The Emerald’s Watchdragon reporting seeks to increase accountability within our city’s institutions through in-depth investigative journalism.
Content Warning: This article contains raw, unedited video from the King County Jail in Downtown Seattle and detailed descriptions of violence and injuries.
If the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention’s (DAJD) official story about protester Eric Look’s July 25, 2020, arrest is to be believed, Look forcefully slammed his own face into a pre-booking counter at the King County Jail in Downtown Seattle, causing permanent damage to his two front teeth.
In fact, if one reviews the video of this incident, it appears — in line with the department’s version of events — that Look must briefly have defied the laws of gravity, apparently levitating for a split second before allegedly smashing his own face into the aforementioned counter.
This weekend’s “long read” is about a new report from Seattle’s Office of the Inspector General for Public Safety (OIG) on its investigation into last summer’s protests using a process called a “Sentinel Event Review.”
Author’s Note: For the purposes of clarity, the Emerald will use “(sic)” in parentheses in quoted sections of the OIG memo discussed in this article to indicate that it has been reprinted here exactly as it appears in the source material (the OIG memo). Where readers see “[sic]” styled as shown here, with square brackets, this text was used by the OIG in their memo to indicate that the text quoted in their memo appears exactly as it appears in the source material (the OPA Report of Investigation/ROI).
On the evening of Monday, Sept. 7, 2020, hundreds of protesters marched to the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild headquarters in SoDo. The march fell just after the 100th day of protests against police brutality held in the city since late May 2020, following the murder of George Floyd.
Once the protesters arrived at the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) headquarters, it didn’t take long for police on bicycles to confront the crowd. It’s unclear exactly what prompted the police to come outside, but the situation soon erupted, with officers deploying blast balls and pepper spray and arresting several protesters. Videos about the event online, including those in this Twitter thread from Seattle Times reporter Heidi Groover and this Twitter thread by Stranger Associate Editor Rich Smith, show what appears to be a peaceful scene, before Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers on bicycles come around the corner to confront protesters. Based on these videos, it does not appear that any of the protesters instigated the confrontation, though a heavily edited official SPOG video, complete with background music, claims otherwise and says that police sprang into action after allegedly seeing a protestor carrying Molotov cocktails.
(This article previously appeared on PubliCola and has been reprinted under an agreement.)
On Wednesday, May 12, interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz announced his decision to overturn the Office of Police Accountability’s (OPA) findings in one of the most prominent misconduct cases of last summer’s protests. The case centered on the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD’s) use of blast balls, tear gas, and pepper spray against protesters at the intersection of 11th Avenue and Pine Street on the evening of June 1, 2020, after an officer attempted to yank a pink umbrella out of a protester’s hands.
The chief’s decision to overturn the OPA’s finding of excessive force against Lieutenant John Brooks, who gave the order to use the weapons against protesters, sparked an outcry from police accountability advocates and activist groups. The Community Police Commission (CPC), one of Seattle’s trio of police oversight bodies, called Diaz’s decision “detrimental to community trust in SPD and Seattle’s entire police accountability system,” particularly because he offered no detail about how he would hold decision-makers at a “higher level of command authority” responsible in lieu of Brooks.
On June 1, 2020, people took to the streets of Seattle to protest the murder of George Floyd and to renew calls for racial justice. These mass protests, which would continue throughout 2020 and into early 2021 in varying forms, had begun just a few days before, on May 29, following Floyd’s murder on May 25, 2020.
These protests were met with a heavily armed police response that included Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers using blast balls, tear gas, pepper spray, full-body takedowns, arrests, and more against protestors in numerous instances that have been documented in hundreds of videos, photographs, and audio recordings shared across several different social media platforms and reported on by different media outlets.
In response to the thousands of complaints filed against SPD officers, the City of Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA) created a special dashboard to keep track of the status of demonstration-related complaints. It has been releasing its decisions in batches since late 2020. Many of these complaints allege SPD officers used excessive force against protestors and violated multiple policies in the SPD manual. Thus far, few of the OPA’s decisions in these cases have resulted in serious sustained allegations against officers.
