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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Governor Was Carded... So What?

The big news making the rounds today is about Washington state's Governor Christine Gregoire being turned away from an Olympia bar because she didn't have her ID with her when she, her compliment of political friends, and police escort went to have a few after an event.

Apparently, this news is so important that some MSM outlets have even posted the story that criticizes the hapless doorman multiple times on their sites, though generally just repeating each other verbatim with nothing new to add:

The stories all state that the governor was a good sport about the incident but the press makes a big stink about it and the stories end with the owner apologizing and saying that his part-time bouncer might need to have some additional training... Really?

Well, aside from trying to figure out why this event being given such wide ranging and prominent coverage when there are better things to cover, (such as the very pertinent complaints raised during the public meetings on the city's efforts to build it's own jail), it is curious that reporters haven't offered any real reasons why bouncers are so cautious that they'd even card your 90 year old grandma or prominent political figures and pat them down before entry.

If you want to know why, just look at stupid political stunts that use the police and justice system to make political points, like Seattle's "Operation Sobering Thought" and other opportunistic police harassment of nightclubs for instance. Such politically motivated stings that employed very questionable tactics and resulted in such shoddy arrests and episodes of harassment that they ended up embarrassing the city repeatedly but cost low-wage security staff countless hours of lost wages, thousands of dollars in legal fees, and the lasting reminder of an an arrest on their record... all so the city could make a political point at their expense.

So, next time the press has a seizure over some poor doorman refusing to let someone in who doesn't have ID, think back to that last shameless "tough on crime" political stunt you supported. After all, why go through the punishment of being dragged through the justice system and being left with nothing but misery, EVEN IF THEY WIN, (none of the people arrested in that sting have been convicted by the way) just for the convenience of some politician, your bar's patrons, or even your butt-covering boss?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Allegations Of King County Jail Abuses Continue

The King County Jail, located in downtown Seattle Washington, serves as a detention center for both pretrial detainees and convicted felons in the greater Seattle and King County area.

In November of last year a Department of Justice investigation into that facility found, what it termed, egregious and deadly constitutional rights violations that directly caused the death of at least one detainee, if not more. Currently the DOJ and King County government are in negotiations over whether they will fix the problems and how they would go about doing that if they do. In the meantime a class action lawsuit is in progress against King County on behalf of a large number of detainees who contracted drug-resistant MRSA infections and suffered harm due to a lack of medical care and the unsanitary conditions in that facility.

Of course, everyone understands that people make mistakes and, while King County refused to agree that the problems in their jail rose to being violations of detainee rights, they did acknowledge that mistakes have been made. Accordingly, the expectation was that after being notified of these problems the King County government was taking steps to fix them... but such an expectation may be too generous.

To that end, in addition to a complaint we received a few months ago about a woman who was denied medication at the facility, we've received an email from a mother of an inmate in the King County Jail earlier this month who expressed serious concerns about how her son was being treated. She was distraught not only over her concerns about mistreatment, but also the apparent lack of action to address those concerns on the part of King County and its Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) and was searching for anyone who could help. Her son, Sam, was a prisoner at the King County Jail at the time and had been there since April after being charged for robbery. He later plead guilty to those charges and told the court that he was willing to serve his time in order to answer for what he did. But, his mother claims, he didn’t intend that serving his time would leave him permanently harmed.

On April 29th a complaint filed by Sam claims that a guard approached him and asked if Sam was "sweet on him", to which Sam replied that he wasn't. It was then that Sam says he was slammed against a wall by the guard and taken to isolation for 12 hours without explanation. He filed a grievance over the incident and, as a result, his treatment only got worse… he claims that guards exacted retaliation against him as the result of his filing a complaint over the incident.

Sam alleges that the retaliation escalated up to a June 18th incident where Sam, who was assigned to stay in the "suicide tank" after the first incident, claims he was told to "cuff up" following a disturbance in the tank he was in. (In the jail, a tank is a larger cell that holds several smaller cells or bunks along with a small communal area). Sam says he refused to cuff himself because he claimed he wasn't a part of the disturbance and he asked for a sergeant to be called in to intervene and ensure he was treated fairly.

When a sergeant arrived Sam says that the sergeant put him in handcuffs and, while he was still handcuffed, the guards then grabbed him in a "hair hold technique" and dragged him by his hair to isolation. (A "hair-hold technique" is an older control move used by guards in the past but has since been outlawed in most jails because of the potential for harm, the use of this technique was sited as a significant problem in the DOJ report and the DAJD pledged to stop officers from using this outdated technique at that time).

After being dragged by his hair to an isolation cell, Sam claims he was brutally beaten, kicked, and then his legs were kicked out from underneath him so that he landed with the full force of his weight on his head, without having his hands free to stop his fall. He claims he was then jumped on by 5 to 6 different guards and picked up off the ground with such force that the handcuffs cut into his wrists. Sam then claims that after the beating was over that the sergeant that he had asked for to ensure his fair treatment said "Ah... Now I think I'll go have a beer" and he was left on the floor in a pool of his own blood for an undetermined amount of time.

At some point later, after the beating, a psychologist assigned to evaluate Sam came to check on his condition and noted that he was still laying on the floor in a pool of his own blood and ordered that he be taken to Harborview Medical Center for treatment. Sam spent 6 hours at the hospital having his injuries treated and was then sent back to jail. Sam claims that he still suffers from severe headaches and nerve damage in his hands and arms as a result of the beating to this day.

Sam spent 9 days in isolation after returning to the jail, and then was sent back to isolation yet again for another incident where Sam claims guards harassed him by repeatedly asking him if he “had a problem” over and over again. All told, Sam claims he spent over 26 days in isolation as punishment for his filing of a complaint over that first incident for which Sam claims that he had been targeted for as retaliation.

Sam's mom was understandably worried that Sam would be mistreated further because, even while the jail said it was investigating Sam's complaints, the investigations into his claims were going to take months from what she was told by jail administrators. So her primary concern was that while the investigation dragged on for months nothing was being done to protect Sam from further abuse and retaliation. His mother said she was heartbroken over his mistreatment and the perceived indifference over his well-being in that facility on the part of jail staff and county officials.

Sam's mother also says that as a part of the investigative process Sam was subjected to a polygraph test to ascertain whether he was telling the truth about his complaint. She says that he passed that test but that she is unaware as to whether the guards were subjected to the same test. She says that she has worked tirelessly to try to get the abuse to stop but to no avail. She contacted several government officials and jail staff regarding the ongoing complaints but the same answer always came back... These investigations take months and in the meantime, her son had been put back under the care of the same guards who he filed a complaint against in the first place and she only wanted to know that her son would be safe while he repays his debt to society...

That was when she reached out to us out of desperation; reassurances by the jail that his needs were being met left her distrustful: "Of course, they are not and I know that the opposite is true. He is on 15 minute watch, in which guards use the opportunity to taunt, belittle, and harass him regularly. I might add that my son has been the constant target of physical and emotional abuse because of valid complaints he submitted against certain guards. He committed a crime, has pled guilty and is willing to do "time" for it-- however, he should not have to suffer unnecessary harassment and abuse..."

In the DOJ report on constitutional violations at the King County Jail, the investigatory process was sited as problematic in addition to problems with physical abuse by guards and a lack of reasonable medical care for injured detainees. If true, the allegations that Sam's mother brought to our attention would indicate that the jail has done little to address the problems the Department of Justice outlined for them and had offered to help them fix. Meanwhile, a starkly similar case of jail brutality in Chicago just cost that city $750,000 in a jury trial decision earlier this month.

