1 1 Thursday, January 31, 2008 EDITION: Final SECTION: News PAGE: A1 SOURCE: BY ERIC NALDER P-I investigative reporter P-I SPECIAL REPORT: THE STRONG ARM OF THE LAW VIOLENT FORCE BY POLICE GETS PASS SEATTLE OFFICERS ARE RARELY DISCIPLINED IN CASES AGAINST CIVILIANS, P-I FINDS When a Seattle cop kicked the legs out from under a woman, fracturing her cheekbone as she fell face-first onto the pavement, the captain in charge of internal investigations recommended discipline. But the department rejected the investigator's recommendation, calling for "supervisory intervention," a kind of retraining that is not considered disciplinary action by the department. The "intervention" that the officer received included an admonition to keep using force when necessary on the street. Six months after the woman was hurt, witnesses said the same cop kicked a suspect in the face as the man was trying to surrender. And once again, he was given retraining.
2 2 A Seattle P-I investigation found that the officer, Aaron Parker, has plenty of company. The Seattle Police Department hasn't disciplined any officers for unnecessary force in the past 18 months, during a time when it ruled on at least 161 force cases. During that same period, 12 other excessive-force complaints resulted in supervisory intervention with officers. The last batch of sustained force cases occurred in the first few months of 2006, when three cases dating from 2004 and 2005 resulted in discipline, including a suspension, a suspension that was held in abeyance for good behavior and two reprimands. The department takes disciplinary action in about 1 percent of cases where a complaint of unnecessary force is made. It sustains other allegations about 10 percent of the time, records show. Other types of complaints include abuse of authority, false arrest and discourtesy. "Use of force is the most complained-about allegation," said Seattle Police Officers Guild President Sgt. Rich O'Neill, who represents officers and didn't dispute the P-I's statistic. "It is also the allegation that is the least sustained." One national expert says that's not surprising, because abuse of force can undermine officers' credibility. "They are more likely to sustain (charges against an officer for) lower-level kinds of issues, rather than force issues," said Barbara Attard, the independent police auditor for the city of San Jose, Calif., and past president of the National Association of Civilian Oversight. "I think that force cases have bigger implications for the department. Every effort's made to show there was some reason for the force." Protecting citizens? Close examination of incidents involving Parker illuminates the controversy surrounding the issue. It also raises the question: Is the department more interested in protecting officers from being held accountable for their actions or in protecting citizens from harm? "You've got some officers that are trying to do the right thing and they are undercut by the chief," said Lem Howell, an attorney who has sued a number of officers over excessive force, though wasn't involved in cases against Parker. "They are trying to discipline their subordinates to reduce excessive force. It is just a small percentage of cops that give the department a bad name." But police officers need to be more - not less - aggressive because when officers hesitate, they put themselves and citizens in danger, according to Officer James Kim, one of the department's top use-of-force trainers. "The case law says when a citizen chooses to get physical with an officer, the citizen does so at their own risk, and the officer is not permitted by law to lose the fight," said Steve Larson, a private attorney who has a contract to defend Seattle officers against excessive-force lawsuits. "I think there are a low number of sustained complaints because our officers are exercising their duties very well," Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer said. Department spokeswoman Sgt. Deanna Nollette said that although a "supervisory intervention" is not disciplinary, most officers see it as a black mark anyway. "To me it is the same thing as saying, `You screwed up.'" The chief's legal adviser, Leo Poort, and Guild President O'Neill said Seattle officers shun violence because whenever force is used, they have to fill out extensive reports. However, a report by the Office of Professional Accountability, (the internal investigation unit), a year ago said officers were increasingly failing to file such reports, and did not do so in 40 percent of complaint cases in Parker, however, did file use-of-force reports diligently, because the dozens he filed triggered a separate administrative review, although no action was taken. Federal lawsuit filed Brittany Beaulieu says her April 2006 encounter with Parker "changed (her) life." "People I trusted were the people that hurt me, and hurt me a lot," said Beaulieu, 32, who worked in marketing before becoming a graduate student at the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. Parker declined to be interviewed, saying in an relayed by the department's public relations office that his sworn statements in the relevant incident reports were accurate and that he isn't allowed to speak for the department. Beaulieu has filed a lawsuit against the Police Department in federal court. Her attorney says his client did nothing to warrant the attack, other than to shout legal advice from the street to a friend who was being arrested for drunken driving. When another officer became upset that Beaulieu and others were interfering - "sidewalk attorneys," cops call them - he ordered Parker to take Beaulieu into custody. Parker grabbed her from behind and she ended up face-first on the pavement. Beaulieu suffered a complex fracture of her facial bone requiring extensive surgery, and could have been blinded in her right eye, medical records show. Parker said in his report that Beaulieu fell to the ground when he whipped her legs out from under her, which was her fault because she resisted his grip on her wrist and he lost control of her. But Beaulieu said the officer surprised her from behind, lifted her up and dropped her. The young woman has never been in trouble with the law before, other than traffic tickets. She had been at a bar near KeyArena with friends when one of her other buddies, who was inebriated, backed his truck down a one-way street to talk with them. Two police cars descended on the vehicle almost instantly, she said, and police arrested her friend for drunken driving. Beaulieu said her first thought was to help her friend, so she shouted advice not to take a breath test without a lawyer.
3 3 Several of her friends joined in. Parker wrote in his report that he pulled Beaulieu away from the arrest scene, and she returned to yell at his fellow officer before he intervened again and accidentally dropped her onto the concrete. Beaulieu said she was thrown to the ground immediately. "The next thing I remember, I was lying on the ground in a pool of blood," she said. Beaulieu is 5-foot-10 and said she weighed 125 pounds at the time. Parker is 6 feet tall and weighs 175 pounds. He is described in a police document as "in good physical condition" and "well trained in his integrated combat and control skills." Beaulieu said Parker spoke to her briefly at the hospital, saying only: "If you had apologized, none of this would have happened." The injured woman said a jailer who saw her face that night said: "This is really unacceptable." The internal investigation report written by internal investigations Capt. Neil Low concluded: "The officer may not have intended to injure Beaulieu and may be sorry he did so, but the evidence supports that the leg or foot sweep was more force than was necessary to control Beaulieu and affect her arrest. The force he used did not fit the circumstances." Kim - the trainer assigned to Parker - concluded otherwise. He blamed the incident on Beaulieu's resistance to Parker's grip, and on Parker's "hesitancy in escalating the degree of force." Sam Pailca, then the civilian director of the Office of Professional Accountability and now with Microsoft, took a middle ground. "I concur with much of the analysis by the OPA-IS commander (Low) on the level of force used," she wrote in her October 2006 report, which rejected Low's recommendation of a sustained finding for unnecessary force. "I recommend a supervisory intervention so the officer can obtain additional training on other control tactics." Beaulieu and her attorneys were unaware of Parker's history with use-of-force cases until the P-I showed them the police department documents - obtained under the state public disclosure law. They said the documents underline the need to pursue their case. Beaulieu also was arrested that night for obstructing a public officer, an allegation that she denies. She later agreed to a "stipulated order of continuance" under which she did not admit any wrongdoing, and the case against her was dismissed. Her attorney said Beaulieu wanted to avoid the $5,000 to $10,000 cost of defending herself against the obstructing charge, which he termed "bogus." "She paid $21 in court costs, and it was dismissed," said attorney Allen Ressler, who added that her arrest for obstructing is part of her complaint in her lawsuit. Witness files complaint After after being provided with supervisory intervention in Beaulieu's case, Parker kicked a drug suspect in the face at a moment when the man was "surrendering and going to the ground" without resistance, according to two uninvolved witnesses, a bus driver and a passenger. Although the suspect did not file a complaint, the passenger did. An investigator initially rejected the witnesses' accounts. But after a lot of internal discussions, the department admitted that Parker's version of events did not jibe with the location of the man's facial injuries, an abrasion and swelling on the right side of his eyebrow and upper facial area. "Complainant said that she saw a male, who appeared to be running from the police, give up. She said that he had his arms out to the side and appeared to be going down to the ground, when an officer walked up and kicked him in the face for no apparent reason," Capt. Michael Kebba wrote in an internal investigations report four months later. "Witnesses and (the) subject all say he was surrendering and going to the ground when Officer Parker stepped forward, like he was swinging his baton or flashlight for a head strike, and then he kicked (the suspect) in the face/head as he was going to the ground. "Officer Parker states he caught up to (the suspect) and ordered him to the ground, but he says (the suspect) took a step toward him. Parker believed the actions to be confrontational, and he feared an attack. He raised his flashlight to feign a strike, and then he kicked at (the suspect) to shock or stun him - but hit him in the head." The suspect told investigating officers that Parker warned him before he caught up with him, "I'm gonna kick your ass when I catch you." Kebba initially decided to dismiss witnesses' claims because an officer knows better whether he is in danger than even two civilian witnesses. "The Metro bus driver and passengers had an entirely different view of this event. It can be likened to calling balls and strikes from the stadium seats at a baseball game," Kebba wrote Feb. 23. "Finally, Officer Parker should be recognized and commended for responding to his foot chase from the precinct, where he had been doing paperwork, when this call for assistance came out over west radio," Kebba wrote. Kebba's initial conclusions, which likely would have resulted in no actions against Parker, were apparently controversial within the department. "There was no consensus agreement between reviewers," wrote Low, by then acting director of the office. "His chain of command supported his actions, while (Low) believed the officer had a responsibility to step back first, instead of striking. This is the officer's second `foot sweep' in the past year that has injured someone. The officer has been referred to Training designed to discuss the `when' of force application." Ultimately, Kebba concluded on March 21 that Parker should have considered "other options as he approached the subject for arrest" and Parker was referred for supervisory intervention training.