(This article originally appeared on PubliCola and has been reprinted under an agreement.)
At the beginning of the legislative session in January, police accountability appeared to be front and center on many legislators’ agendas. By the time the session ended last Sunday, April 25, lawmakers had narrowed a broad array of police reform proposals to a core list of bills that expand the State’s role in police oversight and tactics, although some efforts to address gaps in police oversight — particularly police union contracts — fell short.
The agency that will play an enforcement role in the legislature’s police reform efforts is the state’s Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC), a group of civilians and law enforcement officers appointed by the governor that has the power to issue — and revoke — licenses to work as a law enforcement officer in Washington. On Sunday, the legislature sent a bill to Gov. Jay Inslee that will expand the CJTC’s authority to investigate officers for misconduct and suspend or revoke their licenses, a process known as decertification.
A bill that would ban law enforcement from using chokeholds and neck restraints on people, end no-knock warrants, and take military weapons out of police hands is up for a hearing in the Washington State Senate this week. Another would require police to de-escalate and use deadly force only when necessary, changing the standard currently enshrined in law.
Giovonn Joseph-McDade was a 20-year-old Green River College student when Kent Police officer William Davis shot him to death after a vehicle chase in June 2017. According to his mother, Sonia Joseph, Giovonn was a humble kid with a passion for sports, especially football, who kept fit, healthy, and positive, and had three younger brothers who loved and looked up to him.
On Jan. 12, the House Public Safety Committee in Olympia heard public testimony on House Bill 1054 (HB 1054), legislation that has the potential to save lives like Giovonn’s, needlessly and tragically taken at the hands of police. HB 1054 deals with multiple police tactics that have resulted in the loss of life and injury to the people of Washington state, including a ban on vehicle pursuits. It’s a bill that deserves a vote on the House floor as soon as possible and in its strongest form.
In addition to resolving other motions, a judge ruled last Thursday, Jan. 28, that the City of Seattle must pay roughly $81,997 to attorneys for Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County (BLMSKC) for some of the costs of pursuing contempt-of-court violations against the Seattle Police Department (SPD) for inappropriate use of certain crowd-control weapons on peaceful protesters.
The sum was substantially less than the $264,000 in costs that the lawyers for BLMSKC were requesting to be awarded from the City. Recently, U.S. District Judge Richard Jones found SPD in contempt of court for violating an earlier injunction preventing police from using force against peaceful protesters as costs have racked up for BLMSKC attorneys’ overtime.
Even for a seasoned lawyer like Phil Talmadge, the fine the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has leveled against King County, the King County Sheriff’s Office deputy who shot Tommy Le, and — in what Talmadge says is also an unusual move — their lawyers, is a surprisingly hefty one: $56,752.60.
“The federal appellate courts, like Washington State appellate courts … are reluctant to award sanctions for a frivolous appeal. It doesn’t happen commonly,” Talmadge said. “There really [has] to be … a pretty flagrantly frivolous appeal before a court imposes the kind sanctions the Ninth Circuit [Court of Appeals] imposed. … There has to be no legalistic basis for the appeal. And that’s essentially what the Ninth Circuit said.”
The sanctions are one of the latest legal moves in the ongoing civil rights case the Le family and their civil case lawyers have brought against the officer, then-Deputy Cesar Molina — now Deputy Sheriff Cesar Molina — and King County. Talmadge worked as the appeals lawyer with the Le family and their civil case lawyers in a motion for sanctions (a penalty); in this case, the more than $56,000 fine leveled against the defendants and their lawyers. The fine is the total amount of money the court found that the Le family has spent specifically to fight an appeal filed by Molina, King County, and their lawyers just prior to the commencement of their trial, an appeal the plaintiffs argued was a frivolous delay tactic.