Should the U.S. Dept. of Justice Investigate the Seattle Police Department?
SEATTLE – Seattle police detectives had surveillance video of an officer kicking a black teenage suspect several times after a narcotics bust last month, but they failed to notify top police officials.
Now, the Seattle Police Department is facing accusations of brutality for the fourth time in less than a year. The American Civil Liberties Union is calling for the Justice Department to conduct a civil rights investigation into Seattle police practices.
The incident happened Oct. 18 in downtown Seattle. Undercover officers and bicycle police were taking part in the buy-bust operation when things took at turn for the worse. Two officers ended up at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
Police say a 17-year-old suspect fled the scene and ended up in a convenience store near Second Avenue and Pine Street, where the surveillance video was taken. A 10-year veteran officer, working undercover and wearing black clothing and a bandana, is seen running in and kicking the teen in the groin. The officer kicks the teen again and again before another officer pulls him away from the suspect.
KING 5 has learned detectives had the video for weeks and had watched it. But, Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer says he didn't know about the video until Wednesday.
The detective in question is now at home on administrative leave while internal affairs investigates his actions.
Reactions are pouring out from the community.
"It's pretty disturbing and disgusting and im outraged by it," said Urban League President James Kelly.
"Videos like this should be forwarded up the chain of command," said Mayor Mike McGinn.
The teenage suspect, who has a criminal record, is one of five people charged with attempted robbery. He pleaded not guilty.
Kimerer says officers need to be aware that video surveillance is everywhere.
"I think we have to grow up and recognize we are in a video age and nothing an officer does goes unnoticed," said Kimerer.
The internal investigation will take approximately ten days, and it's possible the officer could face criminal charges. Police will also investigate why detectives failed to turn the tape over to their bosses.
The tape and other video and materials were turned over to the King County Prosecutor's Office and were reviewed by them as potential evidence in the case against the suspect.
This comes after three other high-profile incidents involving Seattle police this year:
- In April, a video showed Seattle police officers shouting a racial slur and stepping on a Latino man who was already on the ground. The officer apologized. King county prosecutors decided it wasn't a hate crime. The Seattle city attorney's office is still reviewing the case for other charges.
- In June, an officer stopped two teenage girls for jaywalking. One of the teens shoved the officer, who responded by punching her. The teenager later admitted to provoking the officer and pled guilty to fourth degree assault. The officer was exonerated.
- In August, police officer Ian Birk shot and killed woodcarver John Williams in Seattle. The officer says he repeatedly told Williams to drop a knife used for woodcarving, but Williams was partially deaf and may not have heard him. A preliminary police investigation determined the shooting was not justified and the officer's badge and gun were taken away. An inquest into shooting is still to come.
"It's horrifying," said Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw. "What is going on here? Why have been seeing over the last year things that are really aimed at our communities of color? And this is not acceptable to any of us."
In a statement, ACLU Executive Director Kathleen Taylor says "These repeated incidents over the last 18 months, which have continued unchecked and without forceful intervention by the Seattle police department the mayor or Seattle's other elected officials, leads the ALCU to call on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate."
Bagshaw, who is vice-chair of the Seattle public safety committee, says while the ACLU has a point, she would like to give Seattle police Chief John Diaz time to respond.
"We need to make changes here. I would rather see changes made now, working together in contrast with the Justice Department coming in and telling us what to do," she said.