While we are hopeful that the jail is investigating Sam's complaints, the main concern we had is that there was no mechanism to protect him from retaliation for making those complaints. We asked the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division if they had comments on the story or progress of talks between the county and the DOJ over the violations they uncovered at the jail but they chose not to respond to our requests this time and in the past have stated they do not comment on cases that are currently ongoing.

We also asked the DAJD for information about this case and whether there were any policies concerning retaliation in response to complaints by inmates. Their response was that they are not free to comment on any ongoing investigations but they did forward us a copy of what appears to be a letter to staff outlining that it is illegal and against DAJD policy to retaliate against anyone who files a complaint. However, the document did not outline any process or mechanism to protect someone who filed a complaint and was dated 07/16/08 so we cannot determine if this was sent to any staff members or just created in response to our request. (Link to KC DAJD Anti-Harassment Memo). The memo also does not mention any steps that could be taken to protect someone who alleges ongoing abuse or retaliation while investigations are proceeding.

Ultimately, while King County has been given ample opportunities to correct their mistakes, we also hope that they give Sam a chance to be held accountable for his mistakes in a manner that is consistent with the spirit and letter of the law that protects detainees from cruel and unusual punishment as well... regardless of whether the jail intends to be accountable for their own mistakes.

(Note: this article was originally set to publish on July 17th while Sam was still in the King County Jail but we held it back at the request of Sam and his mother who feared retaliation for it being published. Sam has since been transferred to a different facility and has given us permission to publish his story as a result.)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Undue Process

There were a few articles I was going to write over the last few days, but I've not been doing well lately... my headaches have been bad lately and one spot on my side has really been hurting where that gang of neonazis broke my ribs when they attacked me... needless to say that I've not been sleeping well because I jump up awake several times a night dreaming and feeling like I'm being attacked all over again because of the pain.

...So, I'll just put together some random thoughts on this dreary Sunday.

I Love A Parade

First, yesterday was Seattle's Seafair Torchlight Parade and we tend to go a bit all-out for it. We love the parade, as cheesy as it sounds, because we also have a strange "love-hate" relationship with Seattle... if it weren't for what happened to me, it'd be all love. In any case, our balcony has a great view of the event and we decorate it so the people in the floats always point and wave and several people took pictures.

Anyway, the police chief and his wife were in one car, she pointed up and said "oh my goodness" loud enough that I could hear her over the noise of the parade. She smiled and waved enthusiastically and, well, since she had nothing to do with what the SPD did to me I smiled and waved back... then she nudged her husband who also smiled and waved... I'm not a mean-spirited person so I kept waving, but I wonder what he would have thought if he knew who he was smiling and waving at.

Innocent Until...
A story in the news recently evoked some sympathy from me for a police officer, even though I'll be hated by cops and cop haters for admitting it (I have no friends in Seattle, so no loss). Seems a Seattle police officer was fired after he was accused of a felony involving him allegedly bursting into his soon-to-be ex-wife's home and threatening her boyfriend. The police department insisted that it is their policy to fire any officers accused of a felony so he was fired without even an internal investigation being completed.

Well, a public employee commission recently found in his favor and forced the city to give him his job back along with back pay. Seems that the first trial resulted in a mistrial when the jury couldn't decide on the case and the prosecutor then offered a reduced misdemeanor plea, which he then accepted.

Seems a lot of people responding to the article thinks he should have stayed fired and that this shows how little control the city has over it's police officers while SPD officers come to his defense by trying to justify what he was accused of instead of focusing on the real matter at hand, the fact that he should have been treated as if he were innocent until he was found guilty... at most he should have been reassigned to desk duty until the case was done, otherwise he was being punished before being found guilty.

Now, sure, the SPD didn't treat me like I was innocent when they denied me medical care when they arrested me, when they taunted me in my cell, when they interrogated me under duress, and when they kept me long after they knew I was innocent and cost me my jobs. But, perhaps it's a lesson they need to learn through experiencing the other side of that gavel; that there is a reason for presumed innocence... I know it's misguided, but I just hope they apply that lesson to how they treat others instead of just how they want to be treated.

Raging Roads
Then there's the bicyclists vs motorist incident all over the news. Seems that there are two sides to the story but the media and the police only want to let people know about one side and not the other, (meanwhile The Stranger has some excellent coverage of it from both sides)... One bicyclist was hospitalized when he was hit by the motorist involved but the news paints the motorist as the victim since the bicyclists chased him down in a vigilante rage to disable his car and hit him as well.

Honestly, I think there's plenty of wrongdoing on both sides of that altercation. The driver and the bicyclists should both face charges, if anyone does at least. The motorist shouldn't have gunned his engine and run down the bikes and the cyclists did more than was necessary to stop the driver... Both sides were wrong so if one side is charged the other should be too. That's the way it should work when both sides stand accused, but the police don't work that way here, they pick sides and never admit they were wrong about anything.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Seattle Loses Police Misconduct Lawsuit Appeal

Jonah at The Stranger reports that a federal judge has denied the city of Seattle's appeal in the Bradford v. City of Seattle case which found in favor of Bradford who was wrongfully arrested and hit by an SPD officer in 2006.

A jury awarded the Boys and Girls Club volunteer $268,000 in the case and the city of Seattle appealed. But now it appears that the city will have to pay about $553,000, which nearly doubles the original award, in order to cover additional attorney fees associated with the case and appeals process.

The additional costs are so high, in part, because the city is required to pay for a private law firm under a no-bid contract to defend officers accused of misconduct instead of using it's own lawyers to defend officers due to a contractual agreement with the Seattle Police Officer's Guild. It was previously estimated here, and later in the mainstream press, that the appeal would ultimately double the city's cost for the lawsuit when the city's private law firm announced it's intent to appeal on behalf of the city, this now appears to have been the case.

This case marks the sixth police misconduct related settlement or loss that the city has had to pay out in the last 12 months and several more federal civil rights lawsuits are reportedly in the works against the city and it's police department. The approximate total for those suits appears to be close to a million dollars when the city's legal fees are added to the calculations:(...the number climbs to a million dollars when you add the $76,000 the city has paid it's private law firm to help an SPD officer with his own numerous legal battles)

Oregon Judge Rules Cops Are Not Above The Law

Attorney Eric Bryant presents testimony at hearing over his citizen's citation issued against police officer -photo attributed to The Portland Mercury

A Portland Oregon judge has ruled that Portland police officer Chadd Stensgaard must pay a $35 fine for illegally parking his police cruiser in a no parking zone when he went to get sushi during his break and was issued a citation from a citizen for it.

The citizen who issued the police officer the parking ticket was an area lawyer who was in the restaurant at the time and had told the officer he was supposed to enforce the law and not break the law. When the officer replied that he was a cop and could do whatever he wanted, attorney Eric Bryant issued him a citizen's citation as a result.

While the judge felt that the officer should have been allowed to park wherever he wanted out of convenience, he ruled that the officer violated the letter of the law and must pay the fine. Bryant says he's pleased that the judge ruled that police officers are subject to the same laws as everyone else.

Meanwhile, of course, police organizations and unions have vowed to pressure lawmakers to change the laws to, well, make them exempt from the laws they enforce.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Seattle Police Arrest Superman

file this one under random Seattle weirdness

KING 5 News is reporting that the Seattle Police have detained a man wearing a Superman costume today on an unspecified outstanding warrant after he allegedly made threats to abduct a baby near a cafe on 3rd and Pike.

