Seattle Police Watchdog Finds Excessive Force In 2 Protest Cases


Seattle Police Watchdog Finds Excessive Force In 2 Protest Cases

SEATTLE — The Seattle Office of Police Accountability on Friday released its second group of reports centered on allegations of police misconduct at protests, finding two officers used excessive force in separate incidents.

In a complaint stemming from a May 29 protest in the International District, OPA Director Andrew Myerberg sustained one allegation of inappropriate use of force against an officer who was captured on video punching a demonstrator on the ground several times during an arrest.

Investigators, in that case, examined the actions of two officers, and ultimately Myberberg ruled the first officer’s punches were “proportional” and consistent with training and department policy, while the second officer’s were not.

Myerberg writes in his closed case summary:

“The video conclusively established that [the first officer’s] force was an immediate reaction to him being struck by the water bottle. Virtually instantaneously to being struck (within 0.5 seconds), [the officer] punched the subject two consecutive times over the span of two seconds. Given the timing of the force and the video evidence, OPA believes it is clear that it was a reaction to the immediacy of the threat facing him. Once the punches occurred, the Subject did not make further attempts to strike the officers. Accordingly, [the officer] modulated his force and did not punch the Subject again.”

For the second officer, who the OPA notes threw six to eight punches, investigators focused on the “timing of the force and the amount of the force.”

Myerberg continues:

From OPA’s perspective, while the Subject remained resistive, the immediacy of the ongoing physical assault ceased within the first two seconds of the incident; however, [the second officer] continued to punch the Subject afterwards. With regard to the amount of force used, OPA again finds the contrast between the strikes used by [the first] and [second officer] to be significant. [The first officer] used two punches over two seconds immediately after he was struck with the water bottle. [The second officer] used six to eight punches over six seconds and began doing so around 2.5 seconds after the water bottle was swung. OPA finds this amount of force, particularly given the quelling of the immediate assaultive behavior and the fact that two officers were simultaneously using force to control the Subject, to be excessive.

Myerberg noted if the second officer had thrown fewer punches, his force “would have been consistent with policy given the totality of the circumstances.” A disciplinary decision by Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz is still pending.

In the other case resulting in an excessive force finding, the OPA reviewed a video of an officer pushing a woman’s face into the road during an arrest near a barricade near the East Precinct on June 7.

“In the aftermath of the incident, the Complainant complained of pain to their hand/arm, pain to their head/face, and the feeling they were going to pass out. The Complainant asserted that their head was slammed into the ground several times by [the officer]. At the time, the Complainant’s eyeglasses were crooked, and swelling was visible on the Complainant’s left cheek. Photographs later taken on the Complainant showed bruising to the left temple and cheek, and a bleeding abrasion on the Complainant’s chin.”

Later in the report, Myerberg notes the woman who was injured was not resisting arrest, and the officer was twice her size and used a “relatively high level of force.”

“Lastly, the nature of the injury suffered by the Complainant informs the decision that the force was not proportional,” Myerberg wrote. “Indeed, even though the Complainant was not resistive, the Complainant was still subjected to force that caused significant bruising to their face. This was contrary to policy and unwarranted under the facts of the case.”

In that case, Interim Chief Adrian Diaz issued the officer a written reprimand.

Three other investigations resulted in no sustained findings of misconduct. In one case, a woman said an officer pointed a gun at her during a demonstration and that another officer acted unprofessionally. Myberberg wrote that a review of body-worn camera footage did not show any firearms pointed at protesters, but noted a Washington State Patrol trooper had pointed a rifle equipped with rubber bullets at a crowd in the same area.

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Following the reports released Friday, Seattle’s Community Police Commission highlighted weaknesses in the police accountability system that make it difficult to discipline officers for misconduct, largely due to flawed police contracts.

Specifically, the CPC writes:

  • It is more challenging to fire officers accused of misconduct that is “stigmatizing” that makes it “difficult for the employee to get other law enforcement employment.”
  • Officers found guilty of misconduct are able to appeal their discipline through a flawed and backlogged arbitration system that will likely take years. There are currently unresolved arbitration cases involving alleged misconduct that happened all the way back in 2015.
  • When an officer does appeal their discipline through arbitration, those proceedings will not be open to the media or the public, which impacts the degree of public trust in SPD.

“It is critical that the Mayor, City Council, and the Seattle Police Monitoring Team work with the Community Police Commission (CPC) and others to ensure the City makes clear commitments to fixing these flaws, as was ordered by the Federal Court in May 2019,” the statement continues. “It is also clear that SPD policies must be thoroughly reviewed and dramatically strengthened. As a community, we must be able to ensure that what we have seen during the last several months of protests never happens again.”

Since late May, the OPA has initiated 126 probes into allegations of police misconduct at protests. The Associated Press reports the police watchdog has referred “three or four cases” for criminal investigation. In September, a Seattle police officer was placed on leave after a widely-shared video showed him walking his bicycle over a protester lying in the street. That case was referred to the King County Sheriff’s Office for a criminal investigation.

Published at Fri, 23 Oct 2020 15:10:00 +0000

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