SPD Patrol Officers File Civil Rights Suit Against DOJ-Imposed Use of Force Policies
126 SPD officers have filed a federal lawsuit against the city and the Department of Justice, charging that federally-mandated use of force policies violate their rights and endanger officers and civilians.
One hundred twenty-six Seattle Police Department patrol officers have sued Mayor Ed Murray, City Attorney Pete Holmes, the Department of Justice, and the entire city over the new use of force policies mandated by the city's Consent Decree with the DOJ, which the lawsuit claims were "promulgated and imposed ... in reckless and deliberate indifference" to the Constitution.
The DOJ imposed the decree after a number of allegations of excessive force and racially biased policing, including the shooting of a homeless Native American woodcarver, John T. Williams, in 2011.
The officers are representing themselves because of "the overwhelming costs related to paying an attorney to represent them in this complex civil rights matter." They're seeking an injunction against the new use of force policy "and all related training."
The Seattle Police Officers' Guild president Ron Smith told the Seattle Times that he believed the new policy is "overly broad, poorly written and somewhat confusing," but added that "I believe the policy could have been changed in collaboration with the Community Police Commission."
Specifically, they say the new policies endanger them because they "unreasonably restrict and burden Plaintiffs' right to use force reasonably required" and "require —without appropriate consideration of an officer's knowledge, training, experience, or the apparent danger of the circumstances confronting him or her—that Plaintiffs use significantly less force than is being threatened against them by suspects."
The suit says the consent decree forces officers to avoid using reasonable force against "vaguely defined, newly protected classes of suspects"—an apparent reference to the DOJ's conclusion that there is a perception of racial bias in SPD's policing practices—that "increases hte likelihood that such persons will get killed or seriously injured in encounters with the police..."
The policies, it continues, "require Plaintiffs to under-react to threats of harm until we have no choice but to overreact. This makes it inevitable—although unnecessary and unreasonable—that officers and citizens will get killed or seriously injured."
The suit goes on to talk about the alleged problem of "de-policing"—the idea that police are under-reacting to crime or failing to use force against dangerous suspects because they're afraid of violating the policies.
"What has become increasingly clear is that the new standard for police conduct under the [use of force] policy is perfection, as determined in 20/20 hindsight by inexperienced, untrained civilians and non-patrol officers from the safety of a desk or committee room. ... Perfection, however, is totally at odds with the Constitution."
We have calls out to the city attorney, the mayor, SPD, and city council public safety chair Bruce Harrell.
Council president, former public-safety chair, and ex-cop Tim Burgess said the council doesn't "usually comment on pending lawsuits, even absurd and baseless ones."
In a statement, Murray said, “I have not yet had the chance to review the lawsuit and it would be inappropriate for me to comment at this time.
“But I will say: the Seattle Police Department is under a federally-mandated court order, in part because of a disturbing pattern of unnecessary use of force and other forms of unconstitutional policing.
“The police department will comply with that court order. The City of Seattle will not fight the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. This is not the 1960s."
Murray has appointed a new police chief, Kathleen O'Toole, and the city council has said they plan to expedite her appointment to replace interim chief Harry Bailey.