Police Appeal Restrictions on Use of Violent Tactics
November 15, 2014
Renee Lewis / Al Jazeera America & BBC World News
Dozens of Seattle police officers have appealed the dismissal of a federal lawsuit in which they had tried to throw out new rules restricting use of force on the grounds that it endangered both them and the public. A Seattle police department internal email said officers needed to use even more force against citizens. Meanwhile, in South Carolina, a white police officer was fired and arrested after his shooting of an unarmed African-American that he had pulled over for a seat-belt violation.
Seattle Officers Appeal Dismissal of
Use-of-force Restrictions Lawsuit
Renee Lewis / Al Jazeera America
(November 15, 2014) -- Dozens of Seattle police officers have appealed the dismissal of a federal lawsuit in which they had tried to throw out new rules restricting use of force on the grounds that it endangered both them and the public.
At the center of the court tussle are reforms enacted in Jan. 2014 as a result of a federal investigation into "excessive" use of force practices at the Seattle Police Department (SPD).
The new policy required officers to think about ways they could de-escalate confrontations before moving contemplating more forceful means. Officers argued that the new rules endangered them in fast-moving and potentially dangerous scenarios.
Last month, US District Judge Marsha Pechman ruled that it was reasonable to impose such use of force policies, and threw out the lawsuit. But on Friday the plaintiffs filed an appeal to that decision, according to court documents.
The 89 SPD officers involved in the appeal claimed the regulations represented an abuse of power that "shocks the conscience," according to the Seattle Times. Pechman responded to the claim, saying, "It does not shock the conscience to see certain de-escalation procedures imposed on police officers in an effort by their Department to avoid a pattern of excessive use of force."
The 2011 US Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation found in 2011 that Seattle police too often used unnecessary force, adding that it amounted to a pattern of excessive force -- especially against minorities. In 2012, the DOJ reached an agreement with Seattle in which new reforms would be enforced.
The investigation was prompted by a series of high-profile confrontations between the SPD and minorities.
The Aug. 2010 fatal shooting of Native American woodcarver John T. Williams was one of those incidents. Williams, who was partially deaf, was carrying a block of wood and a carving knife when an officer ordered him to drop the knife -- a command he did not respond to before the officer shot and killed him.
After the new policies were enacted at the beginning of the year, over 120 officers from the SPD sued the police department, the city of Seattle, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, and US Attorney General Eric Holder among others. They argued the polices represented a "reckless and deliberate indifference" to the officers' right to defend themselves, court documents showed.
In the official complaint, officers said the reformed use of force policies "unreasonable restrict and burden plaintiffs' right to use force reasonably required, to protect themselves and others, from apparent harm and danger . . . (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."
But SPD Chief Kathleen O'Toole said in September in an internal email to department employees that she was "not aware of any injury that has resulted from an officer hesitating to use force."
"The SPD Use of Force policy represents a consensus reached after months of serious negotiations involving all stakeholders, including line officers and their representatives," she said, according to the SPD blog. The officers' appeal will be taken to a San Francisco-based federal appeals court according to the officers’ attorney, Athan Tramountanas, the Seattle times reported.
Seattle Police Aren’t Using Enough Force,
Internal Memo Says
Officers lament new use of force policy, established after DOJ report found pattern of excessive force
Renee Lewis / Al Jazeera America
(September 26, 2014) -- A Seattle police department internal email said officers aren’t using enough force and that the softer approach could endanger both the police and the public, local media reported.
The letter, obtained by local television news network KIRO 7, comes amid a national dialogue on excessive force by law enforcement in the wake of racially-charged protests in Ferguson, Missouri, where black teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white officer, Darrell Wilson, on Aug. 9.
But officers of the Seattle Police Department (SPD) argue a new policy on the use of force, which requires extensive reports following such incidents, is preventing them from doing their jobs.
“Some officers are very hesitant to use force in situations where force is clearly needed,” East Precinct Lt. Bryan Grenon wrote in the email, KIRO 7 reported Thursday. “Please communicate to our officers to use force when necessary to protect themselves, fellow officers, the public and the suspect from harm.”
The memo comes in response to the implementation of a new ‘use of force’ policy in 2012, mandated after a Justice Department (DOJ) Civil Rights Division investigation into allegations of civil rights violations found a pattern of use of excessive force in the department.
Some police officers said that in some cases they have avoided using force because of the extensive paperwork they must complete following physical interactions with suspected criminals. The reports were mandated by a new 80-page policy for any situation where minimal contact is made.
The policy, adopted in January, is the result of a 2012 DOJ investigation into allegations that SPD officers had engaged in a pattern of unnecessary or excessive force.
The investigation was launched after a string of highly publicized police brutality cases including the shooting death of a partially deaf Native American woodcarver in August 2010. John T. Williams, 50, was holding his carving knife and a block of wood when officers told him to drop the knife. After failing to comply, officer Ian Birk shot and killed Williams. Williams’ family told The Seattle Times John likely hadn’t heard the command.
