Detectives for the Seattle Police Department were in possession of video footage taken October 18 of an officer repeatedly kicking a juvenile suspect who appeared to be cooperating, but they didn’t notify superiors about it, Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer told reporters this afternoon. And the detectives didn’t send it to internal investigators. Instead, they sat on it until yesterday, when two deputy chiefs requested the video acting on a tip from KIRO television.
Now the ACLU of Washington is calling for the Dept. of Justice to investigate the SPD for "a pattern and practice of civil rights violations."
The footage of an officer repeatedly kicking a 17-year-old boy—who had his hands up before the officer kicked him to the ground and kicked him again in the face and chest—was handed up the chain of command at Kimerer's request, he said today. “Based on what I saw, my professional discernment told me this this may be a case where use of force may have been excessive,” Kimerer said about the video, which was first reported yesterday by The Stranger. SPD has since ordered a misconduct investigation and taken the officer off duty.
When did the Seattle police first obtain the video?
“I don’t know,” Kimerer said. He didn’t ask the detectives when they got the video because that is the role of the Office of Professional Accountability, which conducts internal investigations, he said.
Why did it take until yesterday for command staff to view it?
Kimerer didn’t answer that question, either, simply explaining again that the video had been in possession of assault and homicide detectives.
But police have had it for a while, sources have indicated to The Stranger. Among them, KIRO television, which alerted SPD to the video’s existence yesterday, has said the owner of the surveillance cameras told them police obtained the footage "some time ago."
“I assume that when detectives review video footage like that they have an obligation to immediately report it to their superiors, and perhaps to the Office of Professional Accountability,” says Seattle City Council member Bruce Harrell. “I would like to know why that wasn’t done. I think, quite frankly, we deserve a very clear answer, because it raises the question about what video evidence or other evidence is sitting around confidentially. This one came to light because Assistant Chief Kimerer asked for it and he knew what to ask for. What if he didn’t know what to ask for?"
Harrell points out that several high-profile cases of apparent police misconduct in Seattle have come to light—and triggered police response—only because they were caught on video. In the infamous "Mexican piss" case this spring, a cameraman caught the beating on tape, but police sat on that footage for at least a week and didn't make any comment about it or begin an investigation until it was aired on Q13.
"These questionable cases of misconduct by the police officers is not only wrong on a legal basis, but it costs the taxpayers millions of dollars," Harrel says. He says he believes the SPD's recent shooting of John T. Williams "is going to be very costly."
The ACLU of Washington looks like it's ready to begin another potentially expensive case. Here's the statement the organization released this afternoon:
The recently released footage of an incident during which a Seattle police officer is seen repeatedly kicking an African-American youth is yet another disturbing example in a string of recent incidents in which the Seattle Police Department has engaged in unnecessarily violent confrontations with citizens, all of whom have been people of color. 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 ACLU to call on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate whether there is a pattern and practice of civil rights violations by the Seattle Police Department in violation of the constitution and federal law. The ACLU is preparing a formal request to the Department of Justice for such an investigation, according to Kathleen Taylor, Executive Director.
Despite the trend of controversial cases, Council Member Tim Burgess seems certain that the SPD's internal investigation will be sufficient. "I have full confidence in Chief Diaz and the Office of Professional Accountability to diligently review the facts and reach an appropriate conclusion about the officer's conduct and the department’s handling of the video,” he said in a statement this afternoon.
But Harrell thinks all Seattle officer should wear body cameras that record incidents like these so the city has footage even when a random camera doesn't catch misconduct; and when police do get footage, body camera records would help ensure the footage doesn't disappear. He says the city is set to replace 276 cameras in police cars (at a cost of $2.2 million) within the next three years, and the city should use that money to outfit all patrol officers in the city with the less-expensive body cameras.