Discover more from DivestSPD
Rookie reprimanded for off-duty spat with mechanic
OPA also issued "inconclusive" findings in a separate investigation of his alleged threat to "slaughter" a homeless man
Officer Oriane McKenzie was reprimanded for demanding that a Kent auto mechanic accept half the repair cost for a brake job last fall, according to a report released by the Office of Police Accountability on Friday. The owner told police that McKenzie identified himself as a Seattle police officer and “slammed” his badge on the counter. When the shop owner refused to return his keys, McKenzie used his spare set to retrieve his vehicle and drove off without paying.
While the OPA found McKenzie behaved unprofessionally, it did not sustain the more serious allegations that McKenzie violated the law or attempted to use his position to intimidate the shop owner into accepting half the agreed price.
The shop didn’t fix the brakes on one side because it was too rusted, and there was a risk of damaging the brake line. The owner claimed that the shop incurred additional parts and labor expenses, so the final amount was roughly the same as the quote given over the phone, but McKenzie thought he was being cheated.
In his OPA interview, McKenzie denied abusing his position for gain:
So, we were there arguing for a little bit. And that’s when I made the second mistake, I guess. I said, "Man, I'm a police officer. I know the laws, you know? You can't hold onto my truck. It's a civil issue. If you -- if you have a problem with, like, me not wanting to pay full price for doing half the job, then we could go argue it in court, you know?
But McKenzie’s actions contradicted his claim that he “knows the laws.” If McKenzie genuinely understood it was a “civil issue,” why did he call 911 and drive to the Kent police station to ask the on-duty sergeant to mediate the dispute?
In both instances—the 911 call and the in-station report—McKenzie identified himself as a Seattle police officer. When he spoke to the sergeant, he made a point to name-drop KPD officers he met in the police academy.
By his own admission, McKenzie told the shop owner he was a police officer. He also clearly tried to get KPD to intervene on his behalf. The KPD sergeant declined because it would be seen as an attempt to pressure the owner. He suggested McKenzie pay the total amount now and recover the rest in small claims court—McKenzie’s sergeant said the same over the phone.
A Kent police officer, unaware of his conversation with the sergeant, encountered McKenzie outside the station and agreed to go to the mechanic with him. The shop owner reluctantly accepted half, arguably under duress.
OPA shrugged off or ignored most evidence supporting a sustained finding against McKenzie for misusing his position. The agency wrote that it was not “unreasonable” for McKenzie to disclose that he was an armed off-duty officer to 911, noting that “law enforcement typically wants to know whether they are engaging an armed subject for safety reasons.”
Regarding the allegation that he produced his badge and identified himself as a cop during the dispute, the OPA wrote that this was “not a prudent decision” but inexplicably concluded that the “surrounding context did not suggest McKenzie sought personal gain from that disclosure.” He sought and obtained a 50 percent discount, and his status as an officer played no small role in that.
OPA likewise issued “inconclusive” findings on the question of whether McKenzie broke the law. According to the report, the Kent city attorney found there was probable cause that McKenzie committed theft of services. The charges were only dropped because the parties reached an “agreement” (mainly due to the intervention of Kent police officers, which the on-duty sergeant at the station correctly recognized as coercive.)
Ultimately, OPA concluded that his decision to call 911 and file an in-person report at the station demonstrated that there was no criminal intent. Of course, an alternative explanation is he realized that if he left without paying, it would come back on him, so he decided to resolve the situation by enlisting the help of Kent police to cheat the auto shop legally.
A pattern emerges
In its findings, the OPA does not reference its investigation into another off-duty incident in Tukwila, though there are some obvious parallels. Approximately one month before his dispute with the mechanic, McKenzie showed up at the Tukwila police station in the middle of the night with some friends, asking if he could park his truck in the secure lot.
He said his tires were slashed while parked at his parents’ house just up the road. All the TPD officers and clerical staff he interacted with at the station considered his story suspicious. The timing was odd, and officers couldn’t comprehend why McKenzie, a police officer, didn’t want to file a report even though he supposedly knew who the perpetrator was.
While McKenzie was inside the station, another man called 911 to report that two trucks had followed him from South Seattle and threatened him. He was contacted outside the gate, where he pointed out McKenzie and his friend. He said McKenzie pointed a firearm at him and said he would “slaughter” him.
