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Originally published Thursday, July 19, 2012 at 7:47 PM

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Seattle man files civil suit alleging unlawful arrest

A Seattle man is suing the Seattle Police Department alleging unlawful arrest, malicious property damage and assault with a firearm.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A Seattle man who says an off-duty Seattle police officer threatened him with a gun in 2009 has filed a federal civil-rights suit against the Police Department alleging unlawful arrest, malicious property damage and assault with a firearm.

In his lawsuit, Evan Sargent, 22, alleges police detectives ignored evidence, including witness statements, that the police officer was the aggressor, while shopping the prosecution of Sargent first to the King County Prosecutor's Office and, when it would not charge the man, to the City Attorney's Office. The city also declined to file charges.

The incident sparked controversy last year when Sargent's attorney, former U.S. Attorney Mike McKay, accused the department of engaging in a "full-blown cover-up" of the facts behind the incident, delaying and refusing to turn over documents.

Eventually, the city was ordered to pay $70,000 in fines for violations of the Public Disclosure Act. That fine, however, was determined to be excessive by the Washington Court of Appeals. Sargent has appealed that ruling to the state Supreme Court.

The Sargent case led Mike McKay and his brother, John McKay — also a former U.S. Attorney — to join 34 concerned Seattle citizen groups in the call for a Department of Justice investigation into the Police Department. That investigation resulted in a report issued in December that found the department's officers routinely use excessive force during arrests and confrontations.

Justice Department investigators also found disturbing, but inconclusive, evidence of biased policing. The report calls for an independent, court-appointed monitor to oversee extensive reforms the DOJ says are necessary.

The city is on the verge of being sued by the DOJ after nearly seven months of talks and promises of department-driven reforms have failed to satisfy Justice Department negotiators. Sources have said the DOJ has given the city until the end of the month to resolve the stalemate.

Sargent was 19 years old in June 2009 and had parked his grandfather's truck, emergency lights flashing, in an alleyway near a busy West Seattle intersection to pick up a load of laundry for his mother's business.

While he was out of the truck, 46-year-old officer Donald Waters, a 12-year department veteran who was off-duty and wearing shorts and civilian clothes, turned into the alley and intended to cut through the block to avoid traffic. His route, however, was blocked by the parked truck.

Waters was reportedly agitated and angry when Sargent returned to the vehicle. According to the lawsuit, he confronted Sargent and allegedly smashed the truck's side mirror with his fist. Sargent, reportedly not knowing his assailant was a police officer, tried to get out of the truck but fell. According to his lawyers and the lawsuit, he grabbed a baseball bat that was in the back seat, which he said he held in front of him to keep Waters at a distance, witnesses said.

Waters responded by returning to his car to retrieve a handgun, which he allegedly pointed at Sargent, who says it was only then that Waters identified himself as an officer.

Sargent was arrested and booked into the King County Jail for investigation of aggravated assault on a police officer with a weapon, a felony that could have landed him in prison.

The lawsuit alleges the department has tried to protect Waters and repeatedly withheld public records in the case while trying to blame Sargent.

The City Attorney's Office, which will represent the police department, did not respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit on Thursday.

Sargent also claims that officers who responded to the scene failed to follow procedures in arresting Sargent, and that Detective Nathan Janes attempted to file "rush" charges on the felony, which, the lawsuit says, were turned away by the King County Prosecutor's Office. Prosecutors asked Janes to provide more information on possibly exculpatory witnesses who had been identified by Sargent's attorneys.

Janes, in the meantime, took the case to city prosecutors, who also declined to file charges, according to the lawsuit. Sargent was never charged.

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

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