Monday, July 14, 2008

Woman Wins Excessive Force Case

The city will pay a 32-year-old University of Washington graduate student $115,000 to settle her federal civil-rights lawsuit against a Seattle police officer who broke her cheekbone during an arrest near KeyArena in 2006, the woman's lawyers say.

The payout to Brittany Beaulieu — expected to be announced by the city today — is the third six-figure settlement or verdict since November in lawsuits stemming from violent arrests by Seattle police officers.

Two of the cases have another similarity: Internal investigators recommended discipline for the officers responsible, but none was ever handed out.

According to court documents and depositions, Beaulieu had been celebrating with friends the night of April 21, 2006, after her last day of work at a job she was leaving. The group ran up a $215 bar tab at Tini Bigs Lounge at First Avenue North and Denny Way before leaving to walk north along First Avenue North toward KeyArena.

There were five people in that group, and three of them went toward their vehicle, while Beaulieu and another woman continued walking. Police approached when an officer saw a member of the first group backing a pickup the wrong way down a street and nearly hitting a bus. The officer stopped the vehicle and called for backup because it appeared the driver was intoxicated, the documents say.

Meanwhile, Beaulieu and her friend arrived on foot. Documents indicate that several in the group were yelling at the officers as the driver was being taken into custody.

At least one other friend was arrested for interfering and, according to testimony of officers and witnesses, Beaulieu approached the pickup driver, who was sitting in the back of a patrol vehicle, and "began yelling, 'Don't blow into the machine,' " referring to a breath test, according to documents filed by the city.

She was led away and warned, but police say she was intoxicated and ran back toward the car. That's when Officer Aaron Parker moved to arrest her for obstructing the investigation.

Exactly what happened next is disputed. Parker, 32, claimed Beaulieu was drunk and struggling and he decided that it would be easier to handcuff her if she was on the ground, according to court filings. He said he attempted to use a "leg sweep to slowly lower Beaulieu to the ground," but that she broke his grip on her arm just as he kicked her legs out from beneath her.

Beaulieu, in her claim, said the officer "grabbed [her] from behind, took hold of her wrists and swept her legs out from under her." She landed hard, face-first, on the sidewalk and suffered a facial fracture that required surgery to repair, according to one of her attorneys, Tim Tesh.

The settlement does not include an admission of liability by the city, however lawyer Allen Ressler said that the lawyers representing the city "offered a verbal apology" during mediation.

City Attorney Tom Carr, reached Sunday, said he was aware of the settlement but had no further comment.

Ted Buck, the private attorney who represented the city, said the Beaulieu case -- like the two other excessive-force cases the city has settled in the past eight months -- presented "risks for both sides." Buck said the two settlements and a six-figure verdict against the city in another excessive force-case in May were "a fluke."

"We've had a string of sympathetic plaintiffs — not like the ones we usually see — and murky circumstances," he said. "Here, it included these horrific injuries from a simple takedown move you could perform a thousand times and never hurt someone like that."

Carr's office said the city spent just more than $32,000 for private lawyers to defend the Beaulieu claim.

An investigation by the department's Office of Professional Accountability recommended that Parker be disciplined for excessive use of force. In his findings, Internal Investigations Section Capt. Neil Low said the scene was chaotic and that officers likely had good reason to arrest Beaulieu and the others.

But Low found nothing that warranted Parker's response.

"The evidence does not support that she posed a clear and imminent physical threat" to the officers, Low wrote. "The officer may not have intended to injure [Beaulieu] and may be sorry he did so, but the evidence supports that the leg or foot sweep was more force than was necessary."

The department did not accept Low's recommendation, and instead referred Parker for additional training. Six months later, another complaint alleged he kicked a suspect in the head during an arrest after a foot chase. An internal investigation into that incident found "the impact area 'questionable' " and that he should have considered other options.

That same report says Parker's behavior had triggered an administrative review because he had accumulated more than 50 use-of-force incidents on the street since joining the department in 2002.

In May, a verdict in U.S. District Court awarded 22-year-old community volunteer Romelle Bradford $269,000 after he was knocked to the ground by an officer and wrongly arrested during a disturbance at the Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club in 2006. The city — whose defense fees already have topped $140,000 — has asked the judge to reconsider the verdict and is seeking a new trial.

Bradford's lawyers are seeking more than $270,000 in attorneys fees from the city, as well.

And in November, the city paid $185,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, a 29-year-old art teacher who was beaten, kicked and arrested outside a Capitol Hill nightclub in 2005 when he questioned why an officer was citing his friend for littering. An internal investigation recommended the officers involved be disciplined for using excessive force, but Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske exonerated them.

The department said most of the blame lay with the supervisor at the scene, then-Sgt. Gregory Sackman; however, the department missed a deadline to discipline him. He has since been promoted to lieutenant.

Last month, a federal judge ruled that a civil-rights lawsuit against three Seattle police officers can proceed to trial, finding that there is evidence officers used excessive force when they Tasered a pregnant woman who refused to sign a traffic ticket in 2004.


Recent settlements
July: $115,000

Brittany Beaulieu's cheekbone was broken during an arrest near KeyArena in 2006.

May: $269,000

Romelle Bradford was knocked to the ground by an officer and wrongly arrested during a disturbance at the Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club in 2006.

November: $185,000

Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes was kicked and arrested outside a Capitol Hill nightclub in 2005 after asking why an officer was citing his friend for littering.

Officer Who Shot Man has Now Been Arrested for Child Sexual Abuse

The US police officer charged with shooting 20-year-old Andrew Hanlon from Dundrum in Dublin has been arrested in Oregon on child sex abuse charges. He will appear in court tomorrow.

The girl and her mother reported the abuse on Saturday, and Mr Gonzalez was subsequently arrested. Deputy District Attorney Matt Kemmy said officers were contacted on by a woman and her daughter, who is the alleged victim. Mr Kemmy did not reveal the girl’s age.

The 35-year-old police officer Gonzalez is on administrative leave from the Silverton Police Department, pending the outcome of the investigation into the fatal shooting of Andrew Hanlon (20), who was killed on June 30th in Silverton. Relatives claim that Mr Hanlon was shot seven times.

Mr Hanlon (20) was shot dead after police responded to a reported burglary in the small town where he had been living for the past year.

Mr Hanlon’s brother-in-law Nathan Heise said the victim had shown signs of mental disturbance in the months prior to his death.

The mother of Mr Hanlon travelled to Oregon on Friday in a bid to find out more information on the death of her son. She held a two hour meeting with prosecuters.

Dorothea Carroll plans to take her son’s body back to Dublin early this week.