Illustration provided by permission of Robert Ullman, it originally appeared in a local weekly paper's article about this case, called "A Stab in the Dark"
(As you read this story, please keep in mind that I was eventually found innocent thanks to security camera footage taken at the scene of the incident. The news stories that mention the video evidence that eventually freed me can be found here and the follow-up news weekly article: Justice Delayed. Also, I know it's a long read, but I've tried to edit it down as much as I can.)
I was a 36 year old gainfully employed information technology professional and IT consultant with over 12 years of experience. I've been married to the same wonderful woman for 13 years and had 2 sons with a third on the way. Prior to the incident described here I had no criminal record and had never even been arrested before.
On Sunday, November 5, 2006, I went to a nearby venue to watch a few bands play and relax after having worked about 80 hours that week authoring several technical white papers and performing network engineering tasks as part of my position as a senior consultant with a local information technology company.
About an hour or two after I arrived I witnessed a one-sided fight unfold between two people I didn’t know. The attacker appeared to punch the victim with, in retrospect, a strange downward striking punch to the neck/shoulder area. The victim grabbed his assailant and they spun through the crowd before both of them fell to the floor.
At this point nobody stopped the struggle between the two so I rushed over and started to try and separate them while they were still on the concrete floor. While I was attempting to pull the victim off of the attacker the attacker slipped out from underneath his victim and fled through the crowd. Meanwhile, I continued to try and help the victim up but I couldn’t get a firm hold of him, and he was not responding.
Just as I noticed a significant amount of blood underneath the victim I was suddenly grabbed from behind and dragged backwards through the crowd towards the front door by security while I was being punched by several people. I was then pushed out of the front door and told to leave, nobody else followed me out at this point and the door was shut in front of me, even as I tried to tell them what happened.
At that point I decided it was best to just leave so I started to walk towards my home, which wasn’t too far away. A few seconds after I started walking a friend of mine came out and asked if I was alright. I told him I was fine, but as we walked about half way to the first intersection away from the venue we heard shouts coming from behind us and turned to see several people rush out the door.
People were pouring out of the doors and as they gathered on the street one person pointed at us and shouted “Get him!” The person who shouted grabbed the wooden placard in front of the door and raised it above his head as he started to run towards us with the rest of the large crowd following him. My friend yelled at me to run but I was already winded from being dragged out of the venue and punched several times, so I told him to get out of there and turned to face the rushing mob of people.
As my friend started to get away, the person with the placard reached me and he swung the wooden board at my head while still running forward. I was able to deflect the blow with my arm and as he pulled back for another swing I grabbed him in order to prevent him from hitting me again. However, at this point the crowd had swirled all around me and someone hit me from behind, which knocked me unconscious.
According to witnesses that I talked to later, the attack on me continued as I was dragged across the street, repeatedly kicked, and hit with various objects, ranging from metal pipes to wooden boards, over a period of several minutes. They said that while I was being beaten that security staff was encouraging the crowd to continue the attack by repeatedly shouting “Kill Him! Kill Him!” All of the witnesses who saw the beating agreed that it was the most brutal attack they had ever witnessed and that people in the crowd were saying they were sure I was dead or critically injured as I laid there in the street.
During the attack I kept drifting in and out of consciousness and I kept trying to shout that I didn’t do anything wrong, but the attacks kept up without slowing down. I kept hearing fragments of shouts, some of which sounded like racial slurs, as kept getting hit from all directions. Finally, the attacks let up somewhat and someone nearby said "You can get up now, the police are here." But as I lifted my head slightly a brutal kick slammed straight into the bridge of my nose and knocked me out again.
What Happened When The Police Arrived:
Again, I had to rely on what witnesses told me had happened next. Several have told me that when the police arrived the attack was still ongoing and the police did not do anything to stop it right away. Instead they started to ask people in the crowd what had happened as I was being beaten. The police did not try to assess my condition when they finally stopped the attack, instead they immediately handcuffed me while I was lying unconscious on the street and then they lifted me up by the handcuffs and dragged me to a nearby police cruiser.
