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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

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...since there's no proof, this sounds like a case of he/said she/said.

Seems interesting to me that after the post alley incident there were several witnesses who backed up the officers version of what happened. Then all of a sudden they all recanted....hmmmm me thinks mr lawyer man had sumthin to do with that.

This just looks like a good old media lynching set up to sell newspapers.

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