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Originally published Thursday, February 24, 2011 at 7:19 PM

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Teen kicked by cop is acquitted in attempted robbery

Four people — including a teen repeatedly kicked by a Seattle police officer in a widely publicized incident — were acquitted Thursday of charges that they tried to steal money from a Seattle police officer during an undercover drug operation last fall.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Raw Video | Surveillance video of Seattle PD officer kicking suspect

Four people — including a teen repeatedly kicked by a Seattle police officer in a widely publicized incident — were acquitted Thursday of charges that they tried to steal money from a Seattle police officer during an undercover drug operation last fall.

One of three men tried in the incident was convicted of third-degree assault on an officer.

Judge Dean Lum found the teen not guilty of attempted first-degree robbery, a charge filed in connection with the alleged attempted theft of money from an undercover Seattle police officer during a buy-bust operation in downtown Seattle on Oct. 18. The teen, who turned 18 last Friday, was tried in juvenile court, while the three other defendants were tried in King County Superior Court.

Surveillance video captured images of the teen being kicked three times by Officer James J. Lee during his arrest after police said an undercover officer was robbed and assaulted.

The State Patrol is conducting a criminal investigation into Lee's actions at the request of Seattle Police Chief John Diaz. Lee has been placed on administrative reassignment.

The teen's lawyers last week filed a claim against the city of Seattle seeking a jury trial or a $450,000 settlement, claiming the youth was the victim of "unjustified and excessive force."

Shortly after Lum announced his verdict, jurors hearing the separate cases of the three men being tried in connection with the alleged theft from the undercover officer found them not guilty of attempted first-degree robbery. One of the men, Alexei Selivanoff, was found guilty of third-degree assault for the injuries inflicted upon Officer Raul Vaca, prosecutors said.

The acquitted defendants are Freddie Brooks Jr. and Darius Yearby.

"The Seattle Police Department is going to have to re-evaluate what exactly it does," said James Bible, defense attorney for Yearby and the president of the Seattle and King County branch of the NAACP.

For more than a week, defense lawyers for the three men questioned the tactics of the Seattle Police Department and called Officer Lee to the witness stand, where he acknowledged that he mistakenly wrote in a report that he used force to arrest the teen during a "struggle."

Lee told jurors last week that a video of the incident played in court showed no struggle before he kicked the teen. "My recollection is that he was not compliant and I probably should have used different words to describe that," Lee said of the report.

Lee also testified during the teen's case in juvenile court.

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According to King County prosecutors, on Oct. 18, an undercover officer looking to buy crack cocaine was lured to a downtown parking lot, where a group of men and the teen attempted to rob him. The officer was punched in the face and a second officer suffered serious facial injuries while arresting one of five suspects, Seattle police said.

The officers were later treated at Harborview Medical Center.

During the ensuing investigation, Lee encountered the 17-year-old at Joe's Mart in downtown Seattle. On the surveillance video the teen can be seen with his hands in the air as Lee approaches. Lee then kicks at the teen's groin area. After the teen falls to the floor, Lee kicks him in the torso and then the head before another officer pushes Lee away and handcuffs the teen.

The teen was charged in juvenile court with first-degree attempted robbery for allegedly attempting to steal money from the undercover officer. The Seattle Times generally does not name juveniles charged with a crime.

A fifth defendant charged in the Oct. 18 incident, Bryant Crews, previously pleaded guilty to a drug charge after prosecutors agreed to drop an attempted-robbery charge.

The teens' lawyer, Christopher Carney, said his client was not involved in the assault and was merely in "the wrong place at the wrong time." In the claim, he said the teen "was doing nothing more than standing in a store" when he was "brutally assaulted" by Lee.

Sgt. Rich O'Neill, president of the Seattle Police Officers' Guild, said last week that the claim lacks any merit.

"The youth involved should receive counseling for life skills other than selling narcotics downtown and running from the police," O'Neill said before Thursday's verdict.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

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

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