More recently, 23-year-old Oscar Perez Giron was shot and killed by Seattle police in July after witnesses said he was profiled at a light rail station for inspection. After discovering Giron did not have a ticket, the encounter escalated, with police saying Giron had turned a gun on them before they shot and killed him.
The DOJ investigation found that at least one in five uses of force by SPD officers was unconstitutional, according to the news site the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. A report released after the probe noted that officers were too quick to use weapons including clubs and flashlights, saying that their use was not justified or was excessive in over half of the case, the Seattle PI reported.
DOJ investigators added that there were dozens of other cases that could also have been unconstitutional, but they lacked sufficient information on the incidents — a problem that the new use of force policy seeks to remedy by requiring full reports on physical encounters.
Over 100 Seattle police officers filed a federal lawsuit in May saying the new policy violated their rights to defend themselves.
“I think an officer will eventually get killed,” Severance said, calling the policy “ridiculous.” But Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole told KIRO 7 she hasn’t seen a case where an officer hesitated in using force.
Even before the DOJ investigation, rights groups criticized Seattle police for actions carried out during protests against a World Trade Organization conference in 1999. Military-grade weapons were used against demonstrators, and Norm Stamper, the SPD police chief at the time, resigned the day after the police launched what many said was tantamount to an armed attack.
In a recent interview with VICE news, Stamper said it is clear police departments across the country are becoming increasingly militarized and have failed to learn lessons from incidents like WTO -- citing Ferguson as an example.
“It seems like the rest of the country is hell-bent . . . that so many police departments seem to outdo themselves in not paying attention to the lessons of WTO,” Stamper said. “I made, personally, the biggest mistake of my career that week.”
'Recipe for Disaster'
Stamper lamented the kind of police violence seen Ferguson. In ongoing protests there, a highly militarized police force continues to clash with demonstrators.
“Billions of dollars overall are portioned out to small departments with no provision for training,” Stamper told VICE, “And that’s a recipe for disaster.”
Shootings of unarmed black people have received increasing media coverage following the death of black teenager Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer in February 2012.
The teen's death prompted a renewed national dialogue on the unfair profiling of African Americans in various segments of society.
More recently, a video released Friday showed a South Carolina trooper firing four shots at an unarmed black man during a routine traffic stop. Levar Jones, 35, who survived the incident, said he was simply reaching into his car to bring the officer his driver’s license as requested when the white trooper opened fire.
State Trooper Shoots Unarmed Man: Officer Fired from Job
Caught on Dashcams or CCTV
Sean Groubert Charged in Shooting of Levar Jones
BBC World News
(September 25, 2014) -- A South Carolina state trooper has been sacked and arrested after shooting an unarmed man whom he had seconds earlier pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt. Sean Groubert, 31, who is white, is seen on dashboard video shooting Levar Jones, 35, who is black.
Mr Jones was struck in the hip and has been released from hospital. Mr Groubert has been freed on bail. The arrest comes soon after two high-profile incidents in which white US police killed unarmed black men.
Three Seconds Pass
In video shot from a camera on the dashboard of Mr Groubert's patrol car on 4 September, Mr Groubert pulls behind Mr Jones's truck in a Richland County petrol station, then asks, "Can I see your licence please?"
Mr Jones, who has just stepped out of the truck, turns and reaches into the cab, with no apparent aggression in his manner. An instant later, Mr Groubert shouts "get out of the car" and bursts into the frame with gun drawn, then opens fire before Mr Jones can react.
In the next three seconds, at least four shots can be heard as Mr Jones puts his hands over his head then crumples to the ground. "You said get my licence," Mr Jones is heard moaning, out of vision, "I grabbed my licence."
Mr Groubert holsters his gun, orders Mr Jones to put his hands behind his back, then summons an ambulance and other police officers. Mr Jones asks why Mr Groubert shot him. Mr Groubert responds, "You dove head first back into your car.''
The South Carolina Department of Public Safety fired Mr Groubert on 19 September.
"Mr Groubert's actions rose to such an extent that his employment with us must be terminated," director Leroy Smith said in a statement. "The facts of this case are disturbing to me, but I believe this case was an isolated incident in which Mr Groubert reacted to a perceived threat where there was none."
On Wednesday, prosecutors in Richland County, South Carolina, issued an arrest warrant charging Mr Groubert with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, a felony that carries up to 20 years in prison.
The filing says Mr Groubert shot Mr Jones "without justification", and cites the video recording as evidence. He has been released on a $75,000 (£46,000) bond.
In Mr Groubert's case, the arrest warrant was issued less than three weeks after the shooting. But in two other cases since the beginning of August, white policemen were not charged, leading to widespread outrage.
In Missouri, a grand jury is weighing charges against Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in the middle of a street on 9 August.
Mr Wilson has said Mr Brown attacked him. Witnesses say Mr Brown had his hands up and was a considerable distance away when he was killed.
And in Ohio this week, a grand jury declined to prosecute police officers who shot and killed John Crawford III as he was strolling around a Walmart store while playing with a toy rifle he had taken from a shelf and talking on his mobile phone.
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