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Saturday, August 4, 2012 - Page updated at 09:30 p.m.
Seattle police officer accused of excessive force, put on leave
By Christine Clarridge
Seattle Times staff reporter
A veteran Seattle police officer is under investigation after fellow officers reported he used excessive force and engaged in unprofessional conduct while responding to a disturbance Thursday night in South Seattle.
The officer, 19-year veteran Clayton S. Powell, 51, has been placed on paid administrative leave while the incident is investigated by the department's Office of Professional Accountability, according to Seattle police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb.
The incident happened while officers from the South Precinct were investigating a reported drive-by shooting involving a pellet gun in the 3700 block of South Othello Street around 8:40 p.m., Seattle police said. According to Whitcomb and a police incident report, it appears Powell allowed himself to be baited into a physical confrontation with a man at the basketball courts of the John C. Little Park.
The incident report released does not describe Powell's actions at length.
However, a video posted on YouTube shows a heated argument between an officer and another man. The video shows the officer shoving the other man and the crowd demanding to know why he was pushed. The man then appears to spit in the officer's face.
The officer then pushes the man again as the other officers try to control the angry crowd.
According to the incident report, police were originally called to the neighborhood by a 41-year-old man who said his 9-year-old son had been shot with a pellet gun while he was riding his bicycle. "I thought that he had been shot by a real gun at first," the father, Salah Aboker, told The Seattle Times.
Aboker said on Friday that he told police it appeared his son was shot by the three occupants of a gray Honda Accord that sped away.
The officer who took the initial report drove away to look for the Honda and found one parked at the basketball courts near the home where the boy was shot.
Powell responded to the scene to act as the first officer's cover, according to the report.
The incident, or fight, apparently happened as officers were questioning citizens in connection with the shooting.
As the first officer spoke to the registered owner of the vehicle and one of his friends, "a large crowd was surrounding me and Ofc. Powell," wrote the first officer, who is not identified in the report.
The officer wrote that about 20 to 30 males gathered around him and Powell, and were "using taunts and profanity." When a "disturbance broke out," the first officer was forced to break contact with two suspects, who were later seen leaving the park, the report says.
One person was taken into custody, but was later released, police said.
Whitcomb said Powell's actions were immediately reported by officers at the scene.
"We want people to understand that the officers on scene saw things that were unprofessional and saw what they thought was excessive use of force and they notified their boss, who notified the chain of command and immediate action was taken," Whitcomb said.
Reached by telephone Friday, Powell said he felt he was being treated a bit unfairly, but could not comment further.
Whitcomb said it's too early to tell whether the officer would face a criminal investigation in addition to the internal probe.
An investigator with the Office of Professional Accountability will review the case and make a recommendation.
The incident happened less than one week after the city and U.S. Department of Justice announced an agreement calling for federal oversight of the Police Department, including a court-appointed monitor.
The agreement, announced on July 27, follows a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation that found Seattle officers routinely used unconstitutional force. The DOJ alleged that illegal force was most often used against people of color and those who were either mentally or chemically impaired.
In addition to the monitor, the agreement requires officers be specifically trained to use each weapon they carry and report any force that results in injury or a complaint. The more force used, the more detailed the reporting requirements and the greater the scrutiny it will receive.
Police officers also will have to file a use-of-force report when they point a gun at someone, something the department did not require in the past.
The agreement calls for officers to look for ways to de-escalate confrontations and, within safe bounds, decrease their use of force.
Sgt. Rich O'Neill, president of the Seattle Police Officers' Guild, could not be reached for comment.
Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Seattle Times staff reporter Steve Miletich
and news researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report,
which includes information
from the Times archives.
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