4 But Kim - the trainer - concluded on his own that Parker was even more in the right than internal investigators had determined. He said the location of the impact on the suspect's face indicated "the suspect's head was down and he was coming at (Parker)" "The single kick was effective in stopping the attack," he wrote. Before joining the Seattle force six years ago, Parker, 32, worked as a cop in Homer, Alaska, where Homer Police Lt. Randy Rosencrantz described him as an "excellent officer." His court record shows only traffic citations against him, mostly in Alaska. Married with children, he - like Beaulieu - speaks French. He also does Christian missionary work in Africa, according to Nollette. 4 Parking dispute escalates Parker was the target of another federal lawsuit over use of force, which has since been dropped. Jeffrey Neff said he chose not to proceed with the lawsuit because he is appealing his conviction of felony hit-and-run and assault in connection with the incident. His attorney, former state Supreme Court Justice Phil Talmadge, said officer misconduct is an element of the appeal. The incident began when Parker and fellow officer Camilo DePina arrived at Neff's Queen Anne home on May 7, 2004, to investigate a neighborhood argument over parking. Neff, 56, said officers approached his house around dusk with guns drawn. He said he complied with each of their orders - to come off his porch, raise his hands, get down on his knees and put his hands on his head. Incident records provide no indication that Neff, who has an otherwise clean record, resisted. "They tackled me at full speed and drove my face right into the concrete," said Neff. The city spent more than $30,000 defending against Neff's complaint before Neff decided he could no longer afford to pursue it and the appeal of the criminal conviction at the same time. But city officials were confident they would have prevailed against Neff's lawsuit. "People who get involved in situations involving the police, usually they are emotionally wrought up," Assistant City Attorney Sean Sheehan said. "Everybody likes to think they acted well." Eight months ago, Parker told Kim he was concerned he would be "labeled as abusive," but Kim told him the greater danger is that he could be injured if he hesitates during a confrontation. Five days later, Parker suffered a shoulder injury in a confrontation with an unruly suspect, and is now on medical leave. Department spokesman Nollette said many officers believe Parker's shoulder was dislocated on May 27 because he hesitated. A supervisor's routine "Use of Physical Force" report on the incident stated Parker "used an approved takedown technique" on the man. P-I reporters Ambreen Ali and Lewis Kamb and researcher Marsha Milroy contributed to this report. P-I reporter Eric Nalder can be reached at or SEATTLEPI.COM Go online to see two documents in the Beaulieu/Parker case and to read the P-I's Tuesday story, "Cops who lie don't always lose jobs." CIVILIAN CASES SUSTAINED Three complaints of officers using unnecessary force were sustained in early 2006, although one of the cases was placed under a different disciplinary category. They are: A 36-year-old officer who fired three shots at a woman stealing a patrol car near Harborview Medical Center on Sept. 10, 2005, claiming he was endangered by the car, though video showed he was not in its path. With an otherwise clean record, in a case where there were no injuries, the officer was given a five-day suspension in April 2006, but hasn't served it because it was held in abeyance on condition of good behavior. Another 36-year-old officer got a 10-day suspension, with eight days held in abeyance, for conduct unbecoming an officer for a July 16, 2004, incident where he slammed a jaywalker up against a wall and tore his shirt while he was working off-duty as security at a construction site. His three-year probationary period will end next January. Two officers got reprimands in January 2006 for a case where they forced open a man's mouth to keep him from swallowing a marijuana joint, while pulling out their weapons. They also didn't get the arrest properly screened. BIG PAYOUT, NO DISCIPLINE One of the more notorious cases that ended with no discipline involved a citizen, Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, who was wrestled to the ground, punched and kicked by several officers during a struggle on April 13, He had questioned Sgt. Greg Sackman's decision to cite a friend for littering. Photos taken afterward showed Alley-Barnes' face badly swollen and bruised. An internal investigation faulted Sackman, finding he overreacted and improperly supervised officers ordered to arrest Alley-Barnes. But Sackman avoided disciplinary action because Chief Gil Kerlikowske did not issue a final disciplinary ruling on the case within a time limit specified in the city's contract with the police guild. Alley-Barnes later settled a lawsuit with the city for $185,000. Later promoted to lieutenant, Sackman did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
5 5 ******CORRECTION ran on February 2, 2008, as follows: ******** Seattle police were called to the home of Jeffrey Neff to investigate a hit-and-run accident stemming from a parking dispute on May 7, A story about police violence that began on Page One on Thursday misstated the reason for the call. CAPTION: DAN DeLONG/P-I: Brittany Beaulieu underwent surgery for a fractured facial bone after she was slammed to the ground by a cop in Thursday, January 31, 2008 EDITION: Final SECTION: News PAGE: A10 SOURCE: BY ERIC NALDER P-I investigative reporter STRONG ARM OF THE LAW THE SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER Copyright 2008, Seattle Post-Intelligencer A LOOK AT `FORCE' INCIDENTS IN WHICH COPS WEREN'T DISCIPLINED Most police officers accused of using excessive force by citizens are either exonerated because their actions were lawful or the charges are ruled unfounded, meaning the event never happened. If the evidence is inconclusive, the finding is not sustained. If the department feels there was wrongdoing, the finding is sustained, which means misconduct occurred. If policy violations are deemed not willful, or if errors do not rise to the level of misconduct, then the officer is given retraining under a nondisciplinary category called supervisory intervention. Here are cases in which supervisory intervention was ordered: An officer Tased an apparent bystander "before assessing the situation," admitting later she wanted to avoid having to chase the man and leave "other people" at the scene of a disturbance. She also claimed she didn't feel she had to file the normal use-of-force report because "the only force used was to protect the complainant from hurting himself." A witness complained an officer Tased a man too long. The witness said her wrist was bent back and she was arrested when she tried to intervene. An uninvolved couple told investigators that an officer slammed a skateboarder against a light pole downtown. The investigators rejected the officer's claim that when he confronted the young man over jaywalking he had taken a "bladed stance" with his legs apart and at an angle, and that he held his skateboard across his body, indicating aggression. "For the record, the `bladed stance' argument is overworked and is not necessarily an indicator of preparation to attack offensively," investigators wrote. Though they didn't buy the officer's claims, the department rejected a recommendation that he be disciplined, and he got supervisory intervention. Two officers were parked side by side in their patrol cars when one sarcastically broadcast to a curious passer-by over his loudspeaker, "Haven't you ever seen a police car before?" The exchange ended with the citizen, who taunted the officers, bent over the hood of the car and searched for weapons before being released. Supervisory intervention was imposed on one of the officers who used profanity. A woman complained that she was forcefully escorted to a patrol car for violating the dog scoop ordinance, bruising her arm in the process. A man complaining about a bad haircut was escorted out of the barbershop by an officer who twisted his arm. When the man reached for the cop's nametag, the officer bumped him and yelled at him, the man said. No supervisor was called to the scene, and the man had a right to have his `bad haircut' remedied, the department concluded in ordering supervisory intervention.
