SEATTLE POLICE OFFICERS’ CIVIL RIGHTS LAWSUIT

author-photo-150x150Police work is tough. If there is a more difficult job in America, I’m not sure what it is. I don’t know of another profession where more people, with little or no law enforcement experience, presume to know how to do the job better than the professionals trained to do it. (Note: for the plaintiff’s official perspective, visit: Seattle Police Officers’ Civil Rights Lawsuit.)

More than 120 concerned Seattle cops are asking you to support the Seattle police officers’ civil rights lawsuit, which names U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, et al., as defendants.

Precipitating this lawsuit were dangerous changes made to the SPD use-of-force policy, effective Jan. 1, 2014. The essential changes include requiring that officers use significantly less force than a suspect is necessary to subdue a threat, and a prohibition from using effective tools or techniques against vaguely defined, newly protected classes of suspects.

Effectively, cops are left wondering not just what force they can and cannot use but when and on whom. This can lead to deadly hesitation. Too often, an officer’s use-of-force is not deemed “wrong” until after an incident, even if the techniques or tools used were in compliance with what he or she had been taught by the department.

To briefly recap what initiated this debacle, the Department of Justice (DOJ) came to Seattle a few years back with an apparent preconception that its cops were racist brutes. The facts did not back this assumption. However, the DOJ found that Seattle police officers violate suspect’s constitutional rights an absurd 20% of the time when using force. Inexplicably, the DOJ refused to releaseits methodology—We’re from the government; just trust us.

In steps, Seattle University Professor of Criminal Justice, and former DOJ statistician, Matthew J. Hickman, conducted his own more comprehensive analysis and found closer to 3% that might have violated suspects’ rights. Professor Hickman wrote an article that appeared in the Seattle Times Feb. 8th, 2010, entitled: “Department of Justice owes the Seattle Police Department an apology.”In the article, Hickman advises the SPD command staff to “call DOJ’s bluff, and settle for nothing less than a formal apology.” This advice was obviously ignored. If not for the DOJ’s bogus findings, this lawsuit would not be necessary. Seattle Police Officers Civil Rights Lawsuit.

Following this infliction of a fraudulent federal consent decree or settlement agreement, the DOJ contracted Merrick Bobb at $800,000 per year to serve as the federal monitor. In the first months of implementation, Bobb was investigated for dubious expenses he charged to Seattle taxpayers. While some supporters downplayed the issue as only about some Egyptian cotton pillowcases and a corkscrew, Bobb subsequently deducted $7,500 from his expense charges.

Another concern is with U.S. District Judge James Robard who was assigned to oversee the implementation of the consent decree, and is the person who approved the new use-of-force policy. He has betrayed his bias by telling the officers bringing the suit to “get over it” [the new policy] and admonished, snidely, that, “The good old days are not coming back.” Since the good judge obviously supports the “reforms,” is he saying that officers supporting the lawsuit wish to return to a time in Seattle when, supposedly, cops abusing citizens was commonplace? What a rude caricature he must think of the police.

This brings up another issue. While covering the Seattle Police Officers’ Civil Rights Lawsuit, one should notice another bias, this one perpetuated by the local news media. Consider this quote written by Seattle Times reporter Steve Miletich: “But the suit has proved to be a public-relation headache for the city, creating a perception of significant resistance to the reforms in the ranks.”

This assumes the need for “reforms” are legitimate and that the sweeping changes are valid. However, while improvement is always sought, the need for drastic reforms overseen by the federal government is an insult to the dedicated men and women of the once nationally lauded Seattle Police Department. People consistently hear about SPD being, “resistant to reform.” However, they rarely hear about the dubious methods the DOJ used to inflict this consent decree on Seattle. Incidentally, an editor at the Seattle Times strung me along for 38 days, feigning interest in a story I wrote addressing this very issue, before declining for absurd reasons. Subsequently, a similar column I wrote was printed in Crosscut.com.

Another distraction comes from reports that the Seattle Police Officers Guild does not support the lawsuit. This is misleading because, while the Guild does not support the tactic of bringing a federal lawsuit, Guild president Ron Smith told KIRO 7 that morale is low, and he doesn’t blame officers “for being upset about this vague use of force policy,” or for being upset about the settlement agreement (emphasis mine). Smith simply prefers a different approach to solving the same serious issue.

Whether or not each of the specific allegations brought by the police officers in the lawsuit are found to be substantive or applicable, which is at issue in the city’s motion-to-dismiss, is not crucial. It is not unusual for some portions of any lawsuit to be dismissed while others are upheld. The U.S. Supreme Court as well as the many inferior courts make partial or selective rulings like this all the time. I would hope that any judge considering such a matter would err on the side of officer and public safety and not political expediency.

It is also important to note that among those officers leading and supporting this effort are some very well educated and extremely experienced law enforcement officers and sergeants who are experts in police work as well as use-of-force training and implementation.

Also, it would be disingenuous not to admit that some officers, perhaps even most, harbor some contrarian or even angry sentiments toward the fraudulent consent decree. After all, no one likes being lied about or having one’s integrity questioned. However, this does not invalidate the legitimate concerns officers have regarding a severely flawed use-of-force policy. It is a policy that a judge merely reads on paper but an officer literally lives (or dies) on the streets.

This group of concerned Seattle police officers needs your support. Although the legal support received from Lisa Battalia and others is appreciated beyond mere words, the cause simply needs more support. Police officers have become accustomed to the difficulty of finding legal support to defend their constitutional rights. For example, the ACLU seems more willing to defend American Nazis’ rights than those of American police officers.

These Seattle police officers have filed this suit not only concerned for their safety but also for that of the citizens they serve. The U.S. Constitution provides every individual American the right to self-defense. This right includes the ability to use all the necessary force in order to protect oneself or others adequately. When the definition of “necessary” is altered to reflect self-defense that false short of what is actually necessary for an officer to effectively protect him or herself and others from the vicious criminals they face, as the SPD’s new use-of-force policy clearly does, police officers are duty-bound to judge it objectively, and, in the event it is found deficient in practice, take measures to remedy the deficiencies. This is simply another example of dedicated police officers working to protect their city.

Please take a moment to visit: Seattle Police Officers Civil Rights Lawsuit.

(With full disclosure in mind, I am a proud signatory to the lawsuit mentioned herein, although I am no longer an active duty Seattle police officer. The comments contained herein represent my thoughts and opinions only and not necessarily any other party to this lawsuit.)

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