I saw that guy yesterday in fact. The kid was a fairly skinny younger man, maybe around 5'9", wearing a worn out thin red cape that was so long he kept stepping on it, a faded dark blue t-shirt with the familiar S logo, black sweatpants, and had a pair of red underwear or "Speedo" type thing he was wearing on the outside of his pants.

If my only digital camera hadn't have mysteriously vanished from my luggage during my super-secure business trip a few weeks ago I would have taken a picture of him as I waited for my bus while he, annoyingly but harmlessly, spun around and danced in front of a crowd during an afternoon musical performance at Westlake Center. He was clearly suffering from some sort of mental illness, but appeared harmless as the tourist crowd generally ignored him as he danced to the music and tried to engage random strangers in schizophasic conversation.

Ah... what will Metropolis do now that good ole Supe is in the slammer?

New Police Blog Praises Old Jail Accreditation

The Seattle Post Intelligencer's new (and pretty biased) police blog recently praised the King County Correctional Facility (aka KCCF or King County Jail) for obtaining a National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCHCC) accreditation for detainee medical care.

Their blog spins this as if it's some new development that demonstrates some measure of improvement for the same jail that, less than a year ago:

  • was roundly condemned by the US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division for inadequate detainee medical treatment that directly caused at least one death.
  • sued to fight off a potentially embarrassing inquest into a detainee's slow tortuous death due to a lack of medical care that resulted in a doctor on it's staff resigning.
  • now faces a class action civil suit filed on behalf of several dozen detainees who had contracted MRSA infections from that facility due to unsanitary conditions and a lack of suitable wound care.
  • was roundly lambasted in the news over insisting that the sexual abuse of detainees by guards found to be going on in the jail was merely a "training issue".
The problem with this report is that it's not new news... the King County Jail has had NCHCC accreditation for several years already because it was forced to obtain and maintain that accreditation due to the requirements negotiated during the Hammer v King County lawsuit in the mid 1990's. In fact, King County executive Ron Sims even cited that same accreditation last year when he issued a statement defending the jail and insisting that no detainees had their rights violated there when the DOJ stated the conditions and treatment there were in violation of constitutionally protected rights.

So, the jail already had that "prestigious" accreditation when all those problems occurred last year, so nothing has really changed between then and now... in other words it's not news. But the county government is spinning it like it's some great new thing and the reporters are allowing the jail to skate by without actually fixing the problems that still occur there by parroting news releases without doing their own research to verify what they are being told to print as news.

So long as the press is too lazy to research questionable press release claims made by the government and is willing to give the jail a pass on murdering and torturing detainees there is little chance that the jail will actually commit to any real changes, even in the face of several legal actions on behalf of detainees and the federal government. So, shame on the Seattle Post Intelligencer's staff writers for not doing the job the public entrusts them to do; to do their due diligence when reporting on the news in an unbiased and professional manner.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Ah, Birthdays

I wasn't going to post about it, but it's my 38th birthday today.

How did I start it out so far?

Well, found out a friend was stabbed when he was mugged while he was walking home from work and he refused to go to the hospital because he didn't want to be hassled by the police and he doesn't like doctors... I called him up to make sure he was ok, but got nervous when he told me people were telling him to let the wound air out and keep it uncovered and that he planned on washing it with soap and water tonight.

So, I let him know that he shouldn't let it get wet, that he had to keep it covered and why, told him how to properly clean it and dress it, that it was too late to try and close it with glue or sutures when he asked if there was a way to keep it from reopening all the time, and what signs to watch for with a deeper wound like that. I offered to go and take a look at it to make sure he'll be ok, but he said it was alright... hopefully he'll call if it gets worse.

I thought about telling him that even if he would have gone to the hospital and they would have called the cops that all he would have to do is tell them he didn't want to talk to them, but I knew if he did that the cops would have treated him, the victim, like a criminal. Most of the police around here are like that, they tend to be rude to victims of crime, especially if they aren't well-to-do. Not that they would have helped him anyways, they certainly didn't help me when I was the victim of a crime.

I've also been worried about a person who was corresponding with me about his case, it went to trial last week and I haven't heard from him since. Hopefully all is well with him too. So, if you're reading this, you know who you are, just drop me a line to let me know you're ok.

It's probably not a good sign when one's birthday starts out like this. Hopefully it gets better... but right now my ever-present headache is much worse than usual.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Seattle Vigilantism Turns Deadly

Depiction of a group of vigilante "baldknobbers" from the 1919 movie "The Sheppard Of The Hills".
Baldknobbers were groups of vigilantes in Arkansas and Missouri who were responsible not only for attacking horse thieves, but also murdering their critics and their families, as well as several racially motivated lynchings in the mid to late late 1800's and early 1900's.

Last week I wrote a story about how the people of Seattle tend to support vigilantism and have a propensity to dispense "street justice" for a wide range of perceived wrongs and alleged crimes. That story was about an angry mob that brutally attacked a patron at a local nightclub after he was kicked out of the bar for allegedly smacking a female patron's butt. While the citizens of Seattle who responded to the story, as it was relayed in one local weekly paper's blog, with approval of the mob taking the law into their own hands and meting out a guilty verdict on the accused and their own punishment that included kicks, punches, homophobic epithets, and reportedly stripping the alleged butt-slapper before an ambulance arrived to take him away... I decried the act as an abrogation of the justice system and a simple matter of assault in the guise of vigilantism on the part of the drunken mob.

Of course, nobody was arrested and it seems that the police don't intend to investigate the case.

I also warned that such actions come dangerously close to a potential death sentence considering my own experience being the subject of just such a lynch-mob style beating at the hands of several white supremacists that went unpunished as well... even after it was discovered that mob had attacked and condemned an innocent person in their drunken pursuit of racially-tinged vigilante justice. I said it was only a matter of time before someone who took the law into their own hands would issue a death sentence as that angry mob intended to do to me with their shouts of "kill him, kill that mutt!" which encouraged the kicks to my head to continue relentlessly long after I had passed out from the blows.

Indeed, that's what happened a few days later when an altercation between three teenage girls and a 60 year old man turned into an act of deadly vigilantism. The various stories at least agree on these points. Last week James Paroline was watering a garden he planted in a traffic circle in the middle of a local road outside his house and had put traffic cones out in the street to prevent cars from running over his hose. Thee teenage girls asked Paroline to move the cones so they could continue but Paroline refused. The girls state that the police were called to convince Paroline to stop impeding traffic but the confrontation escalated when one of the girls attempted to move a traffic cone herself and was sprayed by Paroline.

At this point the stories get murky as residents report that one girl threw a bottle of water on Paroline and the girls insist that Paroline assaulted one of them. Irregardless, one of the girls went back home and told her sister's boyfriend, Brian Keith Brown, that Paroline had struck one of them. Brown, who had a a record of felony convictions, drove to the site where Paroline was apparently still arguing with the girls and punched him one time in the face while allegedly asking Paroline why he didn't pick on a man instead of picking on girls.

One punch was all it took to send Paroline to the ground where his head bounced off the pavement with, what residents describe as, a very audible pop. Brown fled the scene as the girls stayed behind and tended to Paroline with local residents. A day later Paroline was dead, never awakening from the coma he was put into by Brown's deadly blow.

Relatives and friends of Brown insist that he was merely trying to defend the girls after he was told that one of them was hit. But, as the reports state, Paroline offered no defense or aggressive move that would have justified Brown taking aggressive action towards Paroline... Simply put, Brown judged Paroline guilty of an alleged crime he didn't witness and struck a fatal blow as the sentence he passed down upon Paroline for his alleged crimes.

