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Originally published November 12, 2009 at 9:28 PM | Page modified May 26, 2010 at 4:41 PM

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Police investigate videotaped arrest

The Seattle Police Department has opened an internal investigation into the violent arrest of a suspect. The video shows a trio of Seattle police officers using fists, flashlights, batons and a Taser on Daniel M. Saunders. Police say Saunders, who was wanted on vandalism charges, was actively resisting arrest.

Seattle Times staff reporters

Seattle police have launched an internal investigation into the arrest in June of a suspect by three officers who used their fists, batons, a flashlight and a Taser to subdue the man at the department's Georgetown evidence unit.

The arrest, which was captured on a police surveillance video, came a day after the man was mistakenly released from the King County Jail.

Daniel Macio Saunders, 46, had been arrested and jailed June 6 for investigation of burglary and vandalism after he allegedly broke into a Rainier Valley church, naked and covered with blood. Saunders has hepatitis C, a contagious and dangerous blood-borne illness, which resulted in the cleanup of the church being treated as a hazardous-materials situation.

Saunders was mistakenly released from jail June 10 when prosecutors failed to alert the jail that charges had been filed. The prosecutor's office blamed the mistake on a paperwork error.

Saunders went to the evidence unit June 11 to retrieve personal property that had been taken when he was booked into jail.

The officers arrested Saunders at the facility on a warrant issued after his release from jail.

Andrew Magee, Saunders' attorney, is considering a civil-rights lawsuit against the officers, as well as the King County Prosecutor's Office and even the judge responsible for releasing Saunders from the jail.

Prosecutors say the tape, "while not pretty," exonerates the officers, who said in statements and sworn court documents that Saunders resisted arrest and "armed himself with a screwdriver and tried to injure the officers with the weapon."

The Seattle Police Officers' Guild said Saunders resisted and disobeyed the officers.

"They did everything right," said Guild President Sgt. Rich O'Neill.

Probe opened Oct. 26

The department said in a prepared statement that it opened an internal investigation Oct. 26, nearly five months after the incident and after The Seattle Times made a public-disclosure request to the prosecutor's office for the surveillance video.

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The statement says Saunders "actively resisted" arrest.

The department declined further comment, citing the ongoing internal investigation to determine if excessive force was used or "police misconduct occurred."

Both the department and the Guild pointed out that the officers had to confront Saunders because of a mistake by the King County Prosecutor's Office.

Saunders has a long criminal history, including convictions for burglary and drug offenses. He says the officers jumped him without warning.

"I reacted like anyone would when someone's trying to assault you," he said. "I kept asking them, 'Why are you doing this?' "

The video shows Saunders standing in the public lobby of the evidence facility when a police officer appears outside a glass door. Saunders, seeing the officer, goes over to the locked door and opens it for the officer. Saunders said he was being a "good Samaritan."

Within seconds, the officer and two others grab Saunders and wrestle him to the floor.

Portions of the struggle are hidden from view of the camera and there is no audio. Over the next three minutes, officers repeatedly strike him with their fists, knees, a baton and a flashlight.

The officers' reports also said that Saunders was Tased "four to five times" as he lay on the floor.

Afterward, Saunders was taken by ambulance to Harborview Medical Center, his head wrapped in bandages.

Magee, Saunders' attorney, said doctors stitched a wound on his forehead "that looked like something from the Frankenstein monster." Saunders said he suffered numerous bruises and abrasions during the arrest.

The officers, in court documents, said Saunders "tensed up" and refused to obey their commands. They also say he tried to grab their Tasers and a baton and was armed with a screwdriver.

"It isn't a pretty video, but videos are limited to the angle you see," O'Neill said.

Officers involved

The officers are identified in court documents as Domingo Ortiz, Scott Schenck and Albert Elliott. Incident reports obtained through the prosecutor's office indicate all three reported that Saunders was told he was being arrested, that he fought back, and that they used force to subdue him.

Ortiz and Elliott were treated and released from Harborview for injuries suffered in the struggle, according to court documents.

Ian Goodhew, deputy chief of staff to King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, said he has reviewed the tape "several times," and prosecutors determined Saunders resisted the officers. They responded with "commonly used pain-compliance techniques" to make the arrest.

"I wouldn't describe it as excessive at all," Goodhew said.

Saunders' attorney disagrees.

"The question I have is why didn't they try just explaining the situation to him, and then ask him to comply?" Magee said.

Goodhew said if the department's internal-affairs investigators believe there is evidence of a crime by the officers, prosecutors will review that decision.

Saunders pleaded guilty last month to a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest in King County Mental Health Court, where he avoided jail time and was given counseling.

Had he not taken the deal, Goodhew said prosecutors would have pursued a felony assault charge that carries a possible prison term.

Part of the evidence against Saunders was the videotape of the June 11 arrest, along with the screwdriver found at the scene, Goodhew said.

Saunders was arrested early June 6 on suspicion of second-degree burglary and malicious mischief, after police said he hurled himself through the front window of the Unity Church of God in Christ in the 8300 block of Renton Avenue South.

Saunders, who police say was naked at the time, was cut by glass and he smeared blood throughout the church as he vandalized a display case and tore photos from the walls.

Saunders pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor vandalism charge in mental-health court in connection with the break-in.

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

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

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