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Monday, November 26, 2012

Lawsuit Accuses SPD Chief of Withholding Dash-Cam Video of Brutal Police Beating

Posted by on Mon, Nov 26, 2012 at 1:11 PM

Seattle attorney James Egan has a copy of a police dash-cam video in his possession, a video allegedly showing three Seattle police officers assaulting a suspect so brutally that Egan says "it will make your jaw hit the floor."

But if the Seattle Police Department gets its way, no one will ever see it.

James Egan waving the alleged police brutality video before a room of drooling reporters.
  • The Stranger
  • James Egan waving the alleged police brutality video before a room of drooling reporters.
According to a lawsuit filed today (.pdf), the SPD is illegally blocking Egan from sharing the video with the public by claiming that it was obtained via criminal court discovery (i.e. evidence that can only be viewed and used in a criminal court case), not a standard public disclosure request. Now Egan and his client, Leo Etherly, the alleged victim of police brutality, have hired their own lawyer to strong arm the SPD into publicly releasing the video.

"This is a clear violation of our state and federal constitutions that protect free speech," says Jim Lobsenz, the criminal defense attorney representing both Egan and his client, Etherly. "You can’t stop people in advance from disseminating information. It’s clearly illegal and yet that’s what they’re doing."

Leo Etherly, photographed four days after his arrest.
  • The Stranger
  • Leo Etherly, photographed four days after his arrest.
It all started six weeks ago, says Egan, on October 6, when his client was pulled over by three officers in the Central District and accused of being involved in a hit and run. Instead of simply questioning Etherly, Egan says that the police investigation "immediately escalated into violence." According to Egan, the dash-cam video in his possession shows two officers holding Etherly down on his back on the hood of a patrol car as another officer, identified as Officer Faust, "went immediately for his jugular and strangled him for several seconds." As the video continues, Egan says that Etherly is clearly seen choking on his own spit as he's being strangled. At that point, "Officer Faust decides he’s deliberately spitting on him and he throws a tremendously fast fist into [Etherly's] eye, causing permanent partial blindness."

"I passed out," Etherly recalls. He's also seen the video, which he says shows him lying "motionless and [Officer Faust] was still punching me. I woke up then and saw blood everywhere."

Etherly was arrested and booked into King County jail for assaulting an officer (with his spit). On October 10, Etherly was charged by the Seattle City Attorney's office with both hit-and-run and assault. This is where the story gets complicated: On October 10, Egan sent a broad public records request (PDR) for dash-cam video of his client's arrest and the next day, also filed a more pointed video request for discovery with the City Attorney's Office (meaning he requested the same video, once from SPD directly and then again from the city attorney).

On October 17, Egan received his video from the city attorney's office but never received a response to his PDR request from the police department. On October 22, the charges against his client were dismissed, yet Egan still pursued his video request with SPD because, he says, the copy of the video he has cannot be disseminated and also because the department is breaking the law—and its own rules—by withholding it.

"It's the worst video I’ve ever seen of police misconduct by far," Egan reiterates, and the public has a vested interest in seeing it, especially given the recent Department of Justice decree finding that Seattle police officers engage in patterns of unnecessary force against suspects (among other things). Egan says that the Department of Justice is also trying to get its hands on a copy of the video but thus far has also been denied by the department.

The Public Disclosure Act requires that the video be produced within five days of a request or, alternately, a reasonable explanation be given for the delay. "They've delayed giving me the video, or authorizing me to release the video I already have, three times so far," says Egan.

Hence today's lawsuit. Egan, Etherly, and their lawyer Lobsenz are seeking a declaratory judgment forcing SPD to release the video, hopefully within the next two weeks. Meanwhile, Egan says that the police department's Office of Professional Accountability has launched an internal investigation into the responding officers' actions.

"You will watch this video and you will wonder why the officers aren’t charged with a felony," Egan says.

It's only a matter of time until the public sees the video. The real question is, if it's as bad as Egan swears, will there be repercussions within the department? Or will Mayor Mike McGinn once again stand behind a police chief that has steadfastly ignored or apologized for the brutality of his officers without offering up serious, categorical reform?