...however, videos taken by two local residents reportedly didn't show Paroline attack the girls and that, at worse, Paroline merely squirting the girls with his hose when they went to move the cones, although the son of one resident claims he did see one of the girls get slapped. Apparently Brown's attack, while probably not intended to kill, were based on a potentially false accusation and now cannot be appealed.

Brown has now been charged and arrested for second degree murder due to his act of irrevocable and mistaken vigilantism. He was wrong to think he was better than the justice system when he took the law into his own hand and used that hand to sentence Paroline to death... just as any other vigilante or police officer is wrong when they use more force than necessary to detain a person who has only been alleged to have committed a crime. It's all vigilantism just the same, only this time it was also an act that resulted in death, even if the severity of the sentence carried out by Brown was likely unintentional.

In response to the incident, local residents have been up in arms, insisting that the attack was racist given that Brown is African American and Paroline was white. Even the police are saying that "race will be a focus throughout this investigation". Residents also have been talking about forming their own neighborhood watch groups while citing stark evidence of racial divides within the community as a reason for the attack.

So it is that an act of vigilantism breeds more vigilantism and the same ages old racially motivated cries for vigilante justice just as it was with such groups gone by in the past. If you think that's far-fetched, Seattle residents in local blogs and news sites are calling for blood and demanding punishments such as Brown being tied to railroad tracks and cut in half by a passing train.

So Seattle, residents and police alike, still seems to support vigilantism and street justice... apparently, so long as it's a group of white people dealing out the judgments and summary punishments. After all, why go after a black guy who pursues vigilantism while refusing to go after entire gangs of white guys who do the same?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

How Many Lawsuits, Seattle?

The Seattle Times reported yesterday, (and that report has since been parroted nonstop elsewhere), that the city of Seattle has lost or settled three police misconduct lawsuits in the last year when they reported on the most recent settled lawsuit that involved a young lady who had to have reconstructive surgery after her encounter with the Seattle police in 2006.



Try again...

July, 2008
Brittany Beaulieu receives $115,000 settlement from the city over an incident where an officer slammed her face into the pavement resulting in a compound facial fracture when she was shouting legal advice to a friend who was being charged with DUI.

JUNE, 2008
The city pays out a $5,000 settlement for Brad Nebinger who accused SPD officers of roughing him up before transporting him the the King County Jail, where he was assaulted again by a jail guard (King County settled that case for $20,000)

May, 2008
Romelle Bradford wins $269,000 lawsuit over wrongful arrest and use of force when he was knocked to the ground by an SPD officer while he was working at a Boys and Girls Club event.

February, 2008
Seattle pays a $20,000 settlement to Aaron Claxton, a Boys and Girls Club counselor, who was repeatedly tasered and then left to sit handcuffed in his own driveway while SPD ACT officers, who pulled him over because they thought he didn't belong in the neighborhood, tried to think of what to charge him with. Ultimately he was charged with "obstruction" which the prosecutor promptly dropped due to lack of evidence.

November, 2007

Bogdan Mohora wins an $8,000 settlement from Seattle over an incident where he was arrested and detained merely for taking pictures of an SPD arrest in progress.

November, 2007
Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes wins a $185,000 settlement over an incident where SPD officers lifted and threw him to the ground by his crotch, brutally beat, repeatedly kicked, and then arrested him for asking an officer why he was citing his friend for littering when his friend put out a cigarette on the ground.

That is at least twice as many as you cited by my count and there is no sign that it's letting up either. In fact, as I hear it, there are several other lawsuits in progress against the city and it's police force, including:

  • An incident where a pregnant woman was tasered in her car for refusing to sign a traffic ticket.
  • another incident where a man arrested at an anti-war protest for allegedly throwing water on a pro-war protester was pinned to the ground and unable to breathe because officers pinned his arms under him so he couldn't comply with commands to put his arms behind him.
  • also, the well known Post Alley incident has spurred a lawsuit against an off-duty SPD officer who shot an unarmed defense attorney, the city has set aside $46,000 to pay it's private law firm to defend him and help him with his counter-suit.
  • and apparently a pending suit that includes the person who claims he used his cell-phone to photograph the Alley-Barnes beating and that SPD officers erased his camera-phone when he was arrested and then released for photographing the incident.

There are others as well... several it seems when looking through the federal court dockets... and this appears to starkly contradict the city's private law firm's attorney who told reporters that the relentless string of settled and lost civil rights suits against the city of Seattle were "just a fluke."

An inability to hold officers accountable for misconduct and then paying out the nose to hire private attorneys on the taxpayers dime to defend their behavior no matter what is not a fluke, it's a recipe for encouraging more misconduct, and this string of lawsuits that continues onward in the foreseeable future proves it.

Update: Looks like the Times fixed it by clarifying they were only talking about six-figure lawsuits... but it's still misleading later in the article as they talk about those suits as if they were the only ones that happened in the last 12 months.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Seattle Public Safety Committee Meeting Tomorrow

I just became aware of this a short while ago, so please pardon the short notice. The Seattle City Council's Public Safety, Human Services, and Education Committee is set to discuss some police accountability changes tomorrow (Tuesday, 07/15/08) during their meeting at 2:00pm on the 2nd floor of City Hall in downtown Seattle. Most notable of these proposed legislative items is CB116126 that would allow the public to participate in the negotiation process between the city of Seattle and the various police unions by allowing for public commentary and input 90 days prior to the commencement of negotiations between the city and the police guilds.

The ACLU of Washington State has already weighed in on this proposed bit of legislation by asking the council members to support the passage of this proposed legislation, saying that since the guild asks its members for input on what they want to get out of contract negotiations that it is only fair to allow the city's stakeholders (i.e. the taxpayers, voters, general public) to give the city some input on what they want to see come out of contract negotiations as well.

This change would hopefully go a long way towards trying to convince the city that it's important to include transparency measures in the police oversight process and fix the loopholes that were left during the latest highly secretive contract negotiations between the guild and the city. At the very least it would be a chance for those who have gone through the OPA process to tell the city what worked and what didn't work.

The Public Safety Committee agenda for tomorrow's meeting allows for public commentary for the first 20 minutes of their 2:00 session, but because of the late notice we are at least encouraging readers to send letters of support for measure CB116126 to members of that committee in advance of tomorrow's session.

To contact members of the committee who will take part in this session please send emails to:

Seattle Settles Yet Another Excessive Force Suit

According to KING 5 News today, the city of Seattle has agreed to pay Brittany Beaulieu $100,000 in a settlement over an excessive force lawsuit filed by her attorney, Allen Ressler, over an incident that occurred in April, 2006. The case was covered earlier this year in the Seattle Post Intelligencer's "Strong Arm Of The Law" series on Seattle police officers who were never disciplined despite findings of excessive force on the part of the police department's internal investigations unit, the "Office of Professional Accountability" (OPA). We also mentioned her story in our post about police brutality being a part of departmental policy.

The incident in question began when Beaulieu was shouting legal advice to a friend who had just been stopped for suspicion of DUI. An officer, who had a history of excessive force complaints, grabbed her from behind and performed a "Leg Sweep" after grabbing her arms which prevented her from halting her fall as her face slammed into the pavement, resulting in three facial fractures that required cosmetic surgery to correct.