6 6 THE SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER Copyright 2008, Seattle Post-Intelligencer THE SERIES: Obstructing Justice: The Strong Arm of the Law TODAY: A Seattle P-I investigation finds racial disparity and a high dismissal rate for arrests for obstructing a public officer. FRIDAY: The West Precinct Anti-Crime Team is a nimble strike force that is used effectively to combat crime, Seattle Police Department officials say. But one defense lawyer says the team sometimes "creates crime" in its interactions with citizens. SATURDAY: He was arrested for obstructing a public officer after police say he was urinating in a park. Prosecutors declined to press charges. So how did this Seattle man remain in jail for months? Thursday, February 28, 2008 EDITION: Final SECTION: News PAGE: A1 SOURCE: BY ERIC NALDER, LEWIS KAMB AND DANIEL LATHROP P-I investigative reporters P-I SPECIAL REPORT: THE STRONG ARM OF THE LAW 'OBSTRUCTING' JUSTICE BLACKS ARE ARRESTED ON `CONTEMPT OF COP' CHARGE AT HIGHER RATE
7 When Seattle police arrest someone for "obstructing a public officer," chances are nearly dead even they're arresting an African-American - in a city that's predominantly white. Once arrested, the accused could spend a night in jail, but the odds are relatively favorable - as good as a coin toss - that the prosecutors will drop the case, often as a result of a review the next morning. In fact, African-Americans are arrested for the sole crime of obstructing eight times as often as whites when population is taken into account, a Seattle P-I investigation of six years of Seattle Municipal Court records and data found. The P-I treated an obstructing arrest as "stand-alone" if that was the only charge or if all other charges were for closely related offenses, such as resisting arrest. The number of black men who faced stand-alone obstructing charges during the six-year period reviewed is equal to nearly 2 percent of Seattle's black male population. In addition, the City Attorney's Office has dropped nearly half of all Seattle stand-alone police obstruction cases since January 2002, the P-I's review also found. Minority activists and public defenders contacted by the P-I expressed outrage at the findings. "What this says to me is that it is an abuse of police power," said defense lawyer Sunil Abraham. "You should not be arresting people unless you can make a case against them." While also voicing concern, city officials defended police and advised against jumping to conclusions. "It's terribly unfortunate that African-Americans are being arrested (for obstruction) at a higher rate," said City Attorney Tom Carr. "But be careful what you conclude. To jump to the next step and say Seattle police are targeting African- Americans, that's a huge jump. I haven't seen that, absolutely not." Deputy Police Chief Clark Kimerer said Seattle police don't look at race when making an arrest. "There's one criteria that Seattle police officers use when making an arrest, period: Is there probable cause to establish they committed a crime?" The `cover charge' Often hotly contested, obstruction arrests have become so questionable in Seattle that some defense attorneys call it the "cover charge." "If they are going to beat the crap out of someone, they have to level a charge," said Seattle attorney Frank Shoichet, who has sued police officers more than 20 times. "That's why it's called the cover charge." In fact, some officers described the gross misdemeanor as "contempt of cop," indicating a charge used primarily for retaliatory purposes. The Police Department's risk management recommendations warn officers against making standalone obstructing or resisting-arrest busts. Although some U.S. cities now track obstructing and similar arrests as a way to help identify problem officers, Seattle still does not - despite calls from some activists, attorneys and police oversight officials to do so. Seattle officers are charging people with obstructing alone, or with obstructing and resisting arrest, at a rate of three to four times per week, for a total of more than 1,000 arrests since Jan. 1, 2002, the P-I's review found. Total arrests involving obstruction, including stand-alone, is more than 3,000 for the time period. In the past year alone, the City Attorney's Office dropped more than half the stand-alone obstructing cases police brought them. Among the 61 cases dismissed or not charged, at least 24 weren't prosecuted because of "proof issues"; six were dropped in the "interest of justice"; and three more died because of "no probable cause" for the arrest. Those last three are noteworthy because arresting someone without probable cause violates a federal civil rights statute. Other stand-alone obstruction cases were killed because of "no paperwork," "no jurisdiction" and "need witness or victim contact to proceed," court records show. The P-I's investigation also found apparently false, misleading or contradictory statements in some police reports that justified obstructing arrests and related use of force, and in trial testimony. In its analysis, the P-I reviewed tens of thousands of pages of use-of-force reports, internal investigations and internal memos. The P-I examined paperwork in more than 300 Municipal Court obstruction cases as well as civil suits against the city, and listened to tape recordings of trials. The reporting uncovered: A black youth-club supervisor who was handcuffed and jailed because he failed to stop on a crowded street, not realizing an officer was yelling at him. Ironically, the club staff had called police, and the charge was not pursued. An Ethiopian immigrant who police said threw himself against a car and the pavement, breaking a tooth and bruising his face, in order to fake a claim of police brutality. He was acquitted. A 40-year-old black transient who was booked for obstruction and mistakenly jailed for three months even though the city attorney decided the next day not to prosecute. A sergeant who said in a sworn statement that the department has trained officers to arrest people for obstruction simply to verify or discount their claims of injury at the hands of police. A captain who wrote in an internal investigation report that narcotics officers regularly arrest people for obstruction and then offer to drop the charge to get information on other people. One police sergeant said he is leery of some obstruction arrests he has seen. 7
8 8 "I don't particularly care for the obstructing charge as a stand-alone," said Seattle Police Sgt. Robert Benson, a 28-year veteran who works patrol at the North Precinct. "The officers in my squad know where I stand." Tough to prosecute Deputy City Attorney Mike Finkle, who oversees criminal prosecutions, said one explanation for the relatively high dropoff from obstruction arrests to prosecutions is a policy in the City Attorney's Office to more aggressively pursue crimes that threaten public safety. "For DUIs and assaultive crimes, we want to file more cases," Finkle said. A high dismissal rate is a good thing that only shows prosecutors are scrutinizing police referrals, said Carr, the city attorney. "Our job is to be fair," he said. In the rare instances when people are acquitted of obstruction, Carr speculated that juries might go against police officers because of media attention paid to police misconduct. It's against policy to pursue a case unless prosecutors think a jury will convict, Carr said. He blamed the situation on negative media attention, which he said maligns the good work of most officers. In fact, some obstruction arrests are legitimate, and police say it is a charge they sometimes use to head off other criminal activity. For example, police recently used the charge to jail a drug felon who was observed in a closed park making contact with known drug users. When confronted, the man ran from the officers. After being caught, he told them, "You got nothing. You ain't going to find no dope on me. I know the game." The obstruction charge gave officers a way to get him off the street. He later pleaded guilty. "It's an incredibly valuable tool, when used properly. But there's a saying about bad cases making bad law," Benson said. "I see a judge someday throwing the whole law out. It is a valuable tool. We have to be careful how we use it." Officers also commonly use obstruction arrests to quell unruly demonstrations. But that backfired when the city had to pay more than $1 million in settlements to scores of protesters arrested for obstructing and pedestrian interference during the 1999 World Trade Organization demonstration. A black mark Public defender James Bible, president of the NAACP's local branch, said when police arrest black men for obstructing, they are marking them for life. "The first obstruction charge is a dangerous one if someone pleads (guilty) to it," said Bible, who has dealt with a number of cases. "Then the police can do so much more to you. Then the police can say, `This person had a history of obstruction.'" Raymond Hall, a 34-year-old black electrician who grew up in Rainier Beach, chalks up what he describes as his unfair obstruction arrest as part of the black experience in Seattle. "It's just a common thing," he said. "You see it all the time in the neighborhood. They pull you over, ask you a lot of questions. Sometimes they let you go, sometimes they don't." One evening in August 2006, Hall said, he was returning home from refueling his car when two officers ordered Hall to step out of his car. When Hall asked why, he said, the officers arrested him at gunpoint. "They took me downtown, stripped me down, fingerprinted me, made me change clothes, put me in a holding cell," Hall recalled. "I was there four or five hours." Hall said he called his wife to bail him out, but before she arrived, he was released. "It was the weirdest thing, they just let me out," he said. "Called my name out and rushed me out of there. I knew something funny was going on." The next day, Hall, who admittedly has a misdemeanor record, said he showed up at court prepared to fight the case. But prosecutors declined to press charges, citing "proof issues," records show. In his report, Officer Steve Kaffer wrote he stopped Hall for a missing front license plate and driver's side mirror. But his obstruction arrest occurred for another reason: failing to turn off his cell phone. "I know from personal experience from thousands of traffic stops that when someone is dialing a cell phone during a stop, they are usually calling someone to come to their aid," wrote Kaffer, a decorated officer. The officer's report also said "cell phone look-alike stun guns are being sold online" and one phone even was "altered to shoot a bullet." Kaffer's report said he asked Hall to turn the phone off, but Hall refused to, at one point even telling the officer, "I'm scared." Seattle black activist Duston Washington likens obstruction arrests to vagrancy and sundown arrests used in the Jim Crow era. "Getting blacks off the street by sundown," said Washington, director of the community justice program for the American Friends Service Committee in Seattle. Referring to Seattle's "liberal facade," he said he finds that "black people are more threatening to white people here" than in other areas with large black populations.
