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Originally published Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Federal grand jury indicts King County sheriff's deputy

A federal grand jury has indicted a King County sheriff's deputy for allegedly violating the rights of a woman he is accused of beating...

Seattle Times staff reporter

A federal grand jury has indicted a King County sheriff's deputy for allegedly violating the rights of a woman he is accused of beating and kicking after she was handcuffed, and then lying to the grand jury about it.

The two-count felony indictment against Deputy Brian Bonnar is believed to be the first-ever federal criminal prosecution of a law-enforcement officer in a civil-rights case in the Western District of Washington, according to a review of records and prior news reports.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Westinghouse, who heads the department's criminal division, said the prosecution is certainly "the first one in recent times."

The charges were filed only after the case was reviewed by the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C.

Bonnar, 42, is accused of assaulting Irene Damon during a traffic stop on Oct. 22, 2005, while "acting under the color of law," according to the indictment.

A second charge alleges he made a "false declaration" to the grand jury when he testified in January and denied striking the handcuffed Damon in the head with his knee and slamming her face into the hood of a patrol car.

The alleged incident took place during a traffic stop in White Center. Damon was under the influence of alcohol and crack cocaine at the time, according to reports.

Several other deputies witnessed the incident and came forward to complain about Bonnar's actions. Several of them testified before the grand jury.

"We cooperated fully with this investigation," said sheriff's spokesman John Urquhart.

An internal investigation by the King County Sheriff's Office upheld allegations that the deputy used unnecessary force and Chief Robin Fenton recommended that Bonnar be fired.

Sheriff Sue Rahr imposed a 20-day suspension without pay. Urquhart said the sheriff was not available for comment on Wednesday.

Urquhart said Bonnar — who has been a sheriff's deputy since January 2003 — has been on administrative leave since shortly after the grand-jury investigation was announced by the FBI in September.

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Attempts to contact Bonnar or his attorney, David Allen, were not successful. A Seattle Times investigation in 2003 showed that there has never been a criminal prosecution for a so-called "color of law" civil-rights violation by a police officer in Western Washington.

Between 1996 and 2003, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle, in consultation with civil-rights officials in Washington, D.C., declined 47 referrals from federal agents for suspected law-enforcement civil-rights violations. Nationally, just 2 percent of such referrals are prosecuted.

Civil-rights cases are difficult to prosecute — the government must prove that an officer not only violated someone's civil rights, but did so intentionally.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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