SPD officers file suit challenging use-of-force policy


by KING 5 News


Posted on May 28, 2014 at 5:32 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 28 at 11:18 PM

More than 100 Seattle police officers have signed onto a lawsuit challenging a new use-of-force policy, saying it violates officers' constitutional rights to protect themselves and others. The 88-page use-of-force policy went into effect in January.

The suit, filed in federal court Wednesday on behalf of 126 officers, seeks an immediate halt to the policy, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

None of the officers are willing to talk publicly about why they filed the suit. They said they have been ordered not to speak to media and will be disciplined if they do so.

However, in general the officers said they think the policies will actually backfire by causing them to underreact in dangerous circumstances until they have no choice but to overreact, and even use lethal force.

They said they felt they had exhausted every possibility to get those policies modified and this lawsuit was a last resort.

While the policies are supposed to protect citizens, the suit stated that the policies are "overly complicated and contradictory," that they are "unreasonable in light of the dangerous and fast evolving circumstances we face," and "makes it inevitable .. that officers and citizens will get killed or seriously injured."

This suit was filed by individual officers -- the Seattle Police Guild does not agree with the filing of the lawsuit.

"Well, I believe that the federal judge has spoken. He has accepted the policies that were written in collaboration with both the department and the moderating team. He accepted those policies," said Guild President Ron Smith.

The 88-page use-of-force policy went into effect in January.

The suit names a long list of federal and city officials as defendants, from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to Mayor Ed Murray.

SPD said it had no comment on the suit. A police union official told our news partners at the Seattle Times that the union was not involved in bringing the action.

Mayor Ed Murray released a statement in response to the suit: 

“I have not yet had the chance to review the lawsuit and it would be inappropriate for me to comment at this time.

“But I will say: the Seattle Police Department is under a federally-mandated court order, in part because of a disturbing  pattern of unnecessary use of force and other forms of unconstitutional policing.

“The police department will comply with that court order. The City of Seattle will not fight the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. This is not the 1960s.

“I have nominated a new police chief to start work in a few short weeks, and her top priority will be to meet the requirements of the federal court order and make Seattle’s police force a national model for urban policing.”

KING 5 also asked Mayor Murray what impact he thought the lawsuit might have on SPD reform.

"The risk is that it will set reform back, and that we could be under a federal mandate significantly longer than we had planned," he said.

He called the use of force policy a non-negotiable item.

"Reform is going to happen, and officers need to realize that. We want reform to happen with everyone's help, but if not everyone wants to get onboard, we are going to fulfill the court mandate," he said.