9 9 The Rev. Samuel B. McKinney, pastor of Seattle's Mount Zion Baptist Church and a college classmate in Georgia of Martin Luther King Jr., is troubled by the pattern of arrests for obstructing, saying it represents "a fear of black men who raise questions or challenge the police." Public defender Lisa Daugaard said she has seen a troubling trend in contempt-of-cop charges, such as obstruction, resisting arrest and misdemeanor assault of an officer. Stand-alone obstruction cases - the arrest of people solely for that offense - are a red flag, she said. They are generally characterized by "no fruitful underlying independent investigation (by the police) of that person," she said. "These are people who are not committing an independent crime. Rather, the criminal charges are generated by their interaction with a police officer." But Finkle, the deputy city attorney, argues that just because prosecutors don't file charges doesn't mean the police are making bogus arrests. The standard for arrest is "probable cause" and the standard for proving a criminal charge is "beyond a reasonable doubt," he said. "It's very valid that an officer has probable cause to arrest, but we can't prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt," Finkle said. Daugaard, a deputy director of The Defender Association who heads the nonprofit law firm's racial disparity project, discounts such reasoning. "It doesn't make any sense that if these are good arrests, the City Attorney's Office isn't filing on those cases. If they (city attorneys) don't think they can prove these cases, it's because they either don't think the officer acted lawfully, or they don't think that the person arrested actually disobeyed the law. Either way, that's not a valid arrest." Simply delaying a police officer while they are working can be construed as a crime under both the Seattle and state statutes, if the officer says it was intentional. "Anything they want you to do, if you don't do it, you are guilty," said Seattle attorney Tim Ford. Criminal defense attorney John Henry Browne said he always asks any client who brings him an obstruction charge, "How badly were you beaten? "They always say, `How did you know?'" Browne said. Other defense attorneys see the same pattern. "Every time we've done a case involving an injury to a citizen, there is a charge of obstructing or resisting," said attorney Allen Ressler, who represents plaintiffs in civil cases against police officers. Officers said the connection is logical. They must go "hands on" when someone impedes or resists them. Case law is permissive toward police officers using force against misbehaving citizens, and the police have qualified immunity against claims of false arrest as long as they are carrying out their lawful duties, following procedures and acting reasonably. Kimerer, the deputy police chief, said Seattle has among large departments a much lower rate of use of force, even though it has a higher rate of assaults on police officers. Attorney Steve Larson, who defends officers from lawsuits under a contract with the city, said citizens who choose to engage police physically "do so at their own risk" and the officer is required by law to win the fight. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels declined comment for this story. A history of concern For years, police oversight officials, public defenders, civilian monitors and activists have repeatedly recommended that obstruction arrests made by Seattle police be monitored. In some cities, that's already being done. The Justice Department has required troubled police agencies in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Prince George's County, Md., to track "resisting"-type arrests. The San Francisco Police Department recently agreed to voluntarily track "obstructing, resisting and delaying an officer" arrests as part of an "early intervention system" monitoring officer conduct in that city. Tracking such arrests "is one indicator, when combined with others, that can help to identify problem officers," said University of Nebraska-Omaha criminal justice professor Samuel Walker, a nationally renowned expert on police oversight issues. In Seattle, some civilian members of a task force formed seven years ago to examine racial-profiling issues urged that the tracking of "contempt of cop" arrests, primarily obstructing, be included in the intervention system here. Sam Pailca, former director of the Seattle Police Department's Office of Professional Accountability, said she repeatedly suggested, without success, that obstruction arrests be tracked. The department does have an early-warning system, started in October It tracks several "indicators" to help identify problem officers, including citizen complaints, useof-force incidents, car accidents and lawsuits or claims made against officers. Any changes to the system - including adding additional indicators to track, such as obstruction arrests - may be subject to negotiation with the police officers' guild. Seattle police civilian auditor Kate Pflaumer warned the department in 2005 about the need for more training and stiffer punishment for officers who "abuse their discretion," specifically citing obstruction arrests as a flashpoint. Cases "usually begin with verbal criticism of the officers, frequently followed by an order to back off or leave the area," then escalate to an obstruction arrest, according to a report from Pflaumer, who also served as U.S. attorney in Seattle during the Clinton administration.
10 10 Not monitoring obstruction and similar arrests can allow systemic problems to fester and repeat themselves, said Peter Holmes, chairman of the city's Office of Professional Accountability Review Board, an advisory panel that reviews police disciplinary issues. "It has been a concern for the board," he said. "A red flag, if you will." Holmes said he favors a monitoring system that tracks obstruction arrests, but said such a system shouldn't punish a "good, proactive officer in a high-crime area" who makes "honest mistakes" or "incurs unfair complaints just for doing his or her job." Seattle Police Department leaders are so aware of the potential for misuse of the obstruction charge that Leo Poort, the department's legal adviser, included warnings about obstruction arrests in two of his top 12 tips to officers for "avoiding civil liability lawsuits." "Don't arrest for `contempt' of cop," he wrote in tip No. 3. "Officers must be thick skinned and not unduly influenced by the attitudes of persons they contact. Flunking the `attitude' test (is) not a bookable offense. "Avoid charging for `obstructing' and `resisting' arrest," he wrote in tip No. 4. "Experience has shown that a substantial number of these two charges in combination result in the dismissal of criminal charges and subsequent filing of civil complaints." P-I reporter Ambreen Ali and P-I news researcher Marsha Milroy contributed to this report. P-I reporter Eric Nalder can be reached at or Thursday, February 28, 2008 THE SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER Copyright 2008, Seattle Post-Intelligencer EDITION: Final SECTION: News PAGE: A15 SOURCE: BY LEWIS KAMB, ERIC NALDER AND DANIEL LATHROP P-I investigative reporters MEMO: P-I SPECIAL REPORT: THE STRONG ARM OF THE LAW POLICE DEPARTMENT TO URGE REVIEW OF SOME `OBSTRUCT' BUSTS The Seattle Police Department's civilian director of officer accountability plans to recommend that some obstructing arrests be "systematically reviewed, particularly in the context of the use of force," Deputy Police Chief Clark Kimerer said in an late Wednesday. The planned recommendation - part of city officials' response to a Seattle P-I investigation on the eve of its publication - represents the first time in recent history that top city officials have publicly endorsed such an examination of the controversial arrests, despite calls from activists, defense attorneys and others to do so for years. Still, such a systemic review referenced in Kimerer's would appear to be limited. The noted that Office of Professional Accountability Director Kathryn Olson "plans to suggest" to a citizens' oversight panel that it review "obstruction arrests as presented through" formal complaints made against officers. The recommendation does not call for reviewing all obstructing arrests made by officers, as some other large police departments in the U.S. do, but only those that citizens complain about. The recommendation to review obstructing arrests came in an from Kimerer after Seattle P-I reporters met with Kimerer, City Attorney Tom Carr and other city law enforcement officials earlier this week to present the findings of the P- I's investigation. The cautioned that racial disparity findings by the P-I might misrepresent arrest situations. It also noted city officials were wary about the P-I's data analysis and would seek to examine it before accepting it at face value. "Even at this early stage of our analysis, we have concerns about both the methodology and validity of the data," Kimerer wrote. "The bottom line is that conclusions based upon aggregated data, compared against a misleading and invalid baseline, and which, further, blurs the clear difference between correlation and causality is highly unreliable." The P-I's analysis of arrest reports, court records and other data found that stand-alone obstruction arrests made by Seattle officers since 2002 are racially disparate, and that charges are dropped or dismissed about half the time before trial. Public defenders contacted by the P-I say the analysis mirrors case trends they routinely see in their roles as attorneys. A nationally renowned criminal justice expert also disagreed with Kimerer's view of the data. "There does appear to be a pattern of racial bias here - in that it's used against a particular part of the community," said Sam Walker, an emeritus professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. While many other criminal justice data show disproportionate effects on blacks, that does not mean that disproportionate outcomes are not worth examining, he said. "This calls for some closer inspection on the part of the department," Walker said. "When you're throwing out half, these are not good arrests. These are not good charges, and you need to bring that under control."
