Federal Monitor Antonio Oftelie had a pretty muted response in 2023 to tort claims from Seattle Police Department (SPD) Detective Denise “Cookie” Bouldin regarding racial and gender discrimination within the department. Judging by text messages he sent to SPD’s top leadership, if anything he seemed a little exasperated at the news of Bouldin’s claims, which, along with other claims leveled by several other SPD employees, contributed to the demotion of former Police Chief Adrian Diaz this past week. 

Oftelie’s apparently casual response to a longtime SPD detective raising concerns about possible systemic racism in the department about a week before he advocated for Federal Judge James Robart to find SPD in compliance with the consent decree, which launched in part as a result of SPD’s biased policing practices, raises questions about how critically he’s monitoring the department. Meanwhile, dismissive remarks from SPD leadership in the group chat might back up some of Bouldin’s allegations of age discrimination from SPD leadership, according to her attorney. 


In a March 17, 2023 group chat with SPD Chief Legal Counsel Rebecca Boatright, Chief Operating Officer Brian Maxey, and former SPD Chief Strategy Officer Chris Fisher, Oftelie kicked off a conversation with a link to a Seattle Times article about Bouldin’s tort claim along with a scrunchy-face emoji and the word “Sigh.” 

Boatright responded at length, saying Bouldin’s lawsuit involved “decades old” claims and adding that the department “has bent over backwards to accommodate Cookie.” Oftelie then asked about Bouldin’s motivation for the suit.

“Cynically? She’s ready to retire and wants to get paid on way out, [sic]” Maxey said. 

Maxey went on to claim that if Bouldin really wanted change, she would have filed an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint. Bouldin ultimately filed a lawsuit in November, in which she called parts of the EEO complaint process “patronizing and harassing.”

Bouldin’s attorney, James Bible, said she remains dedicated to Seattle and hopes to continue her work into the distant future. He also mentioned that last Thursday a judge denied the City’s attempt to dismiss the age discrimination component of her lawsuit. He sees Maxey’s comment about Bouldin’s possible retirement as indicative of that discrimination.

When The Stranger asked Maxey and Boatright about the text messages, Boatright offered no comment, and Maxey said that he couldn’t comment on them because of ongoing litigation. He did add that the messages were never meant to be public and that they “are what they are.” Oftelie did not return The Stranger’s requests for comment.

The Department of Justice declined to comment on whether Oftelie’s comments to SPD officials were appropriate. The US Attorney’s Office and Mayor’s Office also declined to comment.

In response to the texts, Community Police Commission (CPC) Co-Chair Joel Merkel said the CPC expects SPD to take seriously “credible allegations of discrimination and cultural issues” and pointed to a statement from the CPC regarding SPD’s culture issues.   

The discussion about Bouldin’s claims happened about a week before the City asked the US Department of Justice to stop babysitting SPD, a request made on the basis that everything had basically improved in the department, aside from some continued issues with racial disparities in use-of-force, crowd management policies, and accountability systems. Had Federal Judge James Robart granted the request in full, SPD officials could have taken a victory lap as a reformed department and saved the City a lot of money in coming years.

Oftelie seems to have a pretty cozy relationship with SPD, especially for someone tasked to provide federal oversight to the department. As reported in Real Change, SPD appears to have helped ghostwrite an op-ed for Oftelie in Crosscut without Oftelie disclosing SPD’s contributions. In his reports to Robart, Oftelie has mentioned the importance of increased funding to SPD to ensure its ability to stay in compliance with the consent decree.

Questions of Accountability

In another group chat between Oftelie, Fisher, and Boatright–this one from 2021–Oftelie described a disconnect between what he’d like to see as a monitor and what the apparently ignorant public would like to see; whereas “community members” wanted to see officers “held accountable,” he wanted to “see systemic learning,” he said. “Community doesn’t understand that,” he added.

Earlier in that text exchange, Boatright referenced then Chief Diaz’s decision not to discipline then Lt. John Brooks, who started a riot in 2020 by ordering his officers to use tear gas and blast balls against a largely peaceful crowd in what was later dubbed the “pink umbrella” incident, and asked what it meant to hold officers accountable. “Does it have to be a head on a pike? Public stoning? Or can being held accountable mean to be held responsible to learn and advance,” Boatright texted. 

Boatright’s hyperbolic suggestions frame accountability as either a public execution or merely an educational moment, skipping over the more reasonable suggestion that SPD could consider any form of discipline against an officer who used force against a crowd with, as Oftelie himself put it in a text to Boatright, “no dispersal warning, knee-jerk reaction, the crowd wasn’t crazy, etc. It’s all on video.” SPD could also simply consider not rewarding Brooks by promoting him to captain, as they would end up doing later, especially when the officer should have known better, as he helped develop many of the department’s riot tactics

But Oftelie suggested none of that. Instead, he said he agreed with Diaz’s decision not to discipline Brooks, though he admitted the optics were bad.

In a text, Merkel acknowledged that Oftelie’s role in leading the federal Monitoring Team means he updates the federal court on SPD’s progress in meeting the requirements of the consent decree, but Judge Robart has ultimate authority to decide whether SPD has complied with the agreement. Merkel added that the CPC regularly meets with the Monitoring Team and is active in sharing its impressions with the team and the court. Plus, the court publishes all of Oftelie’s reports publicly.