Some witnesses say that they saw the officers attempt to toss me into the back seat of the cruiser but that they missed on the first try and rammed my head into the opened car door. But they finally managed to push me into the back seat on the second try and locked me inside. At that point they left me in the car and walked through the crowd to start taking statements from the same people who had just finished beating me in the street.
My recollections of the events that follow are somewhat hazy, but I do remember waking up on the floor of the cruiser as I was being driven away from the scene. I don’t recall the officer reading me my rights, but I do remember him asking me, "why did you stab that kid?" I was confused, but I told him that “I only tried to break up a fight.” He replied, “Why would you do a thing like that?” and I told him “I was just trying to do what was right.”
During the ride I kept drifting in and out of consciousness. I was having a lot of trouble breathing and I was in a lot of pain. The next thing that I can remember somewhat clearly is laying face down on the cement in what appeared to be a large garage with several police officers surrounding me, laughing, and threatening that if I didn’t get up quick I was “going to get some more”. An anonymous source informed me that I was dragged out of the cruiser feet first and my head bounced off the floorboard before I was dropped to the ground in that precinct garage.
I thought I heard my friend’s voice begging me to get up as well. My hands were still cuffed behind me and I could barely move. I tried to tell them that I was trying to get up but they kept yelling at me and laughing, calling me “turtle” for some reason that I still can’t figure out. I slowly struggled to get to my feet, but it was very difficult because I couldn’t use my hands, I was very dizzy, and nobody would help me.
When I finally got to my feet they escorted me from the garage into the precinct where they stood me in front of a shelf and started to empty my pockets. I cooperated as best I could and I never argued or struggled against them at any point. I tried my best to be polite as they asked me questions, but it didn’t matter.
When they finished with me they pushed me into a room with plexiglass walls and I fell to the floor without being able to use my hands to stop my fall. All I could do is lay there on the dirty floor with open wounds on my face, legs, and arms while I struggled to breathe. I realized that my ribs were likely broken or badly bruised; every breath was sharply painful so I could only take quick, shallow breaths.
After several minutes had passed a police officer finally came into the holding cell to take a picture of my face. I asked the officer to please call my wife and let her know where I was and I asked him if he could please get someone to help me because I was having difficulties breathing. He told me he would do that and he left after taking a picture of my face.
Later on, that same policeman came back and let some paramedics in to look at me. He also told me that he called my wife and I thanked him for doing that. The paramedics started to examine me, they looked at my face and hissed through their teeth in that way which told me I didn’t look good. They said I would need stitches and my nose looked broken. But as they started to check my breathing a second officer came in the room and told them “You’re done”.
The paramedics looked at each other and said “Ok.” They then packed everything back up and, on the way out, they told that officer “Well, he’s not cardiac yet, but…” and at that point the door was shut and I couldn’t hear anything else. It was a very frightening experience because I don’t know what the “but” was, if there was something else wrong with me, and I never found out what else they told him.
About a minute or so later that same officer who stopped the paramedics from examining me came back into the cell and took me into another room with a second officer. He then took off my handcuffs and ordered me to strip. I complied even though it was difficult to do and as I was taking off my clothes he told another officer who was there to leave and get something. At this point I was left alone with that one officer which was a violation of SPD policies regarding strip searches.
After I took all my clothes off and put them in a bag the officer started asking me questions, again without reading me any rights. Since I was still naked and pretty dazed from the beating I felt very vulnerable and I was afraid of what he would do to me if I didn’t cooperate.
He asked me, “Do you belong to any gangs?” I replied that I did not. He then asked me, “Do you have any tattoos?” I replied that I did and pointed to a tattoo on my shoulder. He did not look at it, or take any pictures of it, but he replied “That means you’re in a gang...” I started to protest but he ignored me and asked if I knew the kid that was stabbed. I still wasn’t sure about what happened so I asked if the victim was really stabbed and he said yes. The other officer came back and the questions stopped. They gave me a paper-like outfit to put on and told me to get dressed. I was then re-handcuffed and led back into the holding cell.