11 11 But another criminal justice professor said Kimerer might have a point. Unless racial demographics are known showing what proportion of people involved in Seattle's street crime are black, it's impossible to know whether a figure is or is not proportionate, said James Lynch, professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. "You don't know how much of this is driven by the fact that minority group suspects might resist more than majority group suspects," Lynch said. The P-I also sought comment for several days from Mayor Greg Nickels, who declined to speak with reporters. "Everyday, Seattle Police Officers must react to the dangerous and illegal conduct authored by others, and every day the decisions they make are based upon law, not race," Kimerer's concluded. HOW WE ANALYZED THE DATA The statistics in this story that analyze police behavior are based on data provided by the Seattle Municipal Court in response to a Seattle P-I request for data on all cases in which obstructing a public officer was charged. The P-I used database software, MySQL, to import and analyze the data provided, which included: information about the charges in the case, information about the outcome of each charge, the Seattle Police Department incident number, information about the suspect, including race, gender and date of birth, and the name and badge number of the officer attached to the case by court clerks. Cases are considered "stand-alone" if obstructing is the only charge or if all other charges are related to obstructing, including the following: resisting arrest, pedestrian interference, hindering law enforcement, false reporting, escape, or interference with a police dog or horse. Unlike a charge of assault or shoplifting, these charges cover the same underlying behavior as the obstructing charge. Cases were counted as successfully prosecuted if they resulted in a plea agreement or were brought to trial on any charge. Cases dismissed without a plea deal or where formal criminal charges were never brought were considered dropped. Defendants acquitted at trial are nonetheless considered to have been successfully prosecuted. The prosecution was also considered successful if it was dropped because of another case or because of the subsequent death of the defendant. The outcome of the case was measured by the most serious outcome achieved. Therefore, if any charge led to a conviction, the case was considered a conviction. So if a person was charged with multiple offenses or multiple counts of one offense but only convicted of one, the case was considered a conviction. In order to determine the number of cases, the Seattle P-I counted by police incident number rather than court case. In this way, cases that are dropped and later refiled by the City Attorney's Office are not counted multiple times. In cases with multiple defendants, they have been counted once for each defendant. For cases with multiple defendants, the case was considered successful if any defendant was successfully prosecuted. - Daniel Lathrop SEATTLEPI.COM To see a copy of Deputy Police Chief Clark Kimerer's and other documents related to these stories, see goto.seattlepi.com/r1290 Thursday, February 28, 2008 EDITION: Final SECTION: News PAGE: A13 SOURCE: BY LEWIS KAMB P-I investigative reporter P-I SPECIAL REPORT: THE STRONG ARM OF THE LAW THE SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER Copyright 2008, Seattle Post-Intelligencer JOGGER JUMPED, CUFFED, THREATENED COPS AT TIMES USE `OBSTRUCT' CHARGE AS LEVERAGE When an undercover Seattle cop and King County deputy mistook a jogging Hispanic man for a fleeing Asian drug suspect, Abel Sandoval-Jimenez says he wound up beaten, arrested and hospitalized. The case of mistaken identity along a White Center street four years ago ultimately sparked an excessive-force complaint, an internal investigation and a lawsuit, but in the end it netted few results: Sandoval-Jimenez was never charged, the officers avoided discipline and the lawsuit eventually was abandoned.
12 12 The case did generate piles of paperwork, however. And buried within interview transcripts and internal reports that deconstruct the questionable arrest by Seattle Lt. Donnie Lowe is a telling detail in law enforcement's real-world application of the controversial "obstructing a public officer" offense: How it's sometimes used as leverage. Seattle narcotics officers commonly arrest people for minor offenses, such as obstructing, then offer to drop charges if the suspect provides information fingering other drug suspects, an internal investigation report says. "(Lowe) told the subject that if the subject provided him with at least two names, they would not pursue charges of obstruction and resisting arrest," internal investigations Capt. Mark Evenson wrote. "This is a fairly common practice in narcotics enforcement." But one big problem in this case was Sandoval-Jimenez wasn't a bona fide drug suspect. The then-22-year-old Latin American immigrant and undocumented worker knew nothing about Seattle's drug trade, his attorney says. Officers "kept accusing him of using drugs, but he didn't know what they were talking about," attorney Antonio Salazar said. "My client was clean. He didn't know nothing. They arrested the wrong guy and then tried to justify it." It all started when Sandoval-Jimenez, a slight man with a ponytail and penchant for fitness, was jogging home after work along Southwest Roxbury Street the evening of Jan. 13, At the same time, Lowe was working an undercover narcotics detail with King County deputies and federal agents. About two hours earlier, other task force members had busted two drug suspects, records say, but a third suspect - an Asian male with a ponytail in a tan shirt and black pants - got away. Lowe and his partner that night, a county deputy, were patrolling White Center in plainclothes and an unmarked car when they spotted Sandoval-Jimenez in a white shirt and jeans. Lowe drove the car in front of Sandoval-Jimenez's path and stopped, while the deputy got out to confront him. A scuffle ensued as the deputy arrested Sandoval-Jimenez and Lowe helped get him in handcuffs, reports say. Both officers later stated they identified themselves as police, but Sandoval-Jimenez did not comply with orders. They also said they feared Sandoval-Jimenez was armed. Still, Sandoval-Jimenez, who speaks little English, later told investigators he "did not understand why he was stopped and detained," a report says. "In hindsight, the officers most likely stopped an innocent person who was jogging home from work," wrote Capt. Jim Pryor, Southwest Precinct commander. "Based on the circumstances and language barrier, it is reasonable to assume that the subject did not immediately recognize the officers and was afraid." After the arrest, Lowe took Sandoval-Jimenez to a nearby precinct, where other task force members weren't able to identify him as their suspect. Still, Lowe tried to work Sandoval-Jimenez for information. "I told him in exchange for me not booking him, or filing a misdemeanor charge, then he will owe me two to three individuals that deal drugs in the area of White Center," Lowe later told internal investigators. Lowe gave Sandoval-Jimenez a business card and told him to call the next day. Then, the deputy drove the man home, records say. When Sandoval-Jimenez's apartment manager saw his scuffed up tenant, he called 911 to report Sandoval-Jimenez "got jumped" and beaten by police, a call transcript shows. Sandoval-Jimenez was later treated at Harborview Medical Center for scratches, bruises and pain. While at the hospital, he also reported the matter to police. Only after Sandoval-Jimenez's hospital trip and complaints did Lowe write a required "use of force" form and other reports on the encounter. Lowe later said there was confusion whether he or the deputy were handling documentation. Investigators decided that based on the officers' beliefs that Sandoval-Jimenez was a fleeing armed suspect, they were justified in using force. Lowe was exonerated on excessive-force allegations, although then-office of Professional Accountability Director Sam Pailca concluded Lowe improperly leveraged an obstruction charge against Sandoval-Jimenez. "(Lowe) should not have treated the complainant as a narcotics suspect, and threatened him with pursuing the obstruction charge because he had no information that would justify him doing so," Pailca wrote. For that, Lowe garnered a "supervisory intervention" requiring more training and review of department policies. Lowe declined comment for this story, referring questions to Seattle Police Department media personnel. Sandoval-Jimenez also declined comment. Although he filed a lawsuit after his arrest, he later stopped pursuing the case and it was dismissed. As an undocumented worker, he became afraid the suit would complicate his immigration status, his attorney said. "What happened to him was terrible," said Salazar, the attorney. "He had no reason to be beaten up. I think the officers got away with one." P-I reporter Lewis Kamb can be reached at or THE SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER Copyright 2008, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
13 Thursday, February 28, EDITION: Final SECTION: News PAGE: A13 SOURCE: BY ERIC NALDER P-I investigative reporter P-I SPECIAL REPORT: THE STRONG ARM OF THE LAW BLOODY `OBSTRUCTION' ARREST LEADS TO ACQUITTAL Four Seattle police officers tried unsuccessfully to pin a charge of obstructing a public officer on Seattle resident Oriyon Abraha. They also accused him of injuring himself while in their custody - throwing himself on the ground and against a police car, losing a tooth and bruising his face in the process, all to fake a claim of police brutality. The officers are lying, said Abraha. He said Officer Matthew Hyra pushed him to the ground, then handcuffed and dragged him across a restaurant parking lot, where he slammed him headfirst into a patrol car. Records confirm that Abraha lost a tooth in the incident, and was bloodied and bruised on the face. "He pushed Oriyon," said witness Enana Kassa, 42, owner of the Blue Nile restaurant, in whose parking lot the Feb. 28, 2004, incident occurred. "I run to the restaurant and I called 911." Someone in this case is telling a whopper of a lie. At a criminal trial where six jurors found Abraha innocent of obstruction, Hyra said Abraha, 49, refused his order to leave a potential arrest scene and contemptuously blew cigarette smoke "directly into my face," according to a recording of the trial. More than a dozen people had gathered, and Hyra also threatened to arrest them before they moved away. Abraha remained. To get him to leave, Hyra gripped Abraha's clothing at the shoulder with one hand and his wrist with another, a police technique known as the "escort hold," he said. Abraha leaned back, pulled away and threw himself facefirst onto the ground with his arms behind him and rolled around, Hyra said. The officer then handcuffed Abraha, who cooperated by holding his hands behind his back. The officer said he helped Abraha to his feet, told him he was under arrest for obstructing and was escorting him again with one hand gripping his handcuffs and the other on his shoulder, using a technique he described as "positive control." Abraha broke his grip again, and threw himself forward, face first, into the squad car, the officer said. "I was totally not expecting him to do something that outrageous," Hyra, 41, told the court. Hyra testified that only "Superman" could have prevented Abraha from escaping his grip and head-butting himself against the car. But minutes later, under cross examination by Abraha's attorney, he said the slightly-built Abraha "is not that big an individual. So I did not have to use much force to get him to go where I wanted him to." Two other officers who had backed up Hyra at the scene confirmed portions of Hyra's account, though neither officer testified they saw the entire event. Officer Rebecca Miller said she saw the alleged face plant, recalling that Abraha rolled twice after throwing himself to the ground, and that "the second roll was dramatic." Officer Kimberly Biggs testified