Minister claims he was beaten by Seattle police officer


by Elisa Hahn

Bio | Email | Follow: @ElisaHahnK5

Posted on December 14, 2011 at 8:06 PM

SEATTLE -- His bruised face is evidence of a violent clash two days ago. For John Helmiere, the emotional struggle continues.

"I'm struggling because I'm angry," says Helmiere.  "I feel violated, I feel dehumanized by what happened.  But I'm praying for the courage to love."

Helmiere is a Methodist Minister at the Valley and Mountain Church in Seattle's Columbia City neighborhood.  He's also an activist.

"I think Occupy is changing the public dialogue," says Helmiere.

So on Monday, he took part in the Occupy protest at the Port of Seattle. Demonstrators set up barricades along port entrances. Some were peaceful, but police say others threw flares, bricks, and bags of paint.

Trying to de-escalate the situation, the clergyman moved to the front and locked arms with other demonstrators.

"I started yelling 'keep the peace, keep the peace,'" he says.

Helmiere can be seen in Associated Press video posted on YouTube.  A Seattle police officer grabs him from behind, pulling him to the ground.

"Got my hands behind my back, immobilized them, knee in my spine. I was yelling 'I'm a man of peace,' and he started punching my left side of my face and my ear," he says.

The punches were not caught on tape. Helmiere says another officer pulled him off the ground.

"The officer looked at me and saw my collar, and saw my face, and said something like, 'Who are you? What are you doing here?' and I said 'I'm a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ and I believe another world is possible,'" says the minister.

Helmiere was arrested for obstruction and thrown in jail for 12 hours.  For the contusions to his face and damage to his inner ear, he got an ice pack.

The City Attorney's office has not filed charges against him.

Torn between anger and a higher calling, Helmiere is now reaching out to the officer.

"I would like to see if we can meet and hear each others' backgrounds and develop some kind of reconciliation."

Seattle police says five police officers were injured that day, and 11 people were arrested for obstruction, assault, and failure to disperse.

Helmiere says he's been contacted by the Office of Professional Accountability, which investigates complaints against SPD.