Cop tries to block video of clash with handcuffed man
SPD officer’s lawsuit comes as a newly disclosed police report provides fresh details of what can be seen on a patrol-car video of the Sept. 24 encounter.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A Seattle police officer charged with assaulting a handcuffed suspect hopes to block the release of patrol-car video of the incident, even as a newly disclosed police report provides fresh details of the encounter.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday, attorneys for Officer Chris Hairston have submitted court papers arguing that the release of the video to The Seattle Times under a public-disclosure request would violate Hairston’s right to privacy and a fair trial. Disclosure also would conflict with state law regarding the release of dashboard-camera video while criminal or civil litigation is pending, the attorneys wrote.
The suit, filed in King County Superior Court, asks a judge to bar the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office from releasing the video. The prosecutor’s office, which had planned to provide the video to The Times this week, said Friday it will contest Hairston’s action.
According to the newly disclosed police report, Hairston can be seen on the video forcefully using his hands on the suspect, shortly after the suspect had assaulted his wife, also a Seattle police officer.
The report sharply contrasts with a milder version of the events previously offered by the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild.
Hairston pleaded not guilty April 19 to a charge of misdemeanor assault stemming from the Sept. 24 incident in which his wife, Katie, and another officer responded to a report that a person had passed out near Seattle Central Community College.
The officers spoke to several people who were drinking alcohol, including one who attacked Katie Hairston, according to the City Attorney’s Office, which brought the assault charge against Chris Hairston. Katie Hairston was treated at a hospital for a head injury and scrapes to her hands and knees.
Hairston, a K-9 officer, became angry when he learned his wife had been assaulted, according to the newly disclosed police report, which the City Attorney’s Office released Friday in response to a public-disclosure request by The Times.
As the suspect stood by a patrol car, Hairston, who was not involved in the man’s arrest, can be seen on the video bending down to face the man and saying something to him, wrote Acting Sgt. Jason Diamond in the report.
Hairston then swung his “open right hand hard against the back” of the suspect’s neck, Diamond wrote, adding that Hairston then held on tightly to the back of the man’s neck.
Hairston pushed his left hand, palm open, into the suspect’s face, pushing him up and causing the man’s head to bend backward, Diamond wrote.
As Hairston was doing that, he “shakes” the suspect’s face around and it appears his fingers might have come into contact with the man’s eyes, according to the report.
“This action happens quickly and other officers pulled Officer Hairston away from the suspect,” Diamond wrote, noting that one of the officers and Hairston himself quickly reported what had occurred.
Diamond said the suspect complained to him his face hurt after Hairston pushed his head into a patrol car.
Hairston and his wife had been struggling to have a child and she had undergone an in-vitro fertilization procedure a day before the incident, a source familiar with the case said Friday.
After learning his wife had been assaulted, he became concerned she might be pregnant, which she ultimately was found to be, the source said.
The police guild, which has criticized the charging decision, said in an April 4 statement that Hairston was captured on video “grabbing” the suspect, who had “brutally assaulted” his wife.
“The suspect was not slapped, punched, kicked or assaulted in any other way,” the statement said, asserting Hairston’s conduct, “although not condoned, did not rise to the level of a criminal act.”
Hairston’s actions, the statement said, should be reviewed internally.
The statement accused City Attorney Pete Holmes of having a “double standard” for police officers.
In the current issue of the guild’s newspaper, The Guardian, Sgt. Rich O’Neill, the union president, suggested the video should be made public, writing, “Mr. Holmes has yet to release the video.”
“Is it because this video will show that the contact ... is so de minimis that even the anti-police zealots may say, ‘Is that all there is?’ ” O’Neill wrote.
O’Neill, who couldn’t be reached for comment Friday, wrote that Hairston grabbed the suspect “for about two seconds.”
Holmes’ office has declined to release the video, citing the state law noted in Hairston’s suit to block the video’s release.
The Times sought the video from the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted the man who assaulted Katie Hairston. County prosecutors have taken a different legal position than city attorneys, concluding the video can be released.
Katie Hairston’s assailant, John M. Ross, who was originally charged with the felony of third-degree assault, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of fourth-degree assault, a gross misdemeanor.
The incident occurred two months after the Police Department and U.S. Department of Justice signed a landmark settlement agreement in U.S. District Court to address a pattern within the department of unconstitutional use of force.
Hairston, who joined the Police Department in 1999, could face up to 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine if convicted.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story. Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org