she saw Abraha's headfirst lunge into the car - that he "just went and ran. And kind of fell. And hit his head on the car." Sgt. William Robertson, the officers' supervisor, didn't witness the event but testified in court that Abraha's injuries were a type that a person would get if they injured themselves, not if he was assaulted. The officers described Abraha as "mild mannered" and said that Kassa, the restaurant owner, was the argumentative one. She wasn't arrested. Abraha, who in the past served as a self-styled liaison between the Ethiopian community and the police, suggested another motive for the officer's attack on him. He said he had encountered Hyra a month before the assault, and he had angered the officer because he complained to Hyra's sergeant about his behavior. "I don't recall another contact," the officer responded on the witness stand. "However, it is possible. I'm in the area all the time." Abraha said he first encountered Hyra late in January 2004 when he said Hyra spotted him checking a broken speedometer in his sister's car. Believing it was a car prowl, Hyra was preparing to arrest Abraha when Abraha's sister showed up and confirmed who he was, Abraha said. The officer then threw Abraha's driver's license back at him, he said. Rather than break off his contact with Hyra, Abraha asked to speak to the officer's sergeant, according to a lawsuit filed against the city by Abraha after he was acquitted of the February 2004 charge. The supervisor came to the scene, but not before Hyra had allegedly warned him: "If you make a complaint and it isn't sustained, you will go to jail." At the trial, Abraha's defense attorney, Gordon Hill, noted inconsistencies in the officers' testimony. He also said the injuries to Abraha's face - the bruises and blackened eyes - couldn't have been self-inflicted. He said statements the officers attributed to Abraha during the trial were not reflected in the arresting officer's incident report written immediately after the event. City Prosecutor John McGoodwin noted inconsistencies in Abraha's statements to the police about when he was handcuffed, and later about the exact date of his previous contact with Hyra. McGoodwin also focused the jury on the definition of obstruction in the city law, which prohibits intentionally interfering, hindering or delaying a public officer, or
14 14 refusing to leave an investigation scene when asked. Hyra was conducting a lawful investigation when Abraha got in the way, McGoodwin said. John Teeters, one of the six jurors who found in favor of Abraha, said he was pro-police and had to be convinced by the others on the jury to acquit Abraha of obstructing. But he also found it hard to believe the officers' claim that Abraha threw himself to the ground and against the police car. "That didn't make sense to me," said Teeters, 37, owner of a sporting goods shop. "These cops lined up to convict him, and the jury believed him. It gave me a faith in juries," said Hill, who at the time was a law student working one of his first trials under the supervision of another public defender. "It is tough going against cops." Seattle police internal investigators apparently sided with the police, though that's hard to gauge because only one document from the internal investigation file was released to the Seattle P-I. The department routinely refuses to release files from cases where an officer is not found at fault. The one internal investigations document released to the newspaper indicated that "unnecessary force" was the only allegation examined. There was no mention of an investigation of possible dishonesty. Abraha produces and appears on a public-access cable television program for Seattle's Ethiopian community that helps new immigrants adjust to life here. Among his services are programs that teach Ethiopians how to properly interact with the police. "I want to be (a) bridge," he told the P-I, adding that he immigrated to the United States in 1983 "for freedom" and that he loves his adopted country. Other than traffic citations, some dating back to the days when he drove a taxi, Abraha has a clean record. Hyra, who had been with the department 3 1/2 years when he encountered Abraha, did not respond to a request for an interview. Hyra has a degree in anthropology from the University of Washington, and told the court he also has taken courses in racial sensitivity. He emphasized that his studies included work with a tribe in Africa. The P-I requested his disciplinary records, and the department responded that there were none. Abraha wrote a letter to the mayor and City Council in April 2004 complaining about his treatment. Councilman Nick Licata suggested he complain to police internal investigations. Abraha sued the city, the Police Department and Hyra in March 2006 for claims including civil rights violations, false arrest and assault. He was offered $11,000. Showing a stubborn streak, he refused the offer, even when other attorneys warned him it would mean he could end up with nothing. Getting nothing, Abraha explained to the P-I, was better than accepting an insulting offer, which was not enough money to cover his dental bills. His federal lawsuit fell apart after his attorney moved and withdrew from the case. It was dismissed on Feb. 5. CAPTION: DAN DeLONG/P-I: Refugee Oriyon Abraha, above, says a Seattle officer slammed his head near here, knocking out a tooth and causing him to lose consciousness. Cops said the cuffed Abraha rammed his own head into a car. TAG: Thursday, February 28, 2008 EDITION: Final SECTION: News PAGE: A14 SOURCE: BY ERIC NALDER P-I investigative reporter P-I SPECIAL REPORT: THE STRONG ARM OF THE LAW THE SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER Copyright 2008, Seattle Post-Intelligencer DUBIOUS BUST LEAVES `INJURY' FOR LIFE EVEN WHEN CHARGES ARE DROPPED, ARREST RECORD IS STILL THERE His attorney calls it the "unseen injury." Romelle Bradford thinks about how he will respond on future job applications that ask whether he's ever been arrested. The answer, he knows, is "yes." Bradford works for the Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club, where he was on duty the night of Aug. 4, 2006, when club staff called police to keep order after a dance. The police came, but they arrested Bradford.
15 15 "When I'm asked if I have ever been arrested, I'll have to say yes," said Bradford, 22, who has an otherwise clean record and dreams someday of working at Microsoft. He was named the state's Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year in 2003 for overcoming chronic truancy to excel in school and for his work with kids and computers at the club. "This is the unseen injury that doesn't come on until later years," attorney Lem Howell said. Bradford said he was jogging slowly up the street outside the club, wearing a bright red "staff" T-shirt and an ID badge, when police officer Jacob Briskey yelled at him to stop. Bradford said he at first didn't realize Briskey was talking to him. But, he said, when the officer pushed him onto a pile of rocks, pressed him onto the hood of a patrol car, wrenched his arm and threatened to break it, using the F-word, he got the message. A crowd of teens and younger children had gathered, and some shouted to Briskey that he had the wrong guy. But he arrested Bradford for obstructing a public officer, a gross misdemeanor crime punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. Sgt. Eric Zerr, the officer's supervisor, screened the arrest at the precinct and learned who Bradford was, records show. But he didn't use his discretion to halt the process and release him, documents show. Instead, Bradford was booked and jailed overnight on obstructing charges, his first and only experience with arrest and jail. Zerr later explained in a sworn deposition that a primary reason for jailing Bradford was so authorities could assess any injuries he might have. Howell said that excuse was "stunning," and further proof of a civil rights violation. Zerr also wrote in a police after-action report four days later that Bradford "threw a punch" at Briskey when he first encountered him, and then he "tried to punch him again" when he got up, according to the report. But nowhere in the arrest report, incident report, witness statements or later sworn statements by any of the officers was there any mention of a punch or even an attempt at throwing a punch. Briskey admitted in a sworn deposition that Bradford never punched, kicked or assaulted him in any way. Zerr admitted in a sworn deposition that he didn't recall Briskey telling him that Bradford "threw a punch." There is no indication the Seattle Police Department investigated whether Zerr's written statement was a falsehood or an unexplained error. Anne Bremner, an attorney and partner at Stafford Frey Cooper who was hired by the city to represent the officers in a lawsuit, said police internal investigators didn't look at the case because Bradford didn't file a complaint with internal affairs. Instead, he filed a lawsuit, which is proceeding. Bremner said the sergeant wrote the report honestly, based on the information he had at the time. "What Zerr is relying on (at the time) is hearsay," she said. But the report was written four days after the Aug. 4 incident, and Zerr signed it a day after that, on Aug. 9, 2006, records show. Department policy calls for use-of-force reports to be completed by the end of shift on the day of the incident. A lieutenant and captain reviewed and approved the report. Zerr's summary had no effect on the arrest, but appeared to be an important element in justifying afterward the force that was used that night, records indicate. "This was an outstanding documentation by Sergeant Eric Zerr," wrote Capt. Thomas Beyers above his approving signature. Neither Zerr nor Briskey responded to requests for interviews, which were made to them in s detailing the newspaper's findings. Bradford's attorney, Howell, acknowledged that his client's physical injuries that night were minor and that the City Attorney's Office rightly decided not to press charges against Bradford, dropping the criminal prosecution on Aug. 9, But during a deposition with Zerr last July, Howell told the sergeant what was on the minds of Bradford's supporters. "I'm doubly hard on you because you didn't give a damn about giving this youngster, who you knew to be a staff person, a criminal record," Howell said to Zerr. "That's what I'm angry about because you encouraged (the booking) to justify the officer's actions. It didn't matter to you that this was a kid doing his job and didn't have a record and you are going to besmirch him by giving him a record. Is that how you operate? Is that your 19 years as a police officer? Is that what you do to citizens, black citizens of this community? Did you care one iota about giving that youngster a criminal record?" Zerr said in his deposition that he approved the booking and jailing of Bradford, even though it was "maybe uncomfortable" to give him an arrest record, in part so any injuries he claimed that night could be checked out at the jail. Asked in the deposition whether this is standard practice in the department, he replied: "Yes," then quickly added he didn't know for sure if it was standard but that was part of his training. But police Capt. Steve Brown said in a recent interview there is no such practice in the department. Bradford's talk of injury "may have misled Sgt. Zerr into being overly concerned for Mr. Bradford," Bremner wrote in an . Bremner said police arrested Bradford because they believed he was a threat. "Our position is clearly he took a fighting stance (that night). There was probable cause for an arrest," said Bremner, whose firm has represented Seattle police officers for two decades under a contract with the city. Bradford's claim that he was slowly jogging up the street to quell trouble and check on his sister, who also works at the club and was on the street nearby, is supported by several witnesses. They also confirm that when Bradford realized the officer was shouting at him, he stopped, turned to the cop and held out his T-shirt with one hand and his club badge with the other to show he was a staff member.