(I was never read my rights and was interrogated while standing there naked and bleeding. I do not belong to any gangs and I don't fit the profile in any way whatsoever. The officer strip searched me and interrogated me by himself while I was undressed, both are violations of the police department’s conduct manual. A reporter who wrote about the case later had contacted members of the gang that officers accused me of belonging to and the gang members denied even knowing me. Also, the prosecutor and lead detective put in charge of the case afterward admitted that they knew I wasn’t in a gang as well.)
What Happened At The Jail:
Eventually I was transported to the King County Jail in a windowless van along with my friend who I hadn’t realized had been arrested as well. When we arrived I was put in a holding cell for at least 30 minutes before they began to process me. After making me sign some forms, while I was still in that paper outfit they made me put on in the station, which was now wet and transparent from the rain, I was taken to a nurse who was stationed right next to the front desk.
The nurse had me sit down and she began examining me. First she asked me if I had lost consciousness but I was still so confused from both the attack and the shock of being arrested like this that I told her that I thought so, but wasn’t sure. I started to tell her that I didn’t remember some things that happened but then she cut me off as she examined my face.
She winced as she looked at my nose and told me it might be broken and that I definitely needed stitches. She started to clean the wound when she asked when the injuries occurred. I started to answer her but she looked up over my shoulder at someone behind me and told me that she was done. At that point one of the policemen grabbed me from behind and led me away before she had even finished examining me, let alone even started to treat any of my injuries.
The processing continued for at least another hour or so, during which I was fingerprinted, photographed, and given a bracelet that had my information on it. I was also finally given a red jail uniform to put on, it took a while because of my injuries and because the paper outfit had bonded with some of my wounds so I had to gently peel the outfit away from my cuts while I took it off. However, I was never given any footwear because the guard said they were out, even though the other prisoners all had slippers to wear.
During that process I was placed in and out of a holding cell that had about a dozen people inside, but it also had a phone so I finally had a chance to call my wife. I didn’t have long to talk, but I lied and told her I was OK despite still being confused and worried about my injuries. I didn’t want her to worry because she was pregnant at the time and has a chronic pancreatic condition that makes her sick when she’s under stress.
After being processed I was taken to an overcrowded cell that held about 20 people at the time, with only 18 actual bunks so I had to sleep on a mattress on the damp floor. I still had open and untreated wounds on my face, knees, head, arms, and side. But I was just too hurt and tired to care, so I just passed out until morning.
The next day I was able to get an open bunk along the wall since the other prisoners were worried that I had all those open and uncovered wounds. They told me that the jail was known for deadly MRSA infections which really frightened me since my injuries were still open and untreated. I was still in quite a bit of pain, was still having difficulties breathing, and could barely keep my balance when walking. But I was also still very confused about what was happening and had difficulty thinking straight because, as it turned out later, I had suffered a traumatic brain injury during the attack that left me with permanent brain damage.
It was difficult to even get out of my bunk on the first day when I tried to get medical treatment, but was denied. I couldn’t breathe well because my ribs hurt so badly and because I had blood clots in both of my nostrils so I could only take short shallow breaths through my mouth the whole time. I couldn’t sleep after the first day either because the pain was so bad. When I tried to lie on one side it would hurt my ribs and any other way I tried to lay down would cause excruciating pain in my head. I ended up not being able to sleep for several nights, and even when I did fall asleep I would wake shortly afterward with spasms that seemed like convulsions.
The next day I was denied medical attention again and the guards kept ignoring my requests to be seen by a doctor when I told them I was in a lot of pain and worried about my wounds becoming infected. I also found out that, because of the head injuries, I wasn’t able to eat and even the smell of food made me nauseous. It would be several days before I was able to eat again, and even then I ended up losing over 30 lbs in the course of the first two weeks of my stay.
On the third day I was finally taken to court where my wife and several other witnesses saw that my facial injuries were open and untreated and that I appeared dazed and barely able to stand on my own. My pregnant wife attempted to testify at that hearing and broke down crying in pain as her pancreas tends to make her very sick when she’s stressed. The prosecutor was nice enough to hold her up as she tried to tell the judge I couldn’t have done what they accused me of… but I was still ordered to be held with a $500,000 bond, which was lower than the $1,000,000 that the prosecutors wanted, but it didn't matter because we still couldn’t afford to pay that.
