SPD Chief Diaz demotes assistant chief for role in protests, “pink umbrella” incident (updated)

Two weeks ago, SPD Interim Chief Adrian Diaz announced that he was overruling a disciplinary recommendation by the Office of Police Accountability for a supervisor who had a central role in the “pink umbrella” incident during last summer’s protests. Diaz came under fire for asserting that he would not punish the supervisor for decisions that were made above him, while not providing any more details as to what those higher-up decisions were nor holding anyone else accountable. At the time, a spokesperson for SPD said that further actions would be forthcoming.

Today, Diaz announced that he has demoted one of his assistant chiefs for his role in that incident, as well as for his handling of other protests during the time he served as Incident Commander for SPD protest response last summer. While Diaz’s public announcement does not name the individual, SCC Insight has confirmed that it was Assistant Chief Steve Hirjak.

Diaz made the announcement today in a letter to City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who heads the Council’s public safety committee and who challenged Diaz’s explanation for overturning the OPA’s recommendation. Herbold faulted him for not naming a responsible party, not specifying the process he was using to ensure accountability, and for the appearance that SPD was withholding information from the OPA. In today’s letter, Diaz responds to Herbold’s critique:

As I noted, I did not believe it was fair or principled to hold the Named Employee responsible for circumstances created at a higher rank of command, where fundamentally I believe accountability for the outcome of the weekend of May 29th – June 1st should land.  We owe it to both the community and to our officers who are tasked to operate within a framework rooted in command decisions to ensure that we identify and address root causes of outcomes that we all can acknowledge were problematic.  For this reason, and considering all of the information that has come before me and performance that I have personally observed, I am writing to advise that I have removed the Incident Commander from the position of Assistant Chief  and returned him to the Captain rank, as required by Seattle Municipal Code 4.08.060 (2)(a). 

In our communications immediately following my initial letter, I referenced additional information that factored into my decision.  I apologize for any confusion that reference may have created.  As the OPA Director and I have made clear, there was (and is) no separate investigation and no information that OPA did not have access to; the distinction is one of scope.  Whereas the OPA investigation focused, appropriately, on facts specific to the allegation against the Named Employee, my assessment included more broadly concerns raised by OPA in management action recommendations stemming from related cases, on-going analyses generated through the Office of Inspector General’s Sentinel Event Review, and my consideration of the totality of the events beginning on May 29th, 2020, when the Chinatown/International District was the target of destructive protests, and continuing over the days thereafter.  My decision is based on concerns and observations regarding planning, logistics, communications, decision-making, and staffing analyses that in my view laid the groundwork for the escalation of tensions that followed.  The Incident Commander for the events May 29th – June 1st was removed from the command post by Chief Best in the immediate aftermath of the incident on June 1st; today, consistent with City code, he has been returned to his former rank.  Fundamentally, I must have confidence that each and every member of this department’s sworn Command Staff, regardless of bureau assignment, be able to step into an incident command position as circumstances may require.  This demotion is a reflection of my lack of confidence in this individual’s ability to do so.

Seattle Municipal Code 4.08.060 (2)(a) codifies the rules for the Chief of Police to choose command staff. It says that they may be promoted from within: “Assignment from the ranks and positions of Captain or Lieutenant in the Police Department, provided that any officer so assigned shall, in the event of removal, have the right to resume the rank and position from which he or she was so assigned”. Thus unless Diaz were to fire Hirjak, he must be allowed to return to his former rank of Captain — even when demoted for disciplinary reasons.

Here is Hirjak’s bio, which lists him as “Assistant Chief – Collaborative Policing”:

Assistant Chief Steve Hirjak has served with the Seattle Police Department since 1993. He was promoted to Assistant Chief in 2018. His previous assignments include Patrol Officer, Patrol Supervisor, Domestic Violence Unit Detective, Office of Professional Accountability Investigator, Equal Opportunity Employment Sergeant, Captain of the Force Investigation Team, Captain of the Education and Training Section and Assistant Chief of Homeland Security.  

Assistant Chief Hirjak has consulted agencies across the country on issues of police use of force and addressed committees of the Washington State Legislature and IACP. He was also a presenter at the annual Washington State Domestic Violence Conference.

Assistant Chief Hirjak serves as President of the Society for Integrity in Force Investigation and Reporting (SIFIR). He was the first police executive to attend Harvard Business School’s Young American Leaders Program. He is also a graduate of Leadership Tomorrow Seattle and the Northwest Law Enforcement Command College and the Department of Homeland Security National Academy.

UPDATE: When asked for comment on Chief Diaz’s announcement and whether he believes it adequately explains his reasoning for overturning the OPA recommendation, OPA Director Andrew Myerberg said, “I have no specific comment on the demotion other than to recognize that it is within the Chief’s authority to take this action. With regard to the letter, I believe that it clarifies the Chief’s decision and, particularly, makes clear that there was not additional information outside of the scope of OPA’s investigation that influenced the Chief’s decision.”

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