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Originally published March 20, 2013 at 7:05 PM | Page modified March 21, 2013 at 11:05 AM

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Motorist who says cop attacked him takes plea deal

Leo Etherly, a Seattle motorist who was allegedly choked and punched by a Seattle cop, has accepted a dispositional continuance, agreeing to abide by court orders for two years in order to have one charge against him dropped and a second downgraded in connection with a hit-and-run on a bicyclist.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A Seattle motorist, who was arrested in October for hitting a bicyclist and leaving the scene before he was allegedly choked and punched by a Seattle cop, will have one charge against him dropped and a second downgraded if he abides by court conditions for two years, according to the Seattle City Attorney’s Office.

Leo Etherly, 34, who agreed to a “dispositional continuance” earlier this month, was originally charged in Seattle Municipal Court with misdemeanor fourth-degree assault, accused of intentionally spitting in an arresting officer’s face.

But that charge was dismissed at the request of a Seattle police detective, who forwarded the case to the King County Prosecutor’s Office, seeking a felony assault charge against Etherly.

Footage of Etherly’s Oct. 6 arrest in the Central District was captured by a patrol car’s onboard video camera.

The officer’s use of force raised concerns with the officer’s acting captain, who referred the incident to the Seattle Police Department’s Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) within days of Etherly’s arrest.

The OPA investigation “is still active and ongoing,” police spokesman Jeff Kappel said Wednesday.

After King County prosecutors declined to charge Etherly with third-degree assault in November, the case was sent back to city attorneys, who charged Etherly with hit-and-run on a bicyclist and third-degree driving with license suspended (DWLS).

He was not recharged with misdemeanor assault because “we didn’t think the evidence supported it and that we could prove it to a jury,” said Kimberly Mills, a spokeswoman for City Attorney Pete Holmes.

According to the dispositional continuance, Etherly must commit no new crimes, pay restitution to the bicyclist, complete 48 hours of community service, complete an alcohol- and drug-information class and pay a $145 fine, Mills said. He also must not drive without a valid license and insurance.

Provided Etherly abides by those conditions for two years, the DWLS charge will be dropped and the hit-and-run on a bicyclist charge will be downgraded to hit-and-run unattended, Mills said.

If he fails to comply, city attorneys will recommend that a judge find him guilty on the original charges, fine him up to $500 and order him to serve five to 10 days in jail, she said.

The agreement with city attorneys is “a reasonable outcome under the circumstances” and is “not an acknowledgment of any sort” as to Etherly’s guilt or innocence, said defense attorney James Egan.

Earlier this month, Egan filed a notice of claim against the city — which is typically a precursor to the filing of a lawsuit — alleging that Officer Eric Faust, 37, didn’t follow training or policy and used excessive force by placing his hands on Etherly’s throat and then punching him twice in the face.

According to Egan, Etherly’s spitting at the officer was an involuntary bodily reaction to being choked.

Etherly’s sight in his left eye is “seriously diminished” and he suffers from migraine headaches as a result of being punched, Egan said.

Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report, which includes information from Times archives.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

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