After the hearing several people expressed concerns about my untreated injuries and poor condition so my wife contacted a friend of ours who is a medic in the US Army to come and see me. He had just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq and came to visit me a day after the hearing. Up to that point I had still been unable to get medical assistance so after he looked at my untreated injuries, heard my symptoms, and heard how I had been treated, he got pretty upset.
He told me that they treated captured Iraqi insurgents, insurgents who had just shot at his fellow soldiers, better than I had been treated here in an American jail. He was ashamed that this was how I had been treated and told me that he was going to do what he could to make them treat my injuries.
He had me fill out a medical release form and requested my medical records several times over the next two days but was denied. He also contacted several doctors that he worked with in the Army who also tried to get permission to visit me or assess my condition but the jail refused to let them visit me. They were all denied access to my records as well, even with release forms that I signed, and they were all told that they were not allowed to visit me under any circumstances.
However, a day after my friend’s visit they finally let me see a triage nurse who cleaned my wounds and bandaged them. During the brief examination I was given some band-aids and told I was done, even after I told them I had trouble breathing, couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, was in a significant amount of pain, and was worried that I had a concussion. They wouldn’t even give me Tylenol when I requested it even though other prisoners in the same cell I was in were getting narcotics for pain and others were getting Methadone for their addictions to drugs.
Later that night I started having convulsions and every time I would start to fall asleep I would suffer spasms that would arch my whole head and back up off the bunk. I was really worried about my condition but the jail would do nothing other than monitor my blood pressure and give me bandages to put on my wounds myself.
(I lost over 30 pounds during my stay, but my abuse wasn't the only case of mistreatment that I witnessed in that jail. I also saw cases of abuse where prisoners were allowed to beat up other prisoners and prisoners punished by handcuffing them in rooms that were without heat and exposed to the outside while it was snowing out, only to bring them back hours later, shivering uncontrollably.)
A reporter came to see me a day after my friend visited and told me that I was facing several years in prison for Assault in the 1st degree. This was the first time that I had heard why I was being held. She asked for my story and reluctantly I told it because she said the story she planned to write wasn’t going be very nice. After I told her everything that had happened she seemed to find what I said made more sense than the contradictory police statements that existed at the time and wrote the following story in The Stranger called A Stab in the Dark. (A follow up article written after the case was dismissed can be found here: Justice Delayed).
Meanwhile, the public defender assigned to my case kept trying to force me to take a plea bargain. She even told my wife and my boss that I should plead guilty. But, when pressed by my wife, she admitted that she hadn’t even read my case yet. Before one of my court dates, shortly after my first week in jail, she told me that the prosecutors shown her some video and it was “pretty wild”. She then told me again that I should plead guilty or else I was going to get 20 years in prison. However, she never offered to show me the video (and it ended up being the same video that eventually proved I did nothing wrong). I still told her I knew I would be proven innocent and I would never plead guilty for something I didn’t do.
About two weeks after I was imprisoned, a nurse and an actual doctor finally sat down with me and let me talk about what happened to me and how I had been treated up to that point. She looked at my records and confirmed what I told her and said that what happened to me was inappropriate and that she was going to write a complaint about how I was mistreated, she also suggested that I do the same. She finally entered in a prescription for Tylenol and I received it that night. I filed a grievance and handed it to a guard the next day, which was what you were supposed to do, but nothing ever came of it.
A week later my bond was reduced with no argument from prosecutors. Interestingly enough as well, prosecutors had been telling my public defender that they had problems with the case and were unwilling to take it to trial, but the public defender didn’t bother to find out why… (We found out later that they had a video that showed I didn’t do what I was accused of and this was why they didn’t want to pursue the case. Everything would have ended there if the public defender would have asked them why they didn’t want to take it to trial, but she didn't.)
