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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Seattle Loses Wrongful Arrest Lawsuit

Finally... It's good to read about someone who was mistreated and wrongfully arrested by the Seattle Police going to court and getting justice. It's been far too long to read about pitiful settlements and to hear so many cases of people who can't even get that far.

A jury awarded Romelle Bradford (mentioned here as the Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year in 2003) $268,000 in damages for a federal civil rights case over an August 2006 arrest on charges of Obstruction and Resisting Arrest that were later dismissed.

The shocker is this: The attorney representing the city stated that if the victim had just reported the misconduct to the police department's internal investigation unit (the SPD OPA) the city would have had a better chance to win the case... in other words, the city's own attorney appears to be suggesting that the city's "police accountability" program is nothing more than a way to cover up for police misconduct.

Thanks for the tip.

From the article in the Seattle Post Intelligencer:

Bradford has a clean record and in 2003 was named youth of the year in the state for overcoming chronic truancy, getting good grades and for his work helping other disadvantaged youngsters at the Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club in South Seattle. His case was featured in a Seattle P-I investigation of obstruction arrests, titled "Strong Arm of the Law."

The P-I found blacks were eight times more likely than whites to be arrested for obstruction, and that about half of the cases were dismissed by the City Attorney's Office before trial. Bradford is black (and) the criminal charges against him were dismissed before any attempt at prosecution.

It was after a club dance Bradford was supervising in August 2006 that he and club volunteers summoned police because of a potentially unruly crowd outside the club. (That) was then a rookie officer arrived as things were settling down, spotted Bradford jogging down the street and ordered him to stop. When Bradford didn't halt immediately, (the officer) rushed at him and slammed him to the ground.

Bradford said he didn't think the officer was talking to him because he said he was wearing a red T-shirt clearly identifying him as a Boys & Girls Club member. He said he was holding up his club badge and showing the officer his T-shirt when he said the officer decked him with his forearm.

Using the F-word, the young officer threatened to break Bradford's arm as he handcuffed him in front of several youngsters who were protesting that he was, indeed, a staff member trying to help.

After a police station interview in which Bradford insisted he was a staff member, police nevertheless booked and jailed him overnight. The arresting officer claimed Bradford's failure to immediately stop justified the obstructing charge and that a hesitation to offer one arm during handcuffing -- which Bradford doesn't recall -- justified the resisting charge.

Criminal defense attorneys refer to "obstructing a public officer" arrests by two other monikers: "Contempt of cop" and "the cover charge." Several told the P-I those nicknames are applied because the charges are sometimes abused to punish people for their being "mouthy" or to cover up when police might have used wrongful force against an innocent person.

"Sergeants, lieutenants, captains, assistant chiefs and chiefs should be alerted to the contempt of cop charge," Howell said after Monday's verdict. "These charges by their very nature are suspicious."

Several jurors said their verdict should send a message to the city to better supervise young officers. Several questioned department procedures and leadership. They even questioned the officer's use of the F-word in front of a crowd of Boys & Girls Club youngsters.

Jurors had to sort through conflicting statements. While Bradford and numerous witnesses said he was wearing the identifying red T-shirt, the police officers testified that he was wearing a plain white T-shirt. They did not explain why they took Bradford's red staff T-shirt into custody when they arrested him.

The supervising sergeant, also made a misleading statement on an after-action "use of force" report, justifying (the officer's) actions. He twice claimed that Bradford took a swing at the officer. Even the officer admitted that wasn't true. The sergeant later explained that he interpreted Bradford's holding up of his identification badge, which was attached to a key chain, as a move tantamount to taking a swing at the officer. The arresting officer also claimed he thought the keys might be used as a weapon.

In the end, I'm very happy to hear that someone finally got some justice after a long uphill battle for it. It's a rare event in Seattle, where several SLAPP lawsuits from police officers and their guild has frightened most lawyers into refusing to take cases against the city...

Seattle police have not lost an officer misconduct case before a judge or a jury for at least a decade and probably longer, said Anne Bremner, a partner at Stafford Frey Cooper, the firm that defends the city against such lawsuits. Some notable cases have been settled with payments made to plaintiffs, including a recent excessive force case on Capitol Hill and the settlement with WTO demonstrators.

Bremner said she has not lost such a case before a judge or jury in the 20 years she has defended Seattle officers against lawsuits.

"I was surprised," she said. "Appeal options are being analyzed."

But, for those still seeking justice and those who will have to in the future, take this advice to heart about the Seattle Police Department's Office of "Professional Accountability" internal investigation and complaint process:

...the private attorney who defended the city and the police against the lawsuit, said there would be no point now in conducting an internal investigation, though he added that ironically an internal investigation might have provided (the city) with more evidence to win the case. He also noted that Bradford didn't file a complaint with internal investigators, a tactical move by his attorney.

Because the OPA process is still broken, and because the city backed down and weakened reforms during contract negotiations with the guild, we still highly recommend that victims of police misconduct DO NOT USE THE OPA COMPLAINT PROCESS. It will only serve to help the city prepare a defense against your case and will not result in any substantive disciplinary action or help you recover from the harm done to you. It can only hurt you, and won't help anyone except for the officers it seeks to cover up for... and even the city's lawyers aren't afraid to tell people the fact that the system only works in their favor, not yours.

Good luck and thank you Romelle, and your attorney Lem Howell, I think what you both achieved has given some people hope in Seattle.


Anonymous said...

Can't wait to see the perjury charges against supervising sergeant. Oh, wait...

Packratt said...

How dare you suggest that police actually enforce the law?


Seriously, scary, isn't it? That officers can lie at will and never face consequences for it. Makes you wonder just how easy it is for them to frame anyone they want and how often they may have done that to other people.

After all, if there are no consequences for committing perjury for the police, how can we expect them not to keep doing the same thing over and over again?

Thanks for the comment!

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