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Originally published September 26, 2012 at 8:40 PM | Page modified September 27, 2012 at 7:53 AM

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Seattle police lieutenant found not guilty of domestic violence

Jury rejects city's case against Donnie Lowe, whose arrest led to his removal from the Seattle Police Department reform efforts.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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In a case that led to his removal from the Seattle Police Department's reform efforts, Lt. Donnie R. Lowe was found not guilty Wednesday of assaulting his wife during a heated argument in their home in June.

"It's good news," Lowe said after the Municipal Court jury acquitted him of the misdemeanor domestic-violence charge. But, he added, "In a situation like this, there is nothing to celebrate."

The six-member jury returned its verdict early Wednesday afternoon after deliberating for less than 20 minutes, said Lowe's attorney John Henry Browne.

Jurors earlier in the day watched the flamboyant Browne casually walk across the courtroom and grab a chair at the outset of his closing arguments.

Browne then returned to his spot, set the empty chair next to the lectern and noted he was a fan of Clint Eastwood, the actor who spoke to an empty chair representing President Obama during last month's Republican National Convention.

With an incredulous tone, he then asked where was Lowe's wife, who did not testify during the two-day trial.

Browne then asked, "How can I cross examine a 911 tape?" — a reply to the prosecutor's main piece of evidence, a snippet of an emergency call placed by Lowe's wife on June 2, in which she said he had hurt her by grabbing her neck and slapping her.

Browne also told jurors that in "politically correct" Seattle, police officers who find themselves in trouble get charged with a crime because the newspapers ask why if they don't.

"The city has no case," he said.

Lowe's case captured more than the usual attention afforded a police officer charged with a crime.

After his arrest, he was removed the next day as a team leader in the city's much-touted "20/20" plan to overhaul the Police Department, drafted in response to a federal Department of Justice investigation that found officers had used excessive force and displayed evidence of biased policing.

Lowe, 45, who joined the Police Department in 1992, had been put in charge of a group assigned to deal with leadership aspects of the plan, which called for 20 initiatives over 20 months. At the time, he was serving as an acting captain.

Since the plan was unveiled in March, the city and Justice Department reached a comprehensive settlement agreement in July mandating broad reforms in police practices.

The City Attorney's Office, which brought the charge against Lowe, declined to comment after Wednesday's verdict.

Lowe's wife, Nanette, who had previously indicated she did not want her husband prosecuted, declined to testify at the trial, leaving city prosecutors with little evidence.

Lowe testified during the trial that a daylong argument over how to handle a matter involving a son culminated in a heated evening exchange, in which she grabbed his shirt to pull him back toward her.

Lowe said he reflexively put up his arm and "fell back into her." He denied slapping or choking her.

A torn shirt was shown to jurors, although a police photo taken shortly after the incident showed Lowe in a different shirt. He told jurors he had changed shirts before police took him into custody.

He also testified that he didn't tell a responding officer about his wife's actions because he didn't want to get her in trouble.

Lowe faces a second trial on a charge of knowingly violating a court order to stay away from his wife while awaiting trial in the domestic-violence case. Lowe's wife was believed to be a passenger in a car when a Seattle police officer stopped Lowe Aug. 14 for allegedly talking on his cellphone while driving.

Nanette Lowe told The Seattle Times in August that she was not in the car and that the passenger was her 16-year-old niece.

But city prosecutors filed charges after receiving investigative reports contradicting her version.

The no-contact order was lifted after Wednesday's verdict, but a second one remains in effect on the pending charge, although Lowe is expected to challenge it.

Lowe was relieved of duty and placed on paid leave after his June arrest. He faces potential internal discipline up to dismissal from the force.

The Police Department's Office of Professional Accountability will conduct internal investigations of the June and August incidents, but not until the remaining case is resolved, Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, the department's chief spokesman, said Wednesday.

Lowe has a checkered history with the department.

He previously was disciplined after he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in 2008. He pleaded guilty to an amended charge of reckless driving, later dismissed when he met court conditions. The department then suspended him for four days without pay after an internal investigation.

His arrest in that case attracted attention because Lowe was allowed to supervise a Seattle police security detail at President Obama's January 2009 inauguration, even though the arrest had taken place Nov. 23, 2008.

Lowe also received internal reprimands for inappropriate physical treatment of a handcuffed son while he was in police custody in a holding cell in 2006, and over an improper effort to retrieve from a man nude photographs of a female acquaintance in 2002.

Reporter Mike Carter contributed; story includes material from Times archives. Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302

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