A later complaint against the officer was sustained by the OPA, only to be overturned by the chief and then director of the OPA, Sam Pailca, who noted it as a "training issue" instead. The trainer who that officer was sent to reported that he felt the incident was the result of the officer not being forceful enough, even though the original OPA findings indicated that the amount of force used was more than necessary to affect the arrest of Beaulieu on charges of obstruction.

When asked about the settlement her attorney told reporters that while the settlement brings a close to Brittany's case, larger issues remain. "The police should not police the police", he says, noting that "the process is skewed now towards exonerating the officer." ...and we couldn't agree more.

As usual, the news item wrongly mentions that all 29 recommendations aimed at improving police accountability were adopted when, as we showed when comparing the newest contract with those recommendations, the proof shows that they were not adopted. As we said, this is a trend that should continue so long as the city refuses to take a serious look at how officers are encouraged to abuse citizens because the broken system cannot hold them accountable for their actions.

We wish Brittany all the best and hope this settlement helps her find closure with what must have been a very frightening and painful experience.

Thank You

It's been yet another busy weekend for me and Monday is looking pretty full as well, so I apologize for the light posting again. Since I don't have much time for a full story now, I just wanted to make a quick post about thanks...

First I want to mention the people who write to tell us their own stories of police misconduct or detainee abuse. In most cases readers share their stories of being abused or of knowing someone who was abused in order to ask questions about what they can do about it. But sometimes they also write to reach out for someone who understands what it's like to go through that uniquely isolating and frightening experience... and a few times they even decide to share their story with the public in the hopes that it helps stop this kind of abuse.

Going public with your story can be a very frightening thing, it takes a lot of bravery to do it and even when someone is willing it still might not be the best thing for someone to do. So I never blame anyone who ultimately decides not to go public because I just want to be here to help since there was nobody to help me when I went through it and I don't want others to go through that alone. So whether it's answering someone's questions or publishing someone's story, I'll try to do what I can.

So, first I want to thank all the people who have written to share their stories, whether or not we publish them. By sharing your story with me you help me know that I am making a difference and, in turn, we can hopefully make things better together.. so thank you for writing!

Next, I've been really taken aback by some really kind things some people have said about this site lately. There are some things about the site that I wish I had time to make better, and I know I need to work on my writing style as I'm too wordy for the blog format, but it's nice to know that there are people out there that like what the site is doing. So I want to thank all of you as well, in no particular order, for letting your readers and listeners know about us and for saying such nice things about us!

Over at Five Before Midnight they really seemed to appreciate our article about the frustrations of being an advocates for better police accountability and civil rights protections, it's a subject they focus on over there as well so I'm sure it's a feeling they're familiar with... So thank you for keeping up the good fight even though it can be frustrating to see missed opportunities for change.

Over at Blogging Georgetown it's nice to see someone not just taking the NIMBY front in their opposition to the city of Seattle building it's own jail given the city's track record on civil rights abuses and while the currently used King County Jail hasn't yet cleaned up it's act either as we addressed in our story about the jail previously. With 1 in every 99 Americans behind bars we've become a nation of prisons, so this is a subject that needs much more attention than it's received so far! So, thank you for reading, for the support, and for talking about the problems with building so many jails from several different perspectives!

Over on Western Massachusetts Copwatch they called our site "superb" while talking about quality of life policing and all the problematic elite crime fighting police units that we addressed in this post. Wow, what can I say, thank you so much for the compliment, that means quite a bit coming from such a well thought-out site full of great content like yours! Keep up the great work!

The ever thought-provoking Seattle Crime Blog did a story looking at the issue of vigilantism from different perspectives and cited our story about a recent vigilante-style beating at a Capitol Hill nightclub by saying I made a good point about vigilantism. Thanks for reading and thank you for favoring honest discourse over controversy! (I'm planning a controversial sequel to that story myself actually).

I also really want to thank, again, Joaquim Uy with One World Report at KBCS 91.3 for having me on his show to talk about some of the missing police accountability reforms in the new Seattle Police contract. Also, thank you for making me sound slightly less worse than I really sounded.

The police officer who runs the Iowa-based "Common Sense Has No Place Here" blog still declares that I'm "The Enemy" and should be watched... well... um... thanks for thinking I do such a good job highlighting the need for accountability in a city several states removed from your location that officers in Iowa should keep an eye on me.

And, finally, I would like to thank all of you for reading this... even though I'm afraid I went and got too wordy on you once again.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Some Advice For Those Looking For Justice

The Vice of Injustice and Virtue of Justice
frescoes at the Arena Chapel in Padua by Giotto

Ever since I started this site I've received letters from people who have had their rights violated or have been through similar or worse abuse than I was put through. So I try to help them find the resources they need to find justice even when I don't write about their cases, (which happens a lot actually). So, in the course of all this, I found myself giving the same pieces of advice over and over again... So I decided to make a list.

First, I am not a lawyer, please keep this in mind. The following advice is based on my experiences and my experiences helping others prepare to contact lawyers in regards to their own case. The following tips are merely “common sense” recommendations of things you should consider before attempting to contact a lawyer about your case. This site does provide a list of legal experts in the field of civil rights law but has no affiliation with any of the professionals or organizations in those listings and does not represent them in any way. We do encourage you to think about the following pieces of advice before using that list to contact a lawyer in regards to your own situation.

With that out of the way... Let's get started.

Let's Be Frank:

So, you believe your civil rights have been violated… now you want justice and so you’ve started to look for a lawyer to consider your case in that pursuit. Now, maybe your friends told you that lawyers love these kinds of cases or that the ACLU will definitely be interested in helping you because they’re all about civil rights lawsuits, or maybe someone told you that the city is frightened of lawsuits and will write you a check right away at the mere mention of legal action… Well, let’s dispel some of those myths right off the bat.

1. Lawyers Love To Sue The Government:

First, it is incredibly difficult to win a civil rights lawsuit against the government. In fact, it’s incredibly difficult to even get such cases to trial because the government, and their employees, has so many immunities to prosecution and civil action that it’s very rare that such suits ever make it beyond the initial stages of legal action. What’s worse is that government employees have no such barriers to sue you and your lawyer if your lawsuit fails, so lawyers tend to be VERY cautious about what cases they’ll take on.

This doesn’t mean that your case isn’t legitimate or that what you say happened did or did not happen as you say it did, but that lawyers need to consider how difficult it would be to PROVE what you allege really did happen in the face of all the various ways the government can cover up evidence and change reports to favor their position. This is why it’s discouraged for victims of police brutality to file official complaints with the department because such complaints are used to warn the department of possible legal action which gives them a head start in preparing a defense against your potential case.

It’s not that a lawyer might not care about how badly you were wronged or hurt when your rights were violated, it’s just that most lawyers are in this to make a living by getting a cut of winning lawsuits so taking on high risk suits isn’t appealing to them… and even the ones who care about how badly you got hurt aren’t willing to risk their home in a countersuit if the evidence in your case isn’t strong enough.

2. The ACLU Will Help!

Next, the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, only takes on very special cases that would, if won, change the laws or make a case like yours very visible in the press in order to highlight civil liberties issues. So, it is incredibly rare that the ACLU takes on any case of police brutality or detainee abuse… so if you know your type of case isn’t unusual or has been done before, don’t bother, they probably won’t be interested. Sure, if you tried everyone else first and it’s your last resort, go for it… otherwise, it’s not your best chance regardless of what you’ve heard from your friends.

