Fact check: Robertson falsely claims Seattle Times retracted editorial accusing him of racist incident

The Legislative District 31 candidate holds the Seattle Times misreported what happened in its editorial endorsing his opponent, providing 1995-era news reports as proof.

Eric Robertson

Eric Robertson

Eric Robertson, candidate for Legislative District 31 Position No. 2 in the upcoming election, recently mischaracterized a Seattle Time’s revision of its editorial endorsing his opponent, Tom Clark.

The editorial, in part, accuses Robertson of a racist incident with a Black man who was testifying to state legislators in 1995.

“Robertson, of Sumner, remains unrepentant for a shameful racial incident during his first of two terms in Olympia. In January 1995, two young Black men attended a House committee hearing to testify on a juvenile-offender bill. From his seat at the dais, Robertson, who is white, decided one of the men looked suspicious — for holding his hand inside a pocket of his baggy jeans — and summoned state troopers. Officers followed the 19-year-old man into a hallway, handcuffed and searched him because, as Robertson said, a ‘sixth sense’ told him the man was an armed threat. The search found only a bulky ’90s cellphone and a keychain,” the original editorial read.

“Twenty-five years later, not even a national groundswell against racial injustice has evoked contrition. Robertson said he felt the ‘valid situation’ had alarmed him rightly. Robertson owes better to that man, whose name is Neill Hoover, 44, a North Seattle father of three who drives for UPS. The experience of being detained right after he testified remains vivid for him.

“‘It just kind of negated everything I had said,’ Hoover said recently. ‘I just figured this is what happens, this is what they do to us. And I accepted it.’

“Societal change is long overdue. Washingtonians who take their concerns to Olympia must be welcomed. Clark deserves the 31st District’s vote. Regardless of how the election goes, Robertson must finally apologize for his abuse of power.”

During the last part of an in-paper debate in the Courier-Herald, published Oct. 14, Robertson stated that the Seattle Times “took the unusual action of printing a retraction last Wednesday”, (Oct. 7) after he put the newspaper “on notice.”

This is false; in fact, the editorial was updated to include information corroborating the fact that Hoover was stopped by police officers after he was finished testifying.

Here is the editor’s note on the editorial, in full: “This editorial, originally published June 25, has been revised to clarify that it included new information from Neill Hoover, and to report additional new information from a second witness that corroborates Neill Hoover’s contention that the men were stopped by police officers after testifying. The second witness says he remembers being stopped and frisked but does not remember being handcuffed, which Hoover says happened. The revision also includes Robertson’s insistence that officers never approached the men outside the hearing room.”

Robertson remains adamant that the editorial itself is misreporting what happened in 1995.

He provided the Courier-Herald with two articles from the Seattle Times — one dated Jan. 27, 1995, and the other Jan. 29, 1995 — that detailed the incident in question.

Neither of the articles, which were written by Kery Murakami, detail Hoover being followed, detained, or handcuffed by police.

“At the time, the two African-American men did not even realize they were being watched,” the Jan. 27 article reads. “Later, the man with his hand in his pocket, Neill Tackett, said he had a cellular phone and some keys but no gun.”

Tackett later changed him name to Hoover.

“That’s all that happened,” the article continued.

“The fact that Thomas Clark received the endorsement of the Seattle Times was never disputed. In my response, I was pointing out the Times had published a false fact pattern, which contradicted their own 1995 reporting, which they ended up having to update and retract their July 2020 ‘facts’ in which they based the endorsement – and only after I put them on notice,” Robertson said in an email interview as to why he claimed the Seattle Times retracted their editorial. “My point to Mr. Clark was, before you forward information – you should independently check the validity. Just because something is in a newspaper, on TV, or on the Internet does not make it true. The spreading of libelous assertions is wrong and I stand up to it! If that was construed otherwise, it was not my intent and I apologize.”

The Courier-Herald reached out to the Seattle Times for comment, but did not receive a reply by print deadline.

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