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Originally published August 21, 2014 at 7:22 PM | Page modified August 22, 2014 at 9:23 AM

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City, federal monitor move to dismiss suit by SPD officers

Attorneys for the city of Seattle and a federal monitor asked a federal judge Thursday to dismiss a lawsuit brought by more than 100 Seattle police officers, who are seeking to block new use-of-force policies imposed under court-ordered reforms.


Seattle Times staff reporter

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Attorneys for the city of Seattle asked a federal judge Thursday to dismiss a lawsuit brought by more than 100 Seattle police officers seeking to block new use-of-force policies imposed under federally mandated reforms.

Shortly after, attorneys for the federal monitor overseeing the reforms also filed a motion to dismiss, calling the officers’ claims “legally untenable.”

City attorneys, in a 22-page motion filed in U.S. District Court, said the officers’ central claim that their constitutional rights are being violated is undermined by “two major misperceptions.”

Officers have no constitutional right to the use of force and no Second Amendment right to use firearms “in any particular way,” City Attorney Pete Holmes and Assistant City Attorney Gregory Narver wrote in court papers submitted to U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman.

In addition, the officers “incorrectly assume that the constitutional thresholds for permissible use of force by an officer must also apply to internal police policies,” the attorneys wrote.

“But policy and constitutional standards are not one and the same, and nothing prohibits a police department from implementing a use of force policy that employs a standard more restrictive than that permitted under the Constitution,” their motion added.

Those who filed the suit also have not shown they are likely to suffer irreparable harm, the attorneys wrote.

The officers’ suit, filed May 28 on their own behalf without an attorney, asked Pechman to block what they called “mechanical” and unrealistic policies stemming from a July 2012 consent decree between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The consent decree required the city to adopt reforms to curb excessive force and biased policing cited in a 2011 Justice Department report.

New use-of-force policies were adopted Jan. 1 and training has begun.

The officers’ suit, which also seeks monetary damages, contends the policies have effectively created “hesitation and paralysis” among officers, stripping them of their constitutional and legal right to make reasonable, split-second decisions.

Attempts to reach representatives of the officers were unsuccessful Thursday.

In a May 31 statement, the officers said they support reform consistent with the law and agree with the Justice Department that “constitutional policing is effective policing.”

But constitutional policing can’t be maintained by violating the rights of officers, they wrote.

The suit was filed without the approval or support of the officers’ union, the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild.

In their motion, city attorneys noted that U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle, who is overseeing the consent decree, has found the policies to be constitutional.

The suit, the attorneys wrote, is filled with “speculation and opinion about the value and effect” of the policies.

The suit’s assertion that the policies require “officers to be hurt or killed in the line of duty is an irresponsible misrepresentation,” the attorneys wrote.

The policies recognize law enforcement is “dynamic” and involves “split-second decision-making,” and even that deviations from the policies are acceptable under certain circumstances, they noted.

Although plaintiffs are “dismissive of these qualifiers,” the city, the Department of Justice, the monitor and Robart made sure officers have “reasonable latitude to perform their jobs safely, while still having clear guidelines on how to maximize the safety of officers and the public,” the attorneys wrote.

The suit included as defendants the federal monitor, Merrick Bobb, and members of his monitoring team.

In a 17-page motion, the attorneys for the monitoring team wrote that the attempt to “undo” Robart’s approval of the polices lacks merit.

Regardless, the claims are barred because Bobb and the others have “absolute quasi-judicial immunity” as Robart’s court-appointed representatives to oversee implementation of the reforms, the attorneys wrote.

Mayor Ed Murray, who was named in the suit, has pledged to push forward with reforms, saying, “This is not the 1960s.”

But the suit has proved to be a public-relations headache for the city, stirring anger among some in the community and creating a perception of resistance to the reforms among a significant number of officers.

In a court hearing Tuesday on the progress of the reforms, Robart referred to the officers’ suit, saying, “To those individuals I simply say: ‘Get over it. The train has left the station. It’s not going to turn around. The good old days are not coming back.’ ”

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com On Twitter @stevemiletich



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