Officers in hot water know a good lawyer
Seattle defense attorney David Allen, who has become the go-to guy for cops charged with crimes, is facing one of his most difficult challenges: defending an Everett police officer accused of recklessly killing a drunken-driving suspect.
Seattle Times staff reporter
When Everett police Officer Troy Meade was charged last week with unlawfully killing a drunken-driving suspect, a familiar name appeared as his defense attorney: David Allen.
Over the past several years, the Seattle defense lawyer has become the go-to guy for cops accused of crimes ranging from assaulting an informant to punching a handcuffed man.
The reason might seem obvious: Allen wins.
But it is not that simple. Allen must gain the officers' trust after spending much of his 40-year legal career challenging the credibility of police when they testify against criminal defendants.
"It's never come up, because I hope they realize they are my client," Allen said, noting that most officers recognize the criminal-justice system is an adversarial one.
"If I take the case, I'm going to represent them to the best of my ability," Allen said, emphasizing there is "no question of allegiance" on his part.
The role of defense attorneys is often misunderstood, said John Junker, an emeritus law professor at the University of Washington who specializes in criminal law.
Their job is to make sure every defendant gets a good defense no matter who is accused of a crime, Junker said.
"I think the police themselves come to realize that, because when they get in trouble, they go to the best criminal-defense attorneys they can find," Junker said.
Allen says the police cases he has taken — and he has said no to some — were ones he considered to be "meritorious," where there were "two sides to the story."
In 2004, he represented a King County sheriff's deputy who, along with another deputy and a Des Moines police officer, was charged with unlawfully roughing up a reluctant informant. The jury was unable to reach a verdict, splitting 8-4 in favor of acquitting the officers of five charges, while finding Allen's client not guilty of an assault charge. Prosecutors opted not to retry the case.
Conflicting testimony from witnesses, the informant's lack of credibility and the nature of police work were cited as reasons for the deadlock.
Other favorable results followed: acquittal in 2007 of a U.S. Postal Service agent charged with malicious mischief for allegedly destroying personal property while serving a search warrant on the house of suspected drug dealers; acquittal in 2008 of a King County sheriff's deputy federally charged with violating the civil rights of a woman who was roughed up during an arrest; the acquittal this year of another King County deputy accused of punching a handcuffed man.
All kept their jobs, except the deputy involved in the alleged punching, who was fired.
Those outcomes almost certainly fed the flow of officers to Allen's door. "Success always helps," said Allen, who has not lost a case when defending a cop.
For Allen, the police cases have given him a better understanding of the difficulties and dangers of law-enforcement work, he said.
In the Everett case, Allen is facing a challenge, defending one of the rarest of charges brought against a police officer: unlawfully killing someone while on duty.
Meade, 41, who was charged Monday with first-degree manslaughter, is accused of recklessly shooting to death Niles Meservey, 51, in the parking lot of the Chuckwagon Inn in North Everett while Meade was handling a drunken-driving call.
Meservey allegedly wouldn't get out of his car. Meade first shot Meservey with a Taser, then Meservey's car, boxed in by three cars, lurched forward into a fence, charging papers say. Meade purportedly said something like: "Time to end this; enough is enough," and opened fire.
Another officer who witnessed the shooting told investigators Meservey posed no immediate threat to anyone in the area.
Shortly after the charges were filed, Allen said he strongly believed Meade acted legally when faced with "a very difficult and dangerous situation in which the lives of police and lives of bystanders were in danger."
Allen, 64, has been defending clients since graduating from Boston University School of Law in 1969. He first worked for a legal-services office in Seattle, then as a public defender before entering private practice in 1978, eventually forming the law firm Allen, Hansen & Maybrown.
At trial, he has more wins than losses, Allen said. One of his defeats, following a state bar association hearing, was the two-year suspension of a fellow lawyer, Theresa Olson, who was accused of having jailhouse sex with one of her clients, an incident she famously called a "hug gone bad."
Allen considers preparation key to his courtroom record, quoting what he calls one of the "corniest" but true things he heard from a coach in high school: "You take care of the little things and the big things take care of themselves."
"That's been crucial," Allen said. "You take care of the details."
Justin Ericksen, a state assistant attorney general who faced Allen in the punching case, said Allen was "very well prepared."
Allen interviewed every witness in the case, Ericksen recalled.
"It seems like a simple thing to do, but it doesn't mean it always gets done," Ericksen said. "And when it does get done, you have to know how to prepare an effective cross-examination — which he did."
Ericksen said he found Allen to be "highly professional and ... courteous" while effectively raising reasonable doubt with the jury.
At the same time, Ericksen said, "there might be something" to the theory that juries are reluctant to convict police officers without overwhelming evidence.
Allen disagrees, saying, "I would like to say it's a more even playing field."
But unlike many criminal defendants, police officers come into court with a clean record, he said.
"These cases are very much like self-defense cases, and it's hard for prosecutors to get convictions in self-defense cases."
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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