3. The Government Will Pay You To Keep It Quiet!

Next is the myth that the city is quick to make settlement offers to people they think they’ve wronged. Again, this rarely happens and, in fact, the city of Seattle is well known for its “scorched earth” defense against civil suits and they do fight tooth and nail against any civil rights actions. The city doesn't care if it makes the news because, frankly, there have been so many stories of abuses that they figure the public is too tired of them to care anymore. Now, of course, the city does prefer to settle rather than risk losing a suit, but they’ve only lost one suit in the last 25 years, so even when they do settle the settlement amounts are VERY small when compared to other cities because of their fierce defense tactics and the use of SLAPP suits, (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, these are suits designed to punish people for making allegations of abuse by suing them when they fail in their legal actions or complaint attempts), to dissuade lawyers from filing such lawsuits. Sometimes the city will issue “nuisance payments” to people who threaten legal action, but these are VERY rare and are very small, the largest I’ve heard of is $5,000.

That Advice:

Now that you might be able to see how difficult it is to even get a lawyer interested in your case, let alone make it to trial, let’s focus on what you need to think about in order to improve your chances for at least getting your story heard by a lawyer and taken seriously. Of course, all this advice stems from the assumption that you will tell your lawyer the complete and utter truth, because even worse than a lawyers telling you they aren't interested is if a lawyer takes your case and it comes out that you lied and you get your pants sued off as a result!

1. Remember that lawyers are in this to make money. Just like you work to get paid, so do lawyers, so when you present a case you need to SELL it to them. How do you do this? Well, there are a few steps involved with this:

a. DOCUMENT EVERYTHING!!! Document it quickly, as soon as it happens. Document every little detail about what happened, who saw what, when what happened to whom… even document what color that puppy on the corner was the day after it happened… Document every little thing because you’ll never know what detail that you forgot might be important to remember later.

b. Go over everything you documented and use it to start making your detailed case.

c. Do a little research to see what laws might have been violated or exactly how your civil rights were violated. You’ll need to tell the lawyer how you were LEGALLY wronged, not just ethically or morally wronged.

d. Carefully calculate how much your injuries or the loss of your civil rights has cost you and those who were involved with your case. You need to be ready to itemize your harms to the lawyer and give him an idea of how much damage was caused. This includes medical bills, legal bills, lost wages, loan repayments, and even the harms done to your family while you suffered as well. Come in with a real list of damages and a good estimate of what those damages cost in real terms before you even start calling lawyers.

e. Prepare your case carefully! Again, you’re not going to get far by just sending a bunch of documents and transcripts of what happened. You need to make a concise sales pitch that quickly explains the meat of the problem. This should be a way to explain the situation in a concise and efficient manner so that you could tell it to someone in the time it takes to ride an elevator. This “elevator pitch” is only to get your foot in the door; to get a lawyer interested enough to hear you out, not to explain all the nitty-gritty and tiny details of your case.

f. You also need to be ready to present your case in a way that is easy to understand and covers all the bases and possible flaws that might exist. While people like us might argue on occasion, lawyers argue for a living and make a living by finding flaws they can exploit in a case. So you have to spend quite a bit of time going over your case and considering what kinds of arguments someone might come up with to say your case isn’t going to work and be ready to tell them why it would. Be prepared to defend yourself, be prepared to answer questions of your integrity… If you went through a criminal trial, think of each lawyer call as a potential retrial… Sometimes it can be that hard to get a lawyer to listen and they will question your side of things as well.

g. As part of making your case easy to understand, it’s also important to make sure what you are trying to communicate is legible and articulate. Write down what happened, all your arguments, and everything else and then present it to your family or friends before you contact a lawyer. Make sure that people can understand your case, what you believe was wrong about what happened and what harms were done and how that was the fault of those you believe violated your rights. A lawyer won’t return your calls or agree to help you if they can’t figure out why you want their help.

2. After you’ve prepared your sales pitch, your full presentation, have done your homework to make sure your case has some legal standing, and carefully considered what the case is worth, then you’re ready to start calling. But, who do you call or write? Well, again, remember that it is much more difficult to get a lawyer interested in taking on your case than you could possibly imagine. So be prepared to call or write each and every lawyer that you can find. Sure, it is very emotionally traumatic to tell your story over and over again and face a brutal questioning by a lawyer over what happened to you… But you have to be ready to do this over and over and over again… odds are you’ll have to. Odds are even more in favor of you doing so and still not ever getting your case heard.

3. Be persistent. Keep trying, try and try again, try until your eyes bleed and you’re so frustrated you just want to scream! Then scream your guts out and try again! Keep trying until the statute of limitation runs out on you… Because it really is that hard to find a lawyer that will take your case unless the abuse you suffered was caught on camera and aired on the television, (…and even then it can be hard to find a lawyer that will take your case).

4. Be prepared for rejection. I bet you could see this coming, right? Everything I’ve said so far should have made it clear that the odds are against you ever getting a lawyer to take your case, let alone that case being successful if someone does take it. The laws of this state and city are such to make it nearly impossible to win a case against the government, and this is by design. It’s not that anyone thinks you haven’t been wronged; odds are that you were because there are few consequences for those who violate your rights exactly because it’s so hard to sue for such violations.

Some lawyers told me that they hear HUNDREDS of stories of abuse, some worse than the ones you’ve heard in the media, and they can’t take the cases because they would be so hard to prove, even if they were so compelling that you could tell that person was clearly wronged. That’s the nature of the law in this country, it’s unbalanced against the defendant in criminal trials and unbalanced against the victim in trials against the government… remember, government made the laws so those laws will favor the government. Sure, it’s wrong and it encourages more abuses… but it is the way it is for now. It’s best that you know this up front and be prepared to have to live with what was done to you.

It's also important not to be mad at the lawyers who turned you down, they aren't the ones that hurt you or violated your rights. Their hands are tied by the same system that allowed you to be abused and there isn't much they can do about it. I know it's hard not to see them as participating in the injustice against you by not helping you right it, it was hard for me too... but in the end it's not their fault, it just is what it is. All we can do is try to change the system to make it more just for everyone.

In the end, if you’re case doesn’t make it anywhere… you’re not alone. So many people have been wronged by their own government throughout history that, well, it’s been done since time in memorial. Heck, it’s the reason why this country was formed, because a government wronged the people. If it helps, it happened to me as well, it’s why I’m giving you this advice today. So, in the end, still try to make something positive out of what happened in whatever way you can, and try to live with it as best you can. Because you’re not alone, and there are people that care even if it seems like those you tried to get help from didn’t.

I sincerely hope this helps you find justice where so many others have failed, and if it doesn't I hope it better prepares you for the very real possibility that you will never have justice, like so many others before you. In the end, may all of our efforts and suffering bring about change so that others may not have to endure what we have, regardless of whether any of us have justice for ourselves or not.

I also wish you the very best of luck... Let us hope you succeed where most have failed before you.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Miscellaneous News

Just some random news items for you so far today...

Seattle Police Oversight
The Stranger has gotten a hold of the proposed candidate list for the Office of Police Accountability Review Board members. (The OPARB is the public-facing portion of Seattle's civilian oversight system). The list appears pretty unremarkable but we are looking into it.

Remember though, that the police guild does have the right to fight against any proposed OPARB members put forward by city council; so if they aren't happy with any of these proposed members, the list might change before it goes forward. From a preliminary glance though, it appears to have a majority of police-friendly members so we doubt it will change much.

King County Police Oversight
King County Sheriff Sue Rahr has announced the sheriff department's new budget and, due to county-wide budget cuts, she has dropped all recommendations made by an oversight review panel to enact changes to the police misconduct and investigative processes and policies in her department. We're not sure yet how this will affect the proposed addition of a civilian oversight component for the sheriff's department that was negotiated into the latest contract agreement between the county and the King County Police Guild... but it probably doesn't bode well.

