention the white, latex glove was a material omission that ignored the non-drug-related explanation for why the area around the baggie might have had a whitish appearance.
  • The judge's ruling said "the Court does not believe" the detectives' statements that they didn't see the white glove.
  • That's partly because video footage shows both detectives examining the area for at least 30 seconds — a search the judge said was conducted without a warrant — following an earlier examination by Bailey.

The other side: The King County Department of Public Defense previously asked prosecutors not to rely on testimony from officers who have been found to be dishonest.

  • "It is impossible to overstate the impact officers have on people's lives," wrote department director Anita Khandelwal in a statement to Axios. "We are fortunate that the judge in this case called out the actions of the officers."

What's next: The King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office says it has tentatively placed Hughey and Bailey on a list of officers whose credibility issues must be disclosed to defense attorneys.

  • Long-term placement on what is commonly known as the Brady list is one of the "extraneous, negative consequences" the detectives face as a result of the judge's ruling, Assistant City Attorney Jessica Leiser wrote in a recent court filing.
  • Among other things, placement on the list can limit officers' ability to testify in pending cases, the police department said.
  • According to the prosecutor's office, the detectives are potential witnesses in more than 60 cases right now.
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