Tukwila police took statements from both men and sent them on their way. During his interview with McKenzie, the TPD observed that he had a holstered weapon, which McKenzie briefly surrendered, per safety protocol.
SPD was notified of the incident, and OPA began an investigation. The OPA detective reviewed the surveillance video from the station. Though the video is grainy and taken from a great distance, the investigator wrote in his notes that he observed McKenzie pulling out a “black object” and pointing it toward where the man was parked.
When it released its findings last month, the OPA acknowledged that the man’s story was partially corroborated by the video and the fact that McKenzie was confirmed to have had a gun at the time. However, the agency determined that there was insufficient evidence to show that he brandished it.
The video showed him reaching toward his waistband, where his gun was holstered, pulling out what the detective described as a “black object,” and extending his arm to point it like one would point a gun.
The OPA argued that one factor weighed against a sustained finding. According to the report:
Further, when [McKenzie] gave his firearm to [the TPD officer], he had to retrieve it from a belt holster covered by layers of clothing. [The TPD officer] had to unzip [McKenzie’s] jacket and lift two shirts to get it. Surveillance footage of [McKenzie] leaving CM#1’s car did not show him putting an item under his clothes or zipping his jacket.
The OPA doesn’t acknowledge the possibility that McKenzie’s camo hoodie was unzipped when he allegedly pulled his gun out. The so-called accountability body also failed to recognize that he could’ve zipped it back up before he spoke with the Tukwila PD.
In fact, the surveillance video from inside the station, which OPA had access to, confirms that it was unzipped at the time:
McKenzie’s gun, which was in a belt holster, wasn’t nearly as inaccessible as the OPA made it seem.
Red flags abound
McKenzie’s account and that of his accuser had notable inconsistencies, but the OPA chose to focus on the complainant’s omissions and statements to paint him as unreliable. For starters, the OPA closed case summary leads with a block quote from the man, a homeless East African who is not a native English speaker.
The OPA could’ve merely summarized what he said, and the decision to quote him directly seems designed to paint him as erratic and incoherent. While his explanation for why the men were chasing him comes across as somewhat paranoid—that they were Muslim men from his community who objected to him dating a white woman—that doesn’t mean his allegation that McKenzie threatened him was false. Indeed, the video evidence corroborates it.
Though he was fuzzy about how the conflict started, the man gave the OPA investigator a detailed description of how the two trucks followed him from a restaurant in South Seattle, including roads and place names. He said they fired a gun near the immigration office up the road.
OPA highlighted the fact that he did not mention the gunshot to Tukwila police initially, calling it a “significant omission.” The OPA’s investigation also makes a “significant omission” of its own: McKenzie clearly lied to the OPA.
McKenzie told TPD that he was parked at his parents’ house up the road from the Tukwila police station. McKenzie was born in Jamaica. We could only find a couple of his relatives in the United States, and they live in the South. His parents do not appear to live in the Northwest or even in the country.
According to the report, he told the OPA that he was “playing dominos at his friend’s house” on the night his tires got slashed.
But McKenzie told Tukwila police that he believed his parents’ neighbors did it. Apparently, they flew all the way from Jamaica to slash his tires.
The Tukwila officer who wrote this report noted that it was “incredibly strange.” Practically everyone at TPD thought it was odd, but OPA didn’t think any of this was worth close examination or even a passing mention.
Presumably, the sworn OPA detective Derek Ristau read all these reports, but perhaps he just skimmed them looking for evidence to exonerate McKenzie. If he had read them, then why isn’t any of this information in the OPA closed case summary?
Another “significant omission” is the surveillance photo of McKenzie pointing the “black object.” Since OPA director Gino Betts took office, he has consistently included pictures in his reports, ostensibly for “transparency.” Why not this time?
At the very least, there is strong evidence that McKenzie was dishonest in his interview with the OPA. Under the police guild contract, termination is the presumed penalty for sustained findings.
McKenzie should be terminated, and the Office of the Inspector General needs to investigate the OPA’s glaring failure in this case. We’re not holding our breath on that one, considering the OIG is somehow even more useless than the OPA (no small feat).
Subscribe for free to get weekly police misconduct stories in your inbox.