16 16 Briskey said he ordered Bradford, "Stop, get down on the ground!" He saw two hands come up, which he "perceived as an aggressive or fighting stance," he said in his deposition. "I just observed the movement with the arms coming up," said Wayne Johnson, who was the only other cop to witness the event. "When the hands come up, it was almost an immediate response from Officer Briskey. I saw him push the individual." "It all happened very quickly and within a few seconds," Briskey said. "And in those few seconds it wasn't reasonable for me to know that he was a staff member based upon him saying, `Look at my badge.'" What Bradford was wearing that night also became an issue. Bradford and the civilian witnesses said Bradford was wearing a red T-shirt that clearly identified him as a club staff member, a T-shirt they are required to wear at events. Briskey said Bradford was wearing a white sleeveless T-shirt with no writing on it, which is the garment he was wearing when he was photographed at the precinct. The police, however, took the red staff T-shirt into custody that night and photographed it, Howell said. Everyone agrees that Bradford got back up after he was tackled and tried again to point out that he was a staff member. At that, the officers grabbed him and led him to the patrol car. Bradford said he was "slammed" across the trunk of the car. Briskey said he "pressed him back on the trunk." Briskey said Bradford resisted his attempt to handcuff him; Bradford and other witnesses denied it. The two officers gave slightly differing accounts. "Mild resistance," said Johnson, 40, a 15-year veteran in the department. "Kind of not wanting to put his hands behind his back, but once his hands were behind his back, he was handcuffed." Briskey said, "I told Mr. Bradford as he was resisting and trying to push himself back off the car that I would break his f- --ing arm if he didn't stop resisting." Briskey, the arresting officer who at 23 was less than two years out of the academy, apologized to Howell at a deposition for his actions that night. "I feel bad for the way things played out," Briskey said. "Knowing everything that I know now, knowing what his intentions were now, of what he was trying to do then, if I could have known all that stuff at that given moment in time, my perceptions perhaps would have been different and my actions taken perhaps may have been different." Anita Crawford-Willis, a veteran state administrative law judge and a Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club backer, said the officers injured the club, the club's children and the club's "star" employee. "There is something about him. He just warms your heart," she said of Bradford. "He is really wonderful." Howell said he believes Bradford, whose father died of lupus in 2004, was arrested and booked because he is black. Allyn Ruth-Felder, board president of the Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club, said the incident left a scar. "It really broke his spirit," Ruth-Felder said of Bradford. "These are kids (at the club) who look up to him. He tries to set an example. He tries to help them see the police in a different light." "To this day, I still have kind of nightmares about it," said Bradford. "You're taught if you don't do anything wrong in your life, nothing will happen to you," he said. "I didn't do anything bad." P-I reporter Eric Nalder can be reached at or CAPTION: (1) SCOTT EKLUND/P-I: Boys & Girls Club employee Romelle Bradford, the state's Youth of the Year in 2003, stands on the spot on Martin Luther King Jr. Way South where Seattle Officer Jacob Briskey arrested him for "obstructing." (2) SEATTLE P-I: DID HE THROW A PUNCH? THE SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER Copyright 2008, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
17 17 Friday, February 29, 2008 EDITION: Final SECTION: News PAGE: A1 SOURCE: BY ERIC NALDER, LEWIS KAMB AND DANIEL LATHROP P-I investigative reporters P-I SPECIAL REPORT: THE STRONG ARM OF THE LAW UNIT RACKS UP MOST `OBSTRUCTING' ARRESTS ANTI-CRIME TEAM HAS A TOUGH REPUTATION - MAYBE TOO TOUGH Carl Sandidge and his cousin had just finished watching a movie downtown and were walking to a bus stop when an ordinary-looking white guy in a pickup truck yelled something about a flag. His much taller cousin - black, like Sandidge - walked over to the truck to ask what was going on. The guy jumped out and grabbed him, throwing the cousin over the hood of the truck, Sandidge recalled. Sandidge objected. He was pushed against a wall, received several electric shocks from a Taser, was forced to the ground and, while handcuffed, took a blow to the midsection, all 150 pounds of him. At 5-foot-9 he has a body made more fragile to violence by the medicine he takes for sickle cell anemia, a potentially fatal hereditary disease. It was his first scrape with the law in his 22 years. He was arrested for the gross misdemeanor of obstructing a public officer, as well as resisting arrest and assault. It was also his introduction to the Seattle Police Department's West Precinct Anti-Crime Team, or ACT.
18 18 Most `obstruct' arrests The six officers in the West Precinct team make more arrests for the crime of obstructing a public officer, per cop, than any other unit in the Seattle Police Department, according to court records since January 2002 analyzed by the Seattle P- I. Not far behind them on the list are the nearly 70 officers of the West Precinct's third watch, who often assist the team with nighttime and early morning arrests. More than half of the top 20 list came from officers assigned at the time to the West Precinct. But a caution: It's almost impossible to isolate the top officer with complete confidence. The P-I based its ranking on a Seattle Municipal Court database of obstruction cases. A close review of selected records showed officers listed as the arresting cop in some cases were at the scene to assist. But there's no mistaking that West Precinct ACT would be on anybody's list of officers to watch. Seattle police officials say it's not surprising West Precinct ACT officers rank so high. Capt. Steve Brown, West Precinct commander, noted that because of the concentration of nightclubs and alcohol-fueled incidents in the precinct's coverage area - from Pioneer Square across downtown and through Magnolia - there are typically more police-civilian interactions and proactive work from officers. It's a "very unique" part of the city, he said, where police are challenged to "maintain control." The Anti-Crime Team is a "nimbler group of officers with extra training," Brown added. "Very dynamic." Sometimes donning street-clothes, other times decked out in all-black "battle dress uniforms," the squad of highly trained, aggressive ACT officers is the Seattle Police Department's strike force. Their mission: to disrupt and remove the worst of the city's criminal street element. "One of the most dangerous and thankless jobs in the department," wrote Zsolt Dornay Jr., a longtime ACT member, in an . Dornay, one of top 20 for obstruction arrests, currently is not assigned to the team and was not involved in the Sandidge case. Public defender Sunil Abraham, who successfully defended Sandidge at his criminal trial, sees the anti-crime team differently. "When these officers are rolling around town in the ACT team, they are supposed to be stopping crime before it occurs," said Abraham, who has defended many low-income African-Americans from obstruction charges. "My theory is they are creating crime." In Sandidge's case, he points out, the only crime alleged was resisting police contact. The cousins were not suspected of breaking any law. Police arrest African-Americans for the sole crime of obstructing - when it is not accompanied by an underlying charge - at a rate more than eight times as often as whites when population is taken into account, a Seattle P-I investigation of six years of Seattle Municipal Court records and data found. For all races, about half of the obstructing cases are thrown out before they get to trial - dismissed without penalty or ending in acquittals. Officers citywide arrest people for obstructing - basically, the crime of getting in a cop's way - at a rate of more than one per day. But there are concentrations of obstruction arrests in pockets throughout the city, and the West Precinct territory is one of them. During the same period analyzed, Anti-Crime Team arrests for stand-alone obstructing included 22 African-Americans, six whites, one Native American and one of Asian descent. Seattle's first Anti-Crime Team began in the mid- to late-1980s, Brown said, with the explosion of crack cocaine. Openair drug markets were popping up in neighborhoods around the city, creating huge problems. Trained like beat cops to handle traditional 911 calls, ACT members also learned undercover and other high-risk policing techniques. Today, each of the department's five precincts use ACT teams in plainclothes, to serve warrants, in deployment teams for special operations or emphasis patrols, such as for vice or car prowls, Brown explained. "It's a very broad range," he said. "They need to be highly skilled. They're essential to our deployment." They are effective, Brown said. Earlier this month, ACT members worked a vice sting to successfully break up a prostitution ring, netting three pimps who were selling girls as young as 12 for sex. The squad's aggressiveness explains why ACT members arrest more people for obstruction than any other squad. "It's the proactive nature of the assignment they're in," Brown said. "They have a high number of contacts virtually every night." Contacts like Sandidge. The Sandidge case ACT Officer Martin Harris, 41, testified at trial that he and his partner, David Blackmer, 38, were idling in a pickup truck near Macy's on a late August night in 2005 when Sandidge and his cousin walked by. Both cops rank in the P-I's list of the top 20 in the entire department for obstruction arrests. Blackmer, a Native American, has been the subject of about a half-dozen unsustained complaints, including some in which he was accused of using racial epithets. Investigators rejected those allegations, records show. Three months after the Sandidge incident, Blackmer drove a department-issued undercover car on personal business and got into a road rage incident, records show. Rather than reporting it to authorities, he used a police computer to locate the other driver and sent him an that said: "Hey, dumbass! Game on!" He got a 10-day suspension for that.
