A teen took a fist to the face by a cop, all because he stopped her for jaywalking.
Investigators in Seattle are reviewing the incident, which was captured on video, but the president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild argues the use of force was justified.
"He did nothing wrong," Rich O'Neill said, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "If anything, I think he maybe waited a little too long to engage in force because I think he was trying to defuse the situation."
But "it was obvious from the audio anyway of the two individuals that they were not going to be calmed down."
The incident began when an unnamed police officer spotted a teen jaywalking across Martin Luther King Jr. Way South around 3:10 p.m., according to a report on the Seattle Police Department Web site.
As he approached the 18-year-old male, the officer witnessed four females do the same thing at the same spot on the road, about 15 feet from a pedestrian crosswalk.
"The officer instructed the females to step over to his vehicle," officials said. "They were verbally antagonistic."
When one of them, a 19-year-old, began to walk away, the officer approached her and escorted her back.
"The female subject began to tense up her arm and pull away from the officer while yelling at him," police said.
The two argued, and the officer attempted to cuff her. That is when, according to officials, another of the teens interceded.
"The second female subject placed her hands on the officer's arm, causing the officer to believe she was attempting to physically affect the first subject's escape," police said.
A crowd had gathered around the officer by that time, and one witness captured much of the altercation on video.
As the officer and the 17-year-old struggled, the teen can be seen pushing the officer, who then responds by punching her in the face.
The crowd reacted with shock, and a voice is heard saying, "Are you serious?!"
Someone pulled the 17-year-old away, and the police officer proceeded to try to handcuff the 19-year-old.
"Do not struggle," the cop orders the woman during the video.
Backup eventually arrived, police said, at which point the teen who was punched was handcuffed. She was later examined by medical personnel.
"You obviously have to take into context everything that occurred from the point that the officer did make contact with the individuals until the situation ended," said Deputy Chief Nick Metz to King 5 News.
Metz noted there were some "concerns about the tactics the officer used."
"There will be a thorough investigation into this incident," said Police Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, according to Komo News.
This is the official account of what happened from the Seattle Police
On June 14th at approximately 3:10 p.m. a uniformed patrol officer was driving north in the 3100 block of MLK Jr. Way South in a fully marked police car. The officer observed a male pedestrian j-walk across MLK Jr. Way South, an arterial street. There is a pedestrian overpass (foot bridge) about 15 feet to the north of where the male pedestrian j-walked. The officer stopped the pedestrian. While interacting with the 18-year-old male pedestrian, the officer observed four female pedestrians j-walk at the same location that the male pedestrian just had. The officer instructed the females to step over to his vehicle. They were verbally antagonistic toward the officer. One female subject turned and began to walk away. The officer again instructed her to step over to his car. She continued to walk away and appeared to raise her hand in a dismissive gesture. The officer contacted the female subject and began escorting her back toward his car. The female subject began to tense up her arm and pull away from the officer while yelling at him. Once at the patrol car the female subject refused to obey the officer’s commands to place her hands on the car. When the officer again tried to gain control of her, she pulled away and twisted, breaking free of the officer’s grip several times.
At this time a large crowd gathered around the officer. When the officer tried to handcuff the female subject, another female subject intervened. The second female subject placed her hands on the officer’s arm, causing the officer to believe she was attempting to physically affect the first subject’s escape. The officer pushed the second subject back, but she again came at the officer, at which time he punched her. The second subject moved away and the officer was able to handcuff the first subject and place her in the back seat of his patrol car.
As the officer contacted and subsequently escorted the second subject over to his patrol car, she too tried to pull and twist away from him. The officer restrained her until backup officers arrived, at which time the second subject was handcuffed.
Suspect #1, a 19-year-old female, was booked into the King County Jail for Obstructing an Officer. Suspect #2, a 17-year-old female, was booked into the Youth Service Center for Investigation of Assault on an Officer. Both suspects were cited for j-walking. Nobody appeared to be injured as a result of the altercation. SFD medics responded and evaluated suspect #2 as a precautionary measure.
The officer contacted the female subject and began escorting her back toward his car.
Just so you apologists don't get away with your selective reading skills I'm going to point out that this means the police officer grabbed the woman and dragged her back to his car. He put his hands on her and he had no right to do so. Go ahead and start making excuses for why police have the right to assault anyone they want as long as the person was a big old meanie to the poor sweet police officer first.
Blacks are arrested on 'contempt of cop' charge at higher rate
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 stand-alone 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. (See related article.)
* 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. (See related article.)
* 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. (Read excerpt from deposition.)
* 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. (Read the report.)
One police sergeant said he is leery of some obstruction arrests he has seen.
"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 drop-off 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 façade," he said he finds that "black people are more threatening to white people here" than in other areas with large black populations.
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 2006. It tracks several "indicators" to help identify problem officers, including citizen complaints, use-of-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.
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."
Note: This last article was posted in 2008 so it predates the video but it's still applicable in Seattle and elsewhere.