I might be on the radio tonight talking about the latest contract agreement between the city of Seattle and the Seattle Police Officer's Guild. As you know from reading the site, I tend to be a bit verbose, but to make matters worse I was a bit nervous during the recorded interview so I really rambled on when I should have been more concise than usual instead. Hopefully I'll sound better than I think I did and the interview will make it on to the show... we'll see.

Even if I'm not on the show, tune into KBCS 91.3 FM tonight at 6:00 for One World Report, it's a really good show that has done a great job covering police misconduct and accountability issues as well as many other interesting and important topics not usually covered in the news.

: The interview did make it on to the show, which is available online at their site as well. I guess I did ok, but I really could have done a better job explaining the issues. Improving the way I frame and present these issues is definitely something for me to work on. So, at the least, it was a good learning experience for me.

To get a better idea of what we were discussing, here's the link to the article on how the police contract fails to implement accountability reforms.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Frustration Of Missed Opportunities For Change

I got a really disturbing report today that I'm working on about a frustrating and utterly appalling case of yet more brutal detainee abuse in the King County Jail . It's occurring at the same damn time that the Department of Justice is still wrangling with the King County government over the deadly constitutional violations it found when it investigated that jail. That the jail is brazen enough to abuse people there in the midsts of negotiations plus a looming class action lawsuit over it's past abuses is appalling and intolerable!

This happened while the Seattle Times and Seattle Post Intelligencer touted the latest contract as fixing Seattle's police oversight problems today while they're still mistakenly reporting that all 29 recommendations have been implemented when they haven't, and they continue to misreport this even when the police guild admitted that they weren't all approved. In the face of the final OPARB report that sites the one recommendation that wasn't approved as a major concern in the disciplinary process just as they are disbanded and the entirety of the citizen's panel report is withheld from the public... they still proclaim the changes as fixing the problems when they don't. They talk about the system needing transparency while the civilian oversight board is being relegated to PR work instead of investigating and reporting on the disciplinary process!

Am I the only one that sees this as a problem? Is the mainstream media going to just keep regurgitating flawed press releases as fact without investigating the claims to ensure they are accurate and truthful? I'd prefer that this site wasn't necessary, it's depressing having to write these articles about the failures in our justice system, but since others won't look into these problems in an honest and earnest way, I'm left to do it alone.

...and it's frustrating to see the chance to improve the system and improve relations between the police and the public get thrown down the drain like this. To pretend that the problem has been fixed when it's just been thrown under the rug in the hopes that nobody notices it until the next time the public is outraged when misconduct goes unanswered because of the loopholes that were left untouched.

Indeed... it's frustrating beyond belief that all these chances for redemption, these wonderful opportunities for positive change, are all being thrown asunder and wasted... and nobody at all seems to notice or care one bit!

So much for any faith in government that I had... and I wonder, am I really the only person in Seattle that cares about justice and the constitution? Damn it all, damn it all to hell!

All this while other cities are taking steps to stop the public from using it's own voice to speak out about misconduct and failures in oversight systems in cities like Boston , Riverside, and even in small town USA as police vow to investigate bloggers who report on alleged instances of police misconduct... all while police here have made it clear they hope to shut this site down and have me arrested for what I write. Even reporters at daily papers in Seattle have been threatened over writing stories about police misconduct here.

I suppose the answer to misconduct and abuse everywhere is the same... cover it up, punish those who report it, and then ignore it... and it certainly seems clear that there are too few of us who care enough about justice and what America was supposed to stand for to do anything to stop it. I wonder, in the end, what will be the ultimate cost for all these missed opportunities for real change?

Answering An Injustice With Injustice

I'll be the first to admit, despite learning first hand that no good deed goes unpunished, that I don't like seeing bad things happen to people and I am usually the first to intervene in order to stop something I think is wrong. This problematic behavior on my part isn't limited to what happened a bit over a year ago, it goes back quite some ways and even continues today. But there is a difference between doing a good deed in response to a wrong and answering a bad deed with another bad deed.

Let me explain...

When I worked my way through college in the 90's I did a stint of time as security at a local bar. It wasn't in the best part of town and most of the bands were better ignored, but it was work and the people I worked with were nice enough. When the occasion arose that I needed to throw someone out, I would always try to reason with them, and in failing to do that I would only use the force necessary to get them out. Again, I don't like to see people suffer and I'm of the firm belief that answering suffering with more suffering only makes things worse... that revenge is not something to be confused with justice.

For example, one time while working the door I saw a woman being attacked by some guy. While not part of my job to intervene, I did anyway and ended up having to chase the guy down and detain him when I found out he stole the woman's purse. When I caught him I didn't beat him up, or even punch him, I got him in an arm bar and leveraged him to the ground where I held him until the police came. It wasn't my job to be judge, jury, and executioner... It wasn't my place to determine what punishment he deserved even though the police seemed to have hoped I roughed him up before they got there... those things are for the justice system to determine and do, not for a single person in the heat of a moment to decide and act upon. I did what I had to, got the purse back, put the guy off the streets, and everything was better in my small part of the world that night.

In Seattle, it's different. Out here it seems that lynch mobs and vigilantism is commonplace and encouraged... apparently being part of a drunken angry mob makes one qualified to determine someone's guilt and what punishment is merited here. It wasn't just my case that showed me this, there are others. Consider the case of what happened to Zsolt Dornay that was published below this post. Sure, Dornay has a questionable history with the police department, but was the crowd really justified in beating him down for what they claimed he did, even if he did do those things? And, in the process of taking justice into their own hands to hurt him more than was required to stop what he was doing they put events into play that resulted in the off-duty officer shooting a person who, by all witness accounts, wasn't even a party to the assault. A wrong wasn't righted that night, one wrong was answered with another to make a bad situation even worse.

Just today there was yet another example of Seattle's love of drunken justice, Jonah at The Stranger wrote about another case of lynch-mob justice in Seattle. Seems a young man was tossed out of a local bar for pinching a young woman's butt. The drunken patrons of the establishment convicted the accused and sentenced him to a brutal beating in the middle of the street that even included the use of a nearby folding chair. Seems that mob justice determined that the crime of pinching a buttocks is heinous enough to deserve attempted murder. Of course, anything done that results in a beating by an angry mob in Seattle is considered as a crime worthy of attempted murder by the law here.

The police won't likely do anything about it, they support vigilantism as evidenced by how they treated what happened to me when it turned out that I was an innocent victim of mob-justice. Even if they did do something, which they only do when it's one of their own that is the victim of mob-justice, the prosecutor would likely refuse to do anything about it because any accusation of crime gives an angry mob legal justification for acting as judge and executioner in this city. Even so, the people of Seattle see nothing wrong with it as well. After all, the responses to Jonah's article range from "he deserved it" to "why is this even worth posting?" as if mob rule by a group of angry drunkards were a sufficient replacement for a justice system with checks, balances, and a presumption of innocence until trial.

I suppose that Seattle is so far northwest that it's still backwards and firmly in the old west, where mob rule was the law of the land and if you were strung up on a tree you must have deserved it somehow. The problem is that... sometimes, the angry mob is wrong and the drunken pursuit of justice is easily transformed into an injustice that was worse than the alleged crime. When that happens, not only does the drunken mob punish an innocent victim, but they also let the real culprit get away and become accessories to the crime themselves.