Comments (25) RSS

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Will in Seattle 1
The Police Guild will do nothing.

And the City Council will say lots of nice words and do nothing.

This is Seattle, after all.
Posted by Will in Seattle on November 26, 2012 at 1:20 PM · Report this
Yeah, that second option. That's the one.
Posted by Juris on November 26, 2012 at 1:51 PM · Report this
bgk 3
Above all else, we must maintain the illusion our police are not violating the law, including having the police violate the law.
Posted by bgk on November 26, 2012 at 1:55 PM · Report this
Go, Etherly, Egan and Lobsenz! So sorry this happened to Mr. Etherly. It's good to see lawyers working light a fire for him. I remember Egan from back when he ran for the board of the late, lamented monorail project.

And thanks for posting the complaint Lobsenz filed, Cienna. It tells quite a tale of SPD intransigence and stonewallery, and shows Egan was really staying on top of it for Etherly.
Posted by gloomy gus on November 26, 2012 at 2:08 PM · Report this
Rotten666 5
Just release the video without permission.
Posted by Rotten666 on November 26, 2012 at 2:11 PM · Report this
watchout5 6
This isn't helpful. Just when the department gets on its own 2 feet they start dragging behind a cop who likes to beat people for fun. Either throw this guy under the bus by doing your job or admit your department is worthless. You have 24 hours.
Posted by watchout5 on November 26, 2012 at 2:14 PM · Report this
Good thing for dash cams. It's really frustrating though that these cops can beat people with complete and total immunity. It's time to throw the fuckers in jail where they belong.
Posted by Pate on November 26, 2012 at 2:24 PM · Report this
The charges were dropped in 16 days? That's pretty much an admission of a SPD civil rights violation.
Posted by DOUG. on November 26, 2012 at 2:31 PM · Report this
Good on Egan and Etherly for keeping the pressure on the police department, and I am sorry that Mr. Etherly has to endure partial blindness (!) because some asshole decided his as yet unconvicted crime merited maiming.

Obviously the point isn't just this particular incident (or else they would leak the video anonymously), it is to attack the administrative means by which the police prevent the public from holding them accountable. That is an excellent, necessary step to prevent abuse like this from happening in the future. Seattle's cops have no intrinsic desire to change, and other elected officials have no will to challenge them. It is up to the courts, the bureaucrats, and the media to strip away their defenses.
Posted by sahara29 on November 26, 2012 at 2:31 PM · Report this
Eric Arrr 10

I'm sure Egan would love to leak the video, but then he would face sanctions from the state bar association. Surprisingly, the law profession is a model of self-regulation -- exactly the opposite of your typical police guild.

On the one hand, I'm sort of surprised to see SPD screwing the pooch this way. They've already admitted that Esterly has an absolute right to receive a copy of the video, and for all the effort they've spent articulating reasons why they can't release it yet, they could have released it five times already.

On the other hand, it's now obvious what SPD's real issue is: they really, really don't want to release videos of controversial incidents until after the corresponding OPA investigation has concluded. They can live with the public outrage as long as it comes later, after the officer has been officially exonerated.
Posted by Eric Arrr on November 26, 2012 at 2:40 PM · Report this
The SPOG are Seattle's Al-Qaida
Posted by soggydan on November 26, 2012 at 2:56 PM · Report this
wisepunk 12
Dear SPD officers who feel the need to beat people and make up charges.

I'm sorry that your dicks are so small, but beating people isn't a cool way to release that anger. AND I AM FUCKING TIRED OF PAYING FOR THIS SHIT.

Here is my new plan. We take the total dollars spent on SPD payroll, and remove any legal judgements away from that fund. All SPD officers get a base salary of 50k a year, and whatever else they get through time or promotion will be a bonus.

So if the bonus pool is 100 million, and there are 25million in judgements, then everyone gets a 25% cut to the year end bonus. Hell we could tie in all kinds of performance related incentives.

So all that detective overtime, you know, to cover those illegal terrorists playing poker in speakeasy's, won't be 60k extra this year, it will be 45K. It is the only thing we have that can truly punish someone who is licensed by the state with the power to illegally kick someones ass and get away with not being punished. So when those officers that were pulling down 225k a year are suddenly getting paid 175 for the same work, the union will clean up it's own house.

