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SPD officer under OPA investigation for emergency room incident

The emergency department incident is another blow to the department reeling from a string of OPA investigations.



Update: An earlier version of the story indicated the incident happened on January 16, 2021 – the incident was on January 15, 2021.

[SEATTLE] – (MN) A Seattle police officer identified as Eric Whitehead is under Office of Police Accountability (OPA) investigation over their refusal to wear a mask at an area Hospital on Friday, January 15, 2021. Officer Whitehead was at the hospital to get a statement from an assault victim and refused to wear a mask. According to a nurse in the emergency department, the officer “blatantly refused” to put a mask on despite COVID positive patients nearby and standing in a “high traffic” hallway.

On Sunday, the Seattle Police Blotter posted the following statement.

“It has been brought to our attention through social media that an officer was seen not wearing a mask. All our officers and civilian employees have previously been directed to follow CDC and City of Seattle mask guidelines for their safety and the safety of our community.”

“The behavior outlined in last night’s post is unacceptable and not what we expect of our Department members. We know the profound impacts that COVID has created for our community. We will hold our personnel accountable for actions that violate policy and the trust of the community we serve.”

“The department has been in contact with OPA since last night and the OPA is now investigating.”

The staff at the unnamed hospital gave the officer masks multiple times, that he repeatedly threw away despite ongoing PPE shortages. The nurse escalated to the Charge Nurse after the officer became belligerent, and was “condescending” with her. The Charge Nurse then notified the Nursing Supervisor, and the officer finally put on a mask.

The compliance was short-lived, with officer Whitehead stating that he would take the mask off when he went into the patient room, potentially exposing the victim of assault to COVID. Despite a larger police presence, the staff noted that no other officers interceded on the behalf of the hospital, to ask Whitehead to put on a mask.

Although no hospital was identified in the investigation, Harborview has come under fire from the rank and file of Seattle Police through the group Safe Seattle. On November 21, 2020, an anonymous source complained about the “vibe,” in a Facebook post. “It used to be friendly. Now it’s either like we are invisible and they can’t see us at all… or they will stare at us. We used to have conversations and joke around with HMC folks, but the vibe has changed. Jail staff have noticed it, too, when they have to do hospital watches. Sure, it’s not all the staff to be clear, but the vibe has definitely tensed up.”

In another post, anonymous Seattle police officers complained that free snacks were no longer available for them in the emergency department. After a COVID-19 outbreak in the medical center sickened 13 and killed at least one, hospital administration identified that lax mask policy in break rooms while eating food likely contributed to the infections. As a result, UWM banned all food, including single-serving packages from all areas of the hospital except the cafeteria for anyone who is not a patient.

Safe Seattle has come under fire for the veracity of their posts, including starting a false rumor that there was a murder including a severed head in one of the homeless encampments of Seattle in the fall of 2019. In that incident, a man died of natural causes and wasn’t found for months after his death. As part of natural decomposition, the head detached from the body within the tent. The body was not found in a homeless encampment, but a wooded spot in Beacon Hill.

In a post this evening, David Preston of Safe Seattle attacked the nurse and her complaint, calling her a “snitch.” Later he erroneously posted that the complainant had been identified and had shut down their social media accounts.

The first 17 days of 2021 have been brutal for the Seattle Police Department and its conduct. Two officers are suspended with pay under investigation for the potential role they may have played in the January 6 insurrection after pictures emerged with them in the Capitol. An officer was fired for using a racial pejorative and three more could face reprimand after the OPA concluded they used excessive force against protesters this past summer. SPOG president, Mike Solan, is facing calls for his resignation from the entire city council for tweets he made supporting conspiracy theories about the January 6 insurrection.

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