The day I was to be released I was held in an office from 7:00am until 3:00pm without anything to eat or drink and then I was told I had to give a urine sample in order to be released. I attempted to do so but I couldn’t since nobody let me have anything to drink at all during the whole day. When I was taken to the bathroom in order to give the sample, a guard who stood right next to me and kept saying “you got one minute, boy”, then “you have 45 seconds, boy.” “30 seconds”… It was impossible to urinate in those circumstances; even if I wasn’t completely dehydrated it would have been difficult. I was supposed to be given three chances but they never gave me another chance. I was returned to jail and my bond was revoked.
How The Case Ended
It wasn’t until almost another two weeks later, a full month after my arrest and after we went even further in debt to hire a real attorney that the I was finally released on bond. A few days after my release my attorney showed me the various statements and pictures that were part of the case against me. My attorney told me that this was a strange case because none of the testimonies actually described me and some even seemed to describe someone else entirely.
Worse than this, he showed me a picture that the police took of me when I was at the police station that showed some of my injuries. It was the first time I saw what I actually looked like since there were no real mirrors in the jail. He described the image as "something out of a horror flick". My face was covered in blood, one stomp from a boot landed so hard that it left a boot print on my cheek and the kick that hit my nose had inverted a flap of skin that embedded itself underneath the open gash it came from, making the wound look even more pronounced.
But, worst of all, there was also a photograph of the victim I saved, taken of him when he was in the hospital being treated, that showed him shirtless, with a large swastika tattoo on his chest and a German flag draped down underneath it.
Witnesses of the attack against me had said there were racial slurs being shouted by my assailants and I didn't believe it at first, but now it seemed possible these accusations might be true as well. It appeared that the attack on me was, at least in part, racially motivated. My skin tone is somewhat darker because of my Greek heritage and I get confused for being Mexican or biracial quite often, but I didn’t think it had anything to do with the attack until I saw that picture. It made me sick to think I went through all this for someone like that, that my good deed saved someone like that.
Things got even stranger after I had told him I wanted to go to trial right away because I knew I would be found innocent because after we met he called the prosecutor later that day and she told him she wasn’t ready and, in fact, she didn’t want this to go to trial at all. She even told him that “I have serious problems with this case and could not take it to trial in good conscience." He told her that, if this was the case, she had to drop the charges. But she said that her supervisor wouldn’t let her even though she wanted to drop the case against me.
My lawyer was given a video taken from the venue that showed the attack and he brought it to our home to view it with us. The video showed different frames at once, one frame showed the attack that I had stopped while a different frame from a different camera showed the attacker leaving the stage area after the attack. As he was leaving he looked almost straight at the camera as he folded his knife, put it in his pocket, and then grinned widely as he walked out a side door.
We arranged to see the video the next week with the prosecutor and the lead police detective. When we arrived everyone was nice and polite and we all went into a room and watched a video from the club’s security. The whole thing was there on tape, the actual assailant could even be plainly seen walking away from the stage folding up a knife and putting it in his pocket while grinning to himself.
I walked them through what I saw on the tape and told them what I had seen that night. I told them I didn’t know the attacker but would testify about what I saw because I didn’t want a guilty person to go free, I didn’t want to suffer needlessly for his crime. The kid who was stabbed didn’t fight back when that happened and didn’t seem to do anything that warranted being attacked like that. Though, again, when the attack occurred I didn't know he was a white supremacist.
They had this tape that would have clearly cleared my name since the very beginning but still kept trying to convict me. The detective in charge of the case admitted that after he saw the tape he knew I didn’t do what they accused me of… I was stunned. They both admitted that they now knew I didn’t do anything wrong that night and that I wasn’t a gang member. The prosecutor also told my attorney again that she wanted to drop the case but the supervisor still wouldn't let her.
It took another week until they finally agreed to drop the case because, despite the evidence for me, the prosecutor said that someone higher up was ordering her to keep the case going no matter what.
On January 5, 2007, the charges against me were finally dropped.
