The video (here) of King County Sheriff's Deputy Paul Schene assaulting 15-year-old Malika Calhoun has left many outraged. People all over the world are presuming that the deputy will be fired and even convicted of some criminal offense that will land him in prison for some period of time.
People also presume that Malika will win a civil suit and are wondering at the millions this deputy's apparent lack of self control will ultimately cost the cash-strapped King County government.
...even though none of these presumptions are even close to the reality of Seattle.
Let me be clear, there is a strong possibility that all of these presumptions are misplaced.
In fact, based on all the recent case history available, it is unlikely that the deputy will be found guilty of anything.
It is unlikely that the county would be able to fire him even if they tried.
And it's likely that Malika will, at absolute best case, stand to possibly win $250,000 in a civil case, if she doesn't settle for something half of that before hand... or lose the civil case she hopes to file... even though the criminal and civil defense for the deputy, which the county will pay for, will cost more than double anything Malika stands to win as compensation for what she suffered.
Let's address each aspect by looking at each presumption and compare them to similar recent events.
1.The deputy will be convicted and go to prison.
In Seattle it is rare that police officers are charged in similar cases. When they are, it is rarer still that they are convicted. Even then, when a conviction seems likely they plead down to lesser misdemeanors that carry deferred conviction deals that wipe their records after a year of good behavior, with no jail time.2. The deputy will be fired.
Given that the deputy only faces a misdemeanor already, even if convicted it is exceedingly improbable that he would spend any time in jail even if this went to trial and he were convicted. For which, the county would be stuck with prosecution AND defense costs which may exceed $300.000 no matter what.
For an example, look at the last trial which was against King County deputy Brian Bonnar on federal civil rights violations based on accusations that he used excessive force when he allegedly beat a handcuffed woman after a car chase. While other officers testified against him, prosecutors still could not gain a conviction and the case cost the county nearly $400,000 in defense fees.
It is unlikely the deputy will be fired, especially if he is not convicted and, even if he is, a misdemeanor conviction is not enough on its own to fire him based on state laws and precedents that protect officers.3. Malika will win millions in a civil case.
Let's be clear. Even if King County Sheriff Sue Rahr did fire him, the Washington State Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) would likely force King County to reinstate him with back-pay and additional penalties as it's likely the deputy would be able to argue that other officers who have done the same, or worse, were not fired thus his firing would be discrimination.
It's likey he could do this because, in the past, King County has been very lax in how it disciplined officers ad that established a precedent for how future disciplinary actions are viewed by the police union-friendly PERC board. So, even if the county tried, it is unlikely that they could fire him.
For an example of this problem, just read the Conduct Unbecoming series in the Seattle PI.
First, it's important to understand that Seattle and King County use the same private lawfirm to defend themselves and their police officers from civil rights suits. While the officer's attorney, Anne Bremner, has drawn criticism for arguing that the video seen around the world doesn't tell the whole story. She, and her firm, are very ruthless in how they defend against police misconduct lawsuits.Of course, I don't want this to be the way that it is. Nor do I think that it's right that the state of Washington and Seattle/King County put such a small price tag on our civil rights when they are violated.
They are so effective that they have only lost one case in a decade and that suit cost the city twice as much in legal fees than the award of $269,000 that was given to Romelle Bradford who was wrongfully arrested and punched by a Seattle Police officer.
There are a number of cases that they have settled, but those only net their victims half as much at best, such as the case of Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes who was savagely beaten and falsely arrested outside a nightclub in Seattle. His case settled for half as much as Bradford won, $185,000, even though Alley-Barnes clearly suffered far more serious injuries and both were entirely innocent of any crime.
(For a list of the latest known lawsuits to settle or win in Seattle, refer to here)
This case is somewhat different because Malika wasn't subjected to a false arrest. Therefore, if the case even makes it to trial and if it won, I think we would see an award of $100,000-$150,000, if that. If it settles, maybe $75,000.
In any case, nothing close to a million.
But the harsh reality here is what it is and the sooner people understand what the realistic outcomes of this disturbing case are, while this case is still in the spotlight, the more hope we might have in improving the situation here in convincing people that changes are needed.