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Originally published May 23, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 23, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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FBI probes disputed drug arrest by Seattle officers

The FBI has launched an investigation into whether two Seattle police officers violated the civil rights of an alleged drug dealer during...

Seattle Times staff reporter

The FBI has launched an investigation into whether two Seattle police officers violated the civil rights of an alleged drug dealer during a disputed arrest on Jan. 2.

The investigation is focusing on the actions of officers Greg Neubert and Michael Tietjen when they arrested George "Troy" Patterson, 26, for allegedly possessing drugs. The charges against Patterson were later dropped when questions were raised about the arrest.

The Seattle chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) requested that the FBI examine the arrest to determine whether Patterson's civil rights were violated. The NAACP also demanded the resignations of Chief Gil Kerlikowske and the two officers.

"Any time there is alleged misconduct by law enforcement, the [FBI] has an obligation to gather the information and send it to the Department of Justice," FBI spokesman Larry Carr said Tuesday.

When the FBI completes its investigation, the findings will be forwarded to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle and to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., said Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office of Western Washington. The civil-rights division will decide whether a full investigation by the FBI into the allegations of wrongdoing is necessary.

Seattle police spokesman Sean Whitcomb said Tuesday that the department would "cooperate fully" with any U.S. Attorney's Office or FBI investigation.

Neubert and Tietjen came to the attention of public defenders and the NAACP last month when the King County Prosecutor's Office sent letters to defense lawyers in 17 cases, saying that the officers were being investigated by the Seattle police Internal Investigations Section because of questions raised over the Patterson arrest.

Since then, the credibility of the officers has been questioned by defense attorneys in at least nine pending felony drug prosecutions in state court.

Patterson, a convicted dealer, was arrested by Neubert and Tietjen on suspicion of possession of crack cocaine on the corner of Third Avenue and Pike Street. The nighttime arrest was recorded by a drugstore surveillance camera.

Patterson, who was in a wheelchair, complained that the officers used excessive force and claimed that they planted drugs on him. The officers were cleared of the most serious allegations by the department and its Office of Professional Accountability, a civilian oversight group.

The officers were disciplined only for failing to report that they had detained another man at the scene and then let him go.

Earlier this month, defense attorneys presented a report by a forensic expert who reviewed the 24-minute surveillance video from Patterson's arrest, as well as Neubert's and Tietjen's arrest reports.

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Grant Fredericks, a former Vancouver, B.C., police officer and a lecturer on video surveillance, reported inconsistencies between the officers' accounts and the video.

Both officers reported that they saw "in plain view" crumbs of rock cocaine on Patterson's lap. They said they had been watching through binoculars from the top of a nearby parking garage and saw him selling drugs.

Fredericks said that a strong wind that was blowing that night would have made it unlikely that cocaine crumbs would stay put on Patterson's lap. He also said that, on the video, he didn't see any objects being removed from the man's lap.

Seattle Times staff reporters Mike Carter and Natalie Singer contributed this report.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

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