Justice Dept. conducts interviews as part of Seattle PD investigation

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by NATALIE SWABY / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @NSwabyKing5

KING5.com

Posted on May 11, 2011 at 9:55 AM

Updated Wednesday, May 11 at 12:17 PM

SEATTLE – Attorneys with the Justice Department are in Seattle, conducting interviews with citizens as part of a formal civil rights investigation of the Seattle Police Department following the fatal shooting of a First Nations woodcarver and other incidents of force used against minority suspects.

They will be seeing people from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., for roughly 30 minutes each, asking people to share their specific incidents with the investigators.

Todd Okerman said he received a call from the Justice Department asking him to come and discuss his February encounter with a Seattle Police officer.

Okerman says it happened after he had an argument with a cab driver - he took a placard out of the cab and the driver called police.

"When they caught up with me I said OK, it's the cops, I gave up. As they had me on the ground handcuffed, face down, ‘officer friendly,’ whoever it was, put my teeth through my lips,” he said.

He claims he also suffered a sprained wrist, black eye, and bruises.

"I was in the hospital for six hours, then they took me to jail for 12 hours,” he said.

Okerman is among the people the Justice Department is interviewing for its own investigation, which was launched after several high profile incidents. 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and other groups called for the inquiry after a Seattle officer shot and killed woodcarver John T. Williams after he crossed a street downtown. The officer, Ian Birk, was not charged. He resigned earlier this year after the police department determined the shooting was not justified.

Other incidents captured on surveillance video include officers stomping on a man and threatening to beat the "Mexican piss" out of him; an officer kicking a black youth with his hands up in a convenience store following a drug buy-bust operation; and officers tackling and kicking a black man who showed up in a police evidence room to pick up belongings after he was mistakenly released from jail.

The Justice Department is trying to determine whether there are systemic violations of the constitution or of federal law by Seattle Police officers.

After the investigation was announced the police chief said in a meeting with the Seatle Times editorial board that his department has nothing to hide.

Okerman he says he's glad the Justice Department is investigating

"What's happening in this town is getting out of hand,” he said.
 

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