OPA Releases Findings for Six Demonstration-Related Cases: Does Not Sustain Allegations for Four and Sustains Some Allegations for Two

by Carolyn Bick

In findings for six demonstration-related cases released today, the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) has determined that some allegations were sustained in just two of those cases against Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers. One of the cases in which allegations were not sustained was the case against an officer who allegedly pepper sprayed a young boy, because, according to the OPA’s findings, “the boy was not individually targeted.” It sustained two out of three allegations against an officer for placing his knee on a demonstrator’s neck and making unprofessional statements.

The summaries include findings for the officer who allegedly pepper sprayed a child; the officer who put his knee on a protestor’s neck and made unprofessional statements, and a fellow officer who allegedly made unprofessional statements; the allegation that an officer pushed over an elderly man in a show of excessive force; for the officer who was allegedly quoting the movie “Top Gun” when he was overheard saying that he has “a hard on for this shit, and, if they cross the line, I will hit them”; for officers who allegedly used excessive force against protestors and allegedly violated policy by not turning on their body worn cameras; and for an officer who allegedly made unprofessional comments over police radio.

In the Case Closed summary that details the officer’s alleged pepper spraying of the young boy on May 30, the report states that the office was contacted about 13,000 times about it after a video of the boy crying as adults tried to wash off his face with milk went viral on social media. The report includes the OPA’s investigation video compilation.

The OPA said that almost all the people who contacted the office to make a complaint identified the wrong officer as being responsible for using pepper spray, and that the officer who actually did use the pepper spray was not targeting the child. As dictated by the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) contract, the OPA case summary does not name the either officer, listing them instead as Witness Officer #1 — the officer whom complainants originally alleged had pepper sprayed the boy — and Named Employee #1 — the officer, identified as a sergeant, who actually used the pepper spray.

The report goes on to state that the boy’s uncle reached out to the OPA, and “initially indicated a willingness to connect OPA with the family,” but that the family then “retained legal counsel and asked that all future contacts go through that counsel.” While the report states that OPA complied with this request, the family’s attorney did not respond to the office or agree to allow the OPA to interview either the boy or his father. The report also makes note of the father’s statements to The Independent, including that he believed the officer intentionally targeted his son, and says that the OPA interviewed the civilian medic who tried to help the boy, as well as another civilian witness who took the viral video. The report said that the OPA also tried to contact four other potential witnesses, but for several reasons could not interview them.

Based on the body worn camera videos from seven officers whom the report calls “Witness Officers,” another sergeant, and the officer who used the pepper spray in this particular instance, the OPA determined that the officer did not mean to spray the boy. The report says that these officers were standing in a line, and that body worn camera video showed that one of the Witness Officers told the Sergeant that one of the demonstrators in front of them had tried to steal his pepper spray earlier that day. There is no mention in the OPA report of any video evidence of this occurring.

According to the OPA report, the Sergeant allowed the Witness Officer and other officers to arrest the demonstrator, at which point the report says that the body worn camera video shows officers telling the crowd to move back. The report says that a protestor grabbed the baton of one of the Witness Officers, telling the officer not to push her and saying, “you move back.” It is at this point, the report says, that the Named Employee used pepper spray. The demonstrator at whom the pepper spray was aimed ducked and the pepper spray hit the young boy.

The report says that, according to body worn camera video, at no point would the boy have been visible to the officer who used the pepper spray, as the boy appears from other Witness Officer body worn camera video angles to only reach the bottom of his father’s ribcage. It also says that the boy and his father were not visible from the Named Employee’s vantage point at the time he used the pepper spray. However, also according to the report, on at least one of the Witness Officer’s body worn camera video, the father pointed out his son multiple times to officers before the Named Employee officer used pepper spray.

Based on the evidence it collected, the OPA found that the officer’s use of pepper spray was within policy, and issued a Not Sustained (Lawful and Proper) finding.

In another Case Closed summary, the OPA detailed its investigation into an officer who allegedly put his knee on the necks of two demonstrators in whose arrests he assisted. The OPA sustained two out of three allegations against the officer, finding that he put his knee on the neck of the second demonstrator he helped to arrest. It also sustained allegations against this officer that he used unprofessional language, but did not sustain allegations that another officer named in the same complaint also used similar language. All of this was reported as happening on the evening of May 30.

The report states that multiple people filed complaints against the two officers, whom OPA refers to in the report as Named Employee #1 and Named Employee #2, again as dictated by the SPOG contract. Both officers explained in their OPA interviews that they were under stress and felt exhausted by the day’s events.

The OPA sustained “inconsistent with policy” use-of-force findings against Named Employee #1 for putting his knee on the second of two demonstrators’ necks, as he assisted in these two arrests. The report states that the OPA initiated the investigation after a video that showed another officer moving Named Employee #1’s knee down from the second demonstrator’s neck to his shoulder blade area went viral.

After interviewing the officers and the two people arrested, as well as reviewing the body worn camera footage of both arrests from Named Employee #1, Named Employee #2, and the officer who moved Named Employee #1’s knee down the second demonstrator’s back, the OPA found that the video evidence “is clear” the officer put his knee on the neck of the second demonstrator. However, the OPA said it was “inconclusive” from the body worn video of the first demonstrator’s arrest whether Named Employee #1 put his knee on that person’s neck.

The OPA found that the officer’s use of force on the second demonstrator “was inconsistent with policy” and “neither necessary nor proportional under the circumstances,” because there were “reasonable alternatives” available. 

“Most notably, [Named Employee #1] could have properly placed his knee on the back or, if that was unavailable, on the head. The force was not proportional as the risk of injury from his improper placement of the knee outweighed the threat of harm and/or escape posed by [the second demonstrator],” the report reads.