A beating from a lynch-mob is every bit as unjust as a beating done by a bad cop, and in many ways, it's worse. But in Seattle, while citizens may complain about police brutality the angry drunken mob is revered by them. Such vigilantism is encouraged by the city through it's tolerance of such beatings and the people accept the occasional beating of an innocent person a worthwhile price to pay. So long as this type of behavior is tolerated and encouraged in Seattle, it's only going to continue unabated until some angry mob administers a death sentence on an innocent person... and when that does happen, the city will be just as much to blame as the people who administered the fatal blows.

Because, in the end, a brutal beating at the hands of an angry mob should never be confused with justice, that's not the intent of an angry mob. The intent is retaliation, the intent is to cause harm under the alibi of an accusation, and a wrong answered with a wrong only multiplies the suffering caused by the first wrong. Ultimately, adding an injustice to an injustice in such a way never gives us justice as a result.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

SPD Officer Shoots Unarmed Attorney Three Times And Then Sues Him

In June of 2006, off-duty undercover Seattle Police officer Zsolt Dornay, then member of an SPD "proactive policing" Anti-Crime Team (ACT), was driving his motorcycle down a dual-use pedestrian and vehicular alleyway behind Pike Place Market where several nearby taverns were sending their patrons home for the night at the time. Why the officer chose to drive through Post Alley at that time of night, in an area he was well familiar with, instead of nearby main roads is a matter of contention, but witnesses allege that he was gunning his engine in an aggressive manner as he drove through the crowd that numbered at least 75 to 100 people according to most witness accounts.

Post Alley, where the incident occurred, shown in center.

Witnesses allege that as he drove through the crowd he hit a female paralegal with his side mirror which sparked an argument between the woman and the plain-clothed off-duty officer and the woman put herself in front of his bike during the exchange. Witnesses also state at this time that the officer drove forward while the woman was hanging on to his windshield which then caused his bike to tip. At this point, witnesses state that the officer grabbed the woman and threw her forcefully against a nearby door which sparked the nearby crowd to grab the officer.

At this point witness testimony diverges as many witnesses who gave SPD officers testimony later recanted when interviewed by Kent Police investigators when they were brought in to investigate the matter. Some witnesses who later changed their story say their testimony was altered or pressured by SPD officers. Video evidence of what happened also appears to have been lost by the Seattle Police Department who stated to Kent Police investigators that there was no video taken despite there being several nearby cameras that were trained on the site where the attack took place. As a result, there appears to be no way to confirm whether the officer's story or all the witnesses are right about what happened that night.

But witnesses agree that, at this point, the officer was attacked by at least 4 people in the crowd that came to the woman's defense and, in the course of the attack, the officer fired his duty weapon 5 or 6 times into the crowd and shot a nearby unarmed defense attorney 3 times in the abdomen. Witness accounts vary, at worst they say the attorney's involvement was limited to trying to grab the officer to pull him off the woman, others say he never even touched the officer, but all accounts agree that nobody saw him punch or otherwise assault the officer who alleges that he fired into the crowd in self defense and shot the 52 year old lawyer because he was mortally afraid of the lawyer.

The incident drew a great deal of media attention because the officer in question, a second generation cop, had a previous history of problems in the department, and even a possible criminal past. As a result, in a rare step, the SPD turned to an outside department to investigate the incident, the results of which ended up with no charges filed as prosecutors stated that the crowd had some justification to interceded on behalf of the woman who was attacked by the officer.

The problems in this officer's past that prompted this rare move by the SPD include:

  • In 1984 he was allegedly arrested and plead guilty to charges of 2nd degree burglary, 3rd degree theft, and criminal trespass as a juvenile.
  • In 1991 he was allegedly arrested again and charged with attempting to elude officers in a Grays Harbor incident, the case was ultimately transferred to superior court at the defendant's request and no mention of the case exists in any records afterward. In fact, when questioned about his criminal history by the KIRO 7 news reporters that discovered these court records, the police department stated that the department has no knowledge of such records, nor did they have his initial application for employment or background check in order to ascertain whether these criminal incidents were mentioned on his application... Seems that they conveniently lost his file.
  • In 1995 a sustained finding of conduct unbecoming and improper use of force was found against him in an off-duty road rage incident where he assaulted someone at gunpoint. The incident alleges that he chased another motorist for several miles to the victim's workplace while shouting obscenities and "flipping him off", he then held a gun to the victim's head and hit him several times with the gun while grinding his face into the pavement of a parking lot. He only lost 15 vacation days as a result of that sustained finding.
  • In 2003 he was accused, along with one other ACT officer, in the widely publicized beating of a 57 year old homeless Native American (in the same area of Post Alley as the incident above). The victim, Nix, was beaten so badly that he nearly died four days later in jail when he collapsed in a shower from a lacerated spleen and several other severe internal injuries. He flat-lined at least twice before surgery that was needed after he nearly bleeding to death after being denied medical care in jail. Nix also alleged that after the beating officers paraded him in front of prisoners and allegedly issued a warning to them that "This is what happens when you mess with the Sgt. In charge of narcotics." Prosecutors dropped all charges against the victim after testimony from several witnesses, some who claimed officers came at them with their clubs and said "you want some of this?", indicated the officers attacked him so quickly he likely wouldn't have known that it was police officers who were beating him.
Photo taken of 65 year old Nix's injuries after a 2003 arrest by SPD ACT Officers

  • In 2005 he was accused, along with two other ACT officers, of strip searching three black men, yanking on their testicles, and conducting an invasive body cavity search against policy. Findings partially sustained for strip-searching all three men in front of each other in the same room, a finding that resulted in "re-training".
  • 2006: The Post Alley incident noted above.
Additionally, recent reports in the press concerning the possible racial bias of obstruction arrests indicate that this officer is reportedly 12th in the entire department of 1,200 in the number of controversial "stand-alone obstruction" charges issued, (local lawyers sometimes refer to these charges as "contempt of cop"). There have also been several other abuse complaints filed against this officer, though no others are known to have been sustained.

This year, the attorney Dornay shot 3 times filed suit against the officer. In a move highly reminiscent of the infamous SLAPP suits filed by the police guild in the 90's to frighten victims into not reporting abuse, the officer is filing suit against the attorney that he shot, in addition to another suit he filed against the people he alleges attacked him, at the expense of the city who retains a private law firm under a no-bid contract to defend officers against civil rights lawsuits. The city, in fact, has paid the private lawfirm $76,000 in taxpayer funds so far in it's effort to allow this officer with a checkered past to sue the unarmed civilian that he shot while off-duty.

Predictably, as a result, the officer has found himself placed in the media's eye yet again, giving the city of Seattle and it's problematic police department yet another black eye, and it's taxpayer citizens yet another hit in their pocketbooks in the process... more than this, we wonder, what will the toll be in human suffering next time.

The officer in question is still on the SPD payroll, reportedly now as a narcotics officer.

Sources for this story:
A Tale of Two Cops: Seattle Post Intelligencer
Witnesses Give Differing Views Of Fight In Post Alley: Seattle Post Intelligencer
Police Shooting Leads To Two Lawsuits: Seattle Post Intelligencer
Controversial Seattle Police Officer Files Civil Suit: The Stranger
Seattle Officer Accused Of Unecessary Force: KIRO 7 News
The Cops' Credibility Gap: The Seattle Weekly
Shielded From Justice: Human Rights Watch
Law Firm Gets Millions To Defend Cops: Seattle Post Intelligencer

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