A week later I finally received most of my belongings that were taken from me by the police, it was the last time I talked to the detective that was put in charge of my case. It was there that detective admitted that they will probably never try to arrest the kid who did the crime I was put through hell for, even though they knew him by name and even though he had a previous record that included a stabbing.
Why didn't they go after the real criminal? Well, the victim never cooperated with the police at any point was the official response, but several lawyers told me that so long as they leave the case open they can make it harder for me to sue since all the evidence they have that could show I was innocent is also evidence being kept in an open case against someone else. What's the truth? I may never know.
Eventually, when the headaches didn't go away and I still had problems with my memory, I went to the doctor to get advice. The doctor referred me to the Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitation Clinic at the University of Washington Medical Center where I underwent a battery of tests that showed I had permanent brain damage due to the numerous kicks I sustained to my head that night and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from the beating and subsequent mistreatment at the hands of police and the jail.
The doctors say I should have been hospitalized right after the attack and that they feel ashamed for what others in their professional allowed to happen to me while I was in jail. They wanted me to undergo extensive rehabilitation, speech therapy to help with my inability to find the right words in conversation, and vocational rehabilitation as well... all of which I cannot afford.
While the case against me is closed, the police and prosecutors refuse to go after the person who actually committed the crime. They also refuse to go after the people that had illegally beaten me so badly that night. This means that I went through all of this for nothing, less than nothing since they let a guilty person walk free for a crime I was wrongly tortured for.
My defense attorney urged me to file a lawsuit, as did the reporter that interviewed me and the medic that visited me.... everyone has. But I would have been willing to let it all go if I just had an honest apology for the mistakes they made and for the way I was treated and was compensated for the money I had lost defending myself from accusations that everyone knew were not true.
I tried everything I could to get the records and the video evidence so I could show lawyers and others that I was innocent and show them what happened so I could find justice but the police and the city refused to let me have access to that information and they threatened my lawyer to not let me have any copies of the photos and video since the case was technically open and revealing that information would be considered interfering with an ongoing investigation.
But, it ended up that there wasn't a single lawyer in Seattle who was willing to take my case. So, in the end, I suffered all this for nothing... for less than nothing. I was mistreated, slandered, and tortured for the crimes of another and left in debt for my trouble... all for trying to stop a fight that probably saved a person I didn't know... and even after the police and the government knew I was wronged, they refuse to make it right and have instead tried to cover up what others did to me, and what they did to me.
...but through all this I've found out that I'm not the only innocent person who's suffered abuse from the police and jail like this, I'm not the only one who has suffered the injustice of selective prosecution and racial bias by Seattle's government and legal system... so I started this site to hold people accountable when all others won't... I started this site to make something positive come from something so painful to me, in the hope it might help prevent it from happening to others.
While I might never see justice for what happened to me, perhaps I can still make something positive happen by helping others find justice even if it was denied to me.
Update 11/10/2008- It's been two years now since that fateful day in November when my life changed. I’ve found out that, because of the beating and brain injuries that my vision has been going bad in my left eye. The scars on my face have not gone away and every glance at a mirror reminds me of the price paid for doing a good deed. My debt incurred from my experience has grown by $3,500 to $18,300 which doesn't include the rehab I can no longer afford nor the tens of thousands in lost wages. It's true now, more than ever, that despite my innocence, the punishment continues for a crime I never committed and, in fact, tried to prevent...
...but, I'm thankful to be alive and free, and I am always mindful of how easily such things are taken for granted... so I spend each day making sure that I spend all the time I can with my wife and children, since I now know too well how easy it is to lose everything in a moment… so I spend every moment as if I'm already living on borrowed time.
Update 02/21/2010- It's been over 3 years now, despite a last ditch push to find someone to take up a lawsuit against the police and jail that mistreated me, the statute of limitations has expired for me to file a lawsuit for what happened but all the lawyers have said the case was too risky for them to take without payment up front, something I could never afford.
But, from it all, I've tried my best to make something positive come from everything that happened by creating the National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project in the hope that it can educate people about the issue of police misconduct and help improve attitudes towards victims, improve how victims of police misconduct are treated, and make it easier for them to find the kinds of help that were never available to me and my family.