It should be noted there appears to be a typo in the report. In the course of describing the OPA’s conclusions that Named Employee #1 put his knee on the second demonstrator’s neck, the report says once, “Subject #1,” which had previously been used in the report to refer to the first demonstrator. However, the OPA had previously said it could not determine whether Named Employee #1’s knee was ever on that person’s neck. The Emerald has reached out to the OPA for clarification. 

The OPA said it could find “no evidence” that the officer was intentionally trying to restrict the second demonstrator’s breathing or “make contact with [the demonstrator’s] neck,” and thus did not sustain the allegation that Named Employee #1 was trying to use a neck hold or carotid restraint, officially calling the allegation “Unfounded.”

While the OPA also found that Named Employee #1, by his own admission, regularly uses profanity, it found that in this specific instance that he violated policy by making particular statements against protestors. The two in particular with which the OPA took issue were, “Yeah, you’re a bitch,” in response to a passing demonstrator saying they hated the cops; Named Employee #1’s statement to a fellow officer that if he and this fellow officer saw a specific demonstrator, they would “fuck him up.”

The OPA did not sustain allegations against Named Employee #2 for his response to the second demonstrator Named Employee #1 had arrested. After he had been arrested, the second demonstrator later explained to Named Employee #2 that they were running away from the crowd, to which Named Employee #2 said, “You were running away from the crowd, out of the store. … You’re under arrest…I don’t care to hear your story…you can tell your story to a judge.” 

“I’m tired of you guys ruining my fucking city…I’m tired of it…I don’t want to hear…I don’t want to hear you guys fucking talk,” Named Employee #2 later continued, after the second demonstrator and others “continued to engage” with him, the report reads.

The OPA said it interviewed this officer, and suggested a training referral for Named Employee #2. According to the report, this means that the officer’s supervisors “should discuss his comments with him and remind him of the expectation that he remain professional and not use profanity towards community members, even under high-intensity and high-stress situations. This counseling and any associated retraining should be documented, and this documentation should be maintained in an appropriate database.”

In the Case Closed summary of the second case in which the OPA sustained allegations, the OPA report states a person filed a complaint complete with video evidence of an officer saying on June 4, “I have a hard on for this shit and, if they cross the line, I will hit them.” However, before the complaint was filed, the officer told his supervisor about the statement. The officer told his supervisor he was quoting from the 1986 movie “Top Gun” and then discussing tactics.

It is unclear whether the OPA looked into this claim, but the Emerald cannot find evidence that this quote exists in the 1986 movie or in any of the trailers for the upcoming sequel set to be released in 2021, including the extended Super Bowl trailer. The closest line the Emerald could find in the 1986 movie is when a character in the movie says, “This gives me a hard-on,” as he watches tape of planes being shot down.

After consultation with the Office of Inspector General (OIG), the OPA recommended what is known as Rapid Adjudication (RA), which means that the findings were sustained and that “OPA forwarded to the Chief of Police its recommended disposition and proposed discipline in the form of a written reprimand. The Chief of Police concurred with OPA’s recommended findings and proposed discipline.” Because the officer agreed to discipline, this also means that the findings and discipline are final and can’t be appealed or disputed.

A fourth Case Closed summary said that the OPA could not find any evidence that an officer clad in riot gear pushed down an older man on the afternoon of May 30, as reported by two people who were at the protest. The OPA said it was only able to interview one complainant, who said she saw an officer push the man down onto a bench or art display. While she couldn’t identify the officer, due to the fact she said he was wearing riot gear, she did say that the older man walked away, apparently unhurt. The second complainant declined an interview with the OPA. The report also says the OPA did not find any evidence on body worn camera video at the time the complainants said they saw this happen that an officer pushed an elderly person. Because of this, the office did not sustain the allegation, with a specific unsustained finding of “Inconclusive.”

The fifth Case Closed summary with unsustained findings dealt with an incident reported as happening on June 4. Two protestors made a complaint to the OPA in which they said they were unnecessarily pushed backwards. The report states that of the two protestors also told a lieutenant who spoke with the pair that he was “aggressively targeted” because of his sexual orientation. Both protestors also said the officers failed to turn on their body worn cameras, an allegation that the OPA report said has been added to case 2020OPA-0326, “a separate case in which the overall absence of video at demonstrations is being evaluated.”

The OPA said that it was only able to get in touch with one of the two protestors for an interview, and that that person was not the protestor who said that officers targeted him for his sexual orientation. In the course of interviewing the protestor who responded for an interview, the OPA learned that she didn’t know the officers were talking to her, when they gave an order to move back, apparently to clear the way for a charter bus to drive down the middle of the street. She said that the shove was not forceful and it didn’t hurt, but wasn’t warranted.

The OPA said that it reviewed the body worn camera video footage, apparently indicating that, in this instance, the officers’ body worn cameras were on and recording. The office also interviewed a civilian witness who lives in the area, and who said that the officers were slowly marching forward, and that he did not see any officers yelling or shoving anyone.

Based on the available evidence, the OPA did not sustain the allegations of biased policing or improper use of force.

The final Case Closed summary dealt with an unidentified officer who allegedly said over police radio on June 3, “shoot ‘em all. Let’s just fucking shoot ‘em,” according to an email from a journalist at The Seattle Times. After investigating the incident via several different means, including a Reddit thread discussing the statement, interviewing the Seattle Information Technology Radio Communications manager, and listening to police tactical channels used at the time of the statement, the OPA concluded that an SPD officer did not say this and that “the radio channel in question was operated by King County Youth Services.”

Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You can reach them here and here.

Featured image by Susan Fried.