Judge dismisses federal lawsuit against SPD in jaywalker arrest
A judge threw out a civil-rights lawsuit filed by a developmentally disabled teenager who was roughly arrested by Seattle police during a 2009 jaywalking incident.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A civil-rights lawsuit filed by a Seattle teenager who claimed he was twice assaulted and wrongly arrested by Seattle police has been dismissed by a federal judge, who ruled that officers were justified in both instances.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Brian Tsuchida, in a 23-page opinion issued Monday, said evidence he called undisputed — including dash-camera footage — shows that then-17-year-old Joseph Wilson was belligerent and uncooperative on two occasions in 2009 when he was stopped by police, including a widely publicized incident in July in which he was punched and taken hard to the ground by three officers after he jaywalked.
The lawsuit filed by Wilson alleged that he suffered a broken nose and a concussion in the July stop. However, the Police Department was able to prove through medical records that Wilsonbroke his nose a month later in a skateboarding accident.
Tsuchida also noted the dash-camera footage disputed Wilson’s claim that one of the officers had kneed him in the face, and he pointed out that officers took Wilson to a Seattle hospital after his July arrest. He was examined and given a CT scan “and no fractures were identified,” the judge wrote.
The broken nose showed up during a medical examination after Wilson suffered lacerations and other facial injuries after he was hit by a skateboard Aug. 14, according to the judge’s opinion.
Tsuchida said the dash-cam footage confirms that “no officer hit plaintiff in the head or face.”
“It was a misrepresentation that the broken nose was attributed to the officers,” said Seattle attorney Evan Bariault, who represented the city and officers.
Charles Swift, one of Wilson’s attorneys, said, “it was the information we had at the time.”
Nonetheless, Swift said Wilson was weighing an appeal.
“Joey Wilson was the victim of a tragic overreaction by the Seattle police,” he said.
What the dash-camera video also showed, the judge said, was that the first officer who contacted Wilson for walking down the middle of West Smith Street on Queen Anne spent eight minutes unsuccessfully attempting to get Wilson to get out of the street. During that time, the judge said, Wilson — who is developmentally disabled — was “uncooperative and verbally argumentative.”
Wilson’s lawsuit notes that three officers eventually fought with the teenager.
What it didn’t say was that the elevated response was because a citizen had called 911 to report that there was a lone officer “in a struggle,” resulting in Seattle police dispatch upgrading the call and sending additional officers to the scene, the judge said.
The second incident, on Nov. 6, 2009, involved one of the same officers, John Girtch, who was the only individual named in the complaint. Tsuchida said Girtch’s appearance at both scenes was a coincidence and said he acted reasonably under the circumstances.
All of the officers involved were cleared of wrongdoing in a department internal investigation.
In the November stop, Girtch and his partner pulled over a vehicle in which Wilson was a passenger, according to the lawsuit.
The officer justified the stop by saying the carload of teenagers who should have been in school were acting nervously — they would not look at his car when he pulled alongside — and were in an area noted for car prowls and burglaries.
The vehicle he was in had been “associated” with a previous narcotics and theft incident, according to the judge’s order.
Under those circumstances, Tsuchida said, the officer was justified in stopping the car. The judge found that Wilson again was argumentative and would not obey the officer, repeatedly lifting his hands off the car hood after being asked to keep them there.
Again, a struggle ensued and Wilson was taken to the ground and arrested.
After his first arrest, Wilson was taken to the West Precinct and later released to his mother.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether charges were filed against him in connection with either arrest.
Mike Carter: firstname.lastname@example.org