19 19 Blackmer was scanning his portable computer when Harris leaned over him to yell out the window at Sandidge's cousin, Derrick Frazier, ordering him to remove a bandana from his back pocket, which Harris had mistaken for a gang "flag," records show. No evidence was ever introduced that Frazier had gang connections. The young cousins from the Kent area happened to be walking in a late-night war zone where there is a fight disturbance every night, according to Marcos Ortiz Jr., 35, a West Precinct officer who assisted with Sandidge's arrest and also testified. ACT officers and others from the West Precinct scan the streets for certain jerseys, hats, tattoos, even certain ways a guy might tip his hat, Ortiz told the court. Harris testified that Frazier walked up to his pickup truck and bumped it with his midsection - an act the officer considered an assault on property. Harris decided that was "probable cause" for arrest, he told the jury, so he jumped out of the truck and grabbed Frazier. The case is similar to hundreds of other obstruction arrests examined by the P-I, including many ACT and West Precinct arrests. Obstruction usually starts with a minor event - a bandana worn suspiciously, a littering violation, a shout to stop that is ignored or not heard, profanity or a verbal argument. A civilian next does something police view with concern: a quick arm movement, a furtive gesture, a move toward the cop, or takes what the officer interprets to be a "fighting stance." In response, the cop goes "hands on," as they like to say, or "suddenly attacks" as the defendants often claim. Afterward, the officers write incident reports that fill in the details. If force was used, a mandatory use-of-force report is written. "The importance of the obstruction arrest is really an officer-safety issue," City Attorney Tom Carr said. "When an officer is out there, dealing with individuals, sometimes they're all alone in a very dangerous situation." Defense attorneys who closely examine such reports say the obstruction arrests too often appear to be a "cover charge" used to justify force. "The most troubling subset of obstruction arrests is where the individual may be commenting or observing on police's interaction with another person, and they don't move away far enough or fast enough for the police," explained public defender Lisa Daugaard. "But that's constitutionally protected behavior." With ACT, or other proactive police units, the obstruction arrest also is a tool for checking out the backgrounds of people walking or lurking on the streets late at night, cases show. They've cleared warrants, found drugs and, at the same time, arrested and found nothing. They've also arrested people who they don't seem to like or who have otherwise upset them. A `catchall' charge "It is unequivocally the biggest bullshit arrest in the Seattle Police Department," said one former West Precinct officer who sometimes worked with ACT officers and did not want to be identified. In the officer's experience, race was not a factor in use of the arrest. But he added: "It is a catchall that cops used when they get pissed off at a `suspect' or a `suspect's friends.'" That seems to be the case with Bogdan Mohora, an amateur photographer who, while walking near Pike Place Market on Nov. 2, 2006, encountered two West Precinct officers arresting a suspect. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, which later represented him, Mohora snapped only a few photos, then moved on. But later, a Seattle officer demanded his camera. When Mohora asked for an explanation, he was handcuffed and detained for more than an hour before police released him. Mohora was never charged, and last year he won an $8,000 settlement from the city. Deputy Police Chief Clark Kimerer said he has examined thousands of arrest and use-of-force reports and has never seen evidence that officers are abusing obstruction charges at ACT, the West Precinct or anywhere else. "The city of Seattle is at a 40-year low in crime right now," Kimerer added. "It didn't come that way by luck or by accident. We're doing it through a variety of different strategies, including being in places that normally people wouldn't like to be. We're doing what the public wants us to do." From a safety standpoint, some downtown residents and business community activists say they've noticed a sharp decrease in street crime in recent months. "I see a noticeable drop in criminal behavior in the public areas, and a significant drop in drug-dealing - especially during daytime hours," said Craig Montgomery, former executive director of the Pioneer Square Community Association and a resident of downtown Seattle. Stepped-up police activity is certainly one of the primary contributors, he said. Cop punches cuffed man Sandidge was startled by the way Harris slammed his cousin onto the truck hood and wrenched his arm to handcuff him. He said he objected, and Blackmer took him by the wrist and tried to put him to the ground. When that failed, he "pushed me into Macy's wall," Sandidge said. "He said, `Oh, you want to fight,'" Sandidge recalled. Blackmer testified he asked Sandidge to leave and the young man complied. Then Sandidge returned to complain about his cousin's arrest.
20 20 He said Sandidge moved forward quickly, and it seemed he was going to physically interfere with his partner. If he was, he never got a chance. Sandidge said the repeated jolts from Blackmer's Taser were "like a bad burn, going through your whole body." He said the officer "slammed my face into the ground." Before he handcuffed him, he said, Blackmer whispered in his ear: "When we get back to the station, I'm going to kick your little ass." Ortiz said he punched Sandidge in the midsection while the young man was standing, handcuffed, because he was resisting Blackmer. Sandidge said he had no chance to resist. He was feeling sick by then, "like I was going to throw up." The arrest and prosecution of Sandidge was clearly a "cover charge," said James Bible, president of the local branch of the NAACP and co-counsel for Sandidge at his trial. Bible noted that two others involved in the incident - Sandidge's cousin and a Kirkland teenager with an extensive juvenile record - weren't prosecuted. "The only person charged in this event is the one Tasered several times and punched in the stomach after he is handcuffed," Bible said. Kimerer flatly dismissed the notion of a "cover charge." "I think there's an extreme vested interest in the plaintiff's bar and among defense attorneys to legitimatize their plaintiffs and clients," he said. Sixteen West Precinct officers have been sued or had claims filed against them during the past four years on allegations they used excessive force, including seven in cases that also involved obstruction arrests. Lawsuits, of course, do not equal guilt. But former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper said the complaints about obstructing arrests should not be ignored. He studied obstruction and resisting arrests as long as 30 years ago when he was a captain in San Diego. Vague laws and officer discretion contribute to the problem. "When police officers don't have a handy tool, a justifiable arrest, they look for ways to establish probable cause," said Stamper, who retired in 2000 after his own controversy with the department's handling of the WTO demonstration. "They look for legal leverage to get a drug dealer off the streets. They find if you push people far enough, they'll take a swing, or pull back, or resist, and the police officer will make the obstruction arrest." He said the most disturbing aspect of the obstruction arrest is its unequal application based on race, and its connection to cases involving force. Stamper said obstruction arrests in Seattle should be thoroughly investigated, and the department should track them to spot problem officers. He said police unions fight that idea "tooth and nail." Seattle Police Guild President Rich O'Neill did not respond to requests for comment for this story. Sandidge wants justice Sandidge beat the two charges against him - assault and resisting arrest - at a criminal trial. The obstructing charge was dropped after the jury could not reach agreement. Free of criminal liability, Sandidge wanted justice. He turned to Carr, the city attorney, in his quest to prosecute the officers. Carr said he declined the request because the trial judge, George Holifield, had ruled during pretrial motions that the officers had probable cause to arrest Sandidge. Sandidge then asked Municipal Court Judge Ron Mamiya to let him prosecute officers Blackmer and Ortiz for assault under a "civil complaint process" laid out in court rules. Civil rights lawyer Chris Carney, a former public defender, helped Sandidge write the brief and would have helped with the prosecution, he said. But Mamiya rejected the request, in part because the City Attorney's Office and his court would have had a conflict of interest. Carney said he respects the judge, but that by Maymiya's reasoning police officers could never be prosecuted in any court, although that's not the case. Several police officers have been prosecuted in Municipal Court. "Sandidge really, truly believed he was treated unfairly and someone had to say something about it," Carney said. Carl Sandidge and his cousin had just finished watching a movie downtown and were walking to a bus stop when an ordinary-looking white guy in a pickup truck yelled something about a flag. His much taller cousin - black, like Sandidge - walked over to the truck to ask what was going on. The guy jumped out and grabbed him, throwing the cousin over the hood of the truck, Sandidge recalled. P-I reporter Ambreen Ali and news researcher Marsha Milroy contributed to this report. P-I reporter Eric Nalder can be reached at or CAPTION: (1) (Color) KAREN DUCEY/P-I FILE: Police investigate an incident at Third Avenue between Pike and Pine last year. The West Precinct sees a lot of action in an area from Pioneer Square to Magnolia. (2) GRANT M. HALLER/P-I FILE: Seattle Police officers from the West Precinct work a crime scene in downtown Seattle last June 8.