Posted by wisepunk on November 26, 2012 at 3:09 PM · Report this
pfffter 13
Every single officer in SPD should be fired and build the department back from scratch. Sure, we'd be faring for ourselves for a while, but aren't we doing it already AND getting the shit beat out of us by SPD? Fuck. Them. Fire them all.
Posted by pfffter on November 26, 2012 at 3:27 PM · Report this
Wow, can't the Seattle cops ever beat up someone WITHOUT a rap sheet as long as my arm?
Posted by Moody blues on November 26, 2012 at 3:32 PM · Report this
Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In 15
I hope whatever apologia McGinn had built up over the SPD/DOJ lawsuit has now been destroyed. There is no reason to believe anything the SPD says. The situation needs to move from negotiation between the city & the SPD to the city saying STFU and the SPD taking it like an adult, instead of the spoiled brat performance they've been trotting out for decades.
Posted by Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In on November 26, 2012 at 3:49 PM · Report this
geoff teardrop 16
officer faust, eh? how appropriate
Posted by geoff teardrop on November 26, 2012 at 3:49 PM · Report this
@14 too bad he wasn't guilty of the crime they pulled him over for, huh? Also, where is Etherly's rap sheet? It's really as long as your arm? I wanna see.
Posted by erly on November 26, 2012 at 3:55 PM · Report this
rob! 18
A truly deplorable situation, but my gayness won't let me not think of a lawyerly human centipede.
Posted by rob! on November 26, 2012 at 4:18 PM · Report this
Eric Arrr 19

Good point. Speaking for myself, I'd probably worry a lot less about the rights of people with rap sheets if I hadn't had the experience of getting arrested & charged as a result of false statements by certain SPD officers.

I'm glad you're here, I'm glad you're taking part in the conversation. But the next time you see one of your colleagues playing loose with the facts, that'd be a good time to think about what a rap sheet really means nowadays.
Posted by Eric Arrr on November 26, 2012 at 4:30 PM · Report this
Leo Etherly has past arrest and convictions for assault, DV and indecent exposure. Leo quite the court record if you care to look it up, he has been arrested in 5 cites and 3 counties, he is certainly no stranger to law enforcement.
Posted by Hug-a-thug on November 26, 2012 at 5:20 PM · Report this
Mayor McGinn condones the withholding of legal, public documents, just ask any staffer.
Posted by hmmmmm on November 26, 2012 at 5:58 PM · Report this
Free Lunch 22
Are the police not aware that their cars have dash cams? Not only does the SPD consist mostly of thugs, but it seems stupidity is a widespread problem as well.

I propose a new enlistment requirement: an IQ score above 50, so at least it's only mild retardation.

Maybe next time, morons, prop the perp up on the trunk before you commence with beating the shit out of him.
Posted by Free Lunch on November 26, 2012 at 7:39 PM · Report this
lauramae 23
Interesting that the SPD won't allow the video to be released but they have spent plenty of times in the various Stranger articles on this incident trying to shift public opinion. I'm sure they are doing it over at the friendlier to the 3rd Reich, Seattle Times.
Posted by lauramae on November 26, 2012 at 9:31 PM · Report this
tunanator 24
@14 That's EXACTLY what needs to be done. Decisions against the police for rights violations need to be paid for BY the police out of their own pockets. Not the taxpayer.

A single $1 million settlement might hurt for a while, but I guarantee peer pressure will breed a new attitude amongst the wild-wild-west crowd working there now.
Posted by tunanator on November 26, 2012 at 9:45 PM · Report this
tunanator 25
@14 That's EXACTLY what needs to be done. Decisions against the police for rights violations need to be paid for BY the police out of their own SALARIES. Not the taxpayer. Not the bonus pool, which should be RESET TO ZERO EACH TIME.

A single $1 million settlement might hurt for a while, but I guarantee peer pressure will breed a new attitude amongst the wild-wild-west crowd working there now. And empty out some slots for civilized replacements.
Posted by tunanator on November 26, 2012 at 9:48 PM · Report this

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