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Originally published Friday, July 8, 2011 at 6:36 AM

Assault charge against Seattle officer in off-duty brawl angers police union

The decision by Seattle prosecutors to bring an assault charge against a police officer involved in an off-duty brawl prompted an angry response from the police union Friday, setting the stage for a bruising legal battle laced with racial overtones.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The decision by Seattle prosecutors to bring an assault charge against a police officer involved in an off-duty brawl prompted an angry response from the police union Friday, setting the stage for a bruising legal battle laced with racial overtones.

The officer, Garth Haynes, was charged Thursday by the City Attorney's Office with fourth-degree assault arising from the Dec. 12 incident, in which he was captured on video stomping on the head of a man who was handcuffed and lying on the ground.

Haynes, 35, is the second Seattle police officer to be charged with assault this year as the Police Department has been under scrutiny by the U.S. Justice Department over its use of force and dealings with minorities, including an officer's fatal shooting of a woodcarver last year.

"We must continue to ensure that police officers, whether on duty or not, are held accountable for their actions," City Attorney Pete Holmes said in a written statement released Friday.

Haynes initially was the victim of an attack during the early morning brawl outside the BalMar nightclub in Ballard, according to the Police Department.

But as responding officers gained control of the situation, Haynes can be seen on video walking up to the prone, handcuffed man and pushing his foot into his head. An officer then pulled Haynes away from the man.

Sgt. Rich O'Neill, president of the Seattle Police Officers' Guild, said the union was "outraged" by the decision to charge Haynes.

"The whole story has yet to be told regarding this incident, and today we are exposing the whole story, which is very ugly," O'Neill said at a news conference Friday.

O'Neill said there is a second video taken from inside a patrol car that transported three men arrested in the incident, including the man who was stomped by Haynes. He said the video shows the men were clearly intoxicated and that one made "very racist comments" about Haynes.

Haynes is African-American, and the three men involved in the incident are white, O'Neill said.

O'Neill, who asserted Haynes was the victim of a hate crime, acknowledged he had not seen the second video but had been told about it by Seattle police detectives who investigated the case.

Authorities have declined to release the video, citing legal restrictions.

O'Neill demanded the release of the video, saying Holmes told him Thursday that he was aware of the video but had not seen it.

O'Neill, who characterized Haynes' action as "stepping" on the man, said the man was not injured, while Haynes was treated for a concussion and black eye after being repeatedly kicked in the head and face.

O'Neill said he has not seen Haynes' medical records.

Holmes accused of bias

Flanked by a group of African-American officers, O'Neill also pointedly questioned Holmes' competence, saying the city attorney never should have been elected; was biased against police; and that no charge would have been filed against "Garth Haynes the plumber."

Holmes' spokesman, Kimberly Mills, said the three men were charged with assault by the King County Prosecutor's Office but the case was dismissed when Haynes invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and declined to testify in a trial.

Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the King County Prosecutor's Office, said Friday a prosecutor who reviewed the case, including the additional video, concluded there was insufficient evidence to file a hate-crime charge against the men.

Mills said her office focused on the incident involving the man who was on the ground, and that Holmes will not directly respond to O'Neill because of his ethical obligation to not say anything that could taint a trial.

She noted that Holmes had previously opted against bringing an assault charge against another Seattle police officer who threatened to beat the "Mexican piss" out of a robbery suspect.

"We take this on a case-by-case basis," Mills said. "We're not sending a message here. We're evaluating them one by one."

Haynes is scheduled to be arraigned July 22 in Seattle Municipal Court, at which time he is to enter a plea. He faces up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine if convicted of the gross misdemeanor.

Haynes' attorney, Jon Zulauf, said Friday that it was his client who was attacked and injured.

"We're confident he'll be vindicated in court," Zulauf said.

The incident

According to court documents detailing the now-dropped assault charges against the three men, Haynes and a male friend were inside BalMar when they noticed their coats were missing from their chairs.

Haynes found a woman outside the club holding the coats and asked her to return them, the documents say.

The woman refused, claiming the coats belonged to a friend, according to the documents. The woman returned the coats after Haynes identified himself as a police officer. She walked away as Haynes called 911.

Three men, all in their 20s, followed Haynes and his friend and yelled at them to leave the woman alone, prompting Haynes to identify himself as a police officer and show his badge.

Haynes and his friend followed the woman. As they did, both were attacked from behind by the men, according to the court documents.

The first officer to respond to the call got one of the men to sit down and attempted to stop the other two from assaulting Haynes, the documents say.

After the officer pulled one man away and focused on restraining another, the man sitting on the ground got up and kicked Haynes in the head, according to the documents.

Other responding officers handcuffed the men and had them lie facedown on the sidewalk. By that time, the woman had left the scene.

It was at that point Haynes stomped on the head of one of the men, identified as Jake Baijot-Clary, but not the man who had kicked him.

Haynes' action was recorded on the dashboard camera of a patrol car. The responding officers immediately reported Haynes' stomp to their supervisor, police said.

The matter was initially reviewed by the department's Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), which then referred the matter to detectives for a criminal investigation.

The detectives submitted to the City Attorney's Office their reports, which have yet to be made public.

"Racist attackers"

O'Neill said he has been told that in the second video, one of the three men being transported said words to the effect of, "What would you do if you saw a black man touching a white woman?"

"So here in Seattle, we have an officer of color jumped from behind by three white men, brutally kicked and beaten, simply because that officer was 'touching a white woman?' " O'Neill said.

O'Neill said it was "simply appalling" that Haynes was charged while his "racist attackers" are considered victims. He said the OPA was the appropriate body to review Haynes' conduct.

Baijot-Clary's attorney, Tim Leary, said Friday there was no indication the incident had anything to do with race, and that police officers are held to higher expectations.

Haynes, who joined the department in January 2009, has been working in a nonpatrol job while the matter was under investigation.

In April, city attorneys charged another Seattle officer, James J. Lee, with fourth-degree assault after video from a convenience store showed him repeatedly kicking a teenage robbery suspect last year. Lee has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

The decision to charge Lee also drew sharp criticism from the police union, which said Lee was following accepted practices to control a suspect.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com

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