SPD cops ramp up lawsuit: City ‘playing politics’ with their lives
In a new court filing, the officers allege they have been told by unnamed city, police and union officials that “politics” are blocking their ability to fight federally mandated use-of-force policies.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Ratcheting up their resistance to new use-of-force policies, more than 100 Seattle police officers have filed new court papers asserting that high-level city, police and union officials privately agree with their contention that the policies put them and the public at risk.
In an amended complaint to their May 28 lawsuit to block the policies, the officers allege they have been told by the unnamed officials that the “politics” of the situation and the “perceived inability” to fight the federally mandated changes has left the city unable to alter the policies.
“This means that the City is now knowingly and willingly playing politics with Plaintiffs’ lives and the lives of the law-abiding citizens of Seattle,” the officers wrote.
The 34-page complaint, filed late Wednesday with U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman, also accuses the federal monitor, Merrick Bobb, of carrying out a “zealous agenda” to severely restrict the ability of officers to use force and make reasonable, split-second decisions.
It also lambastes U.S. District Judge James Robart, who is overseeing the court-ordered reforms and found the policies to be constitutional, for approving the changes in a “cursory, one-and-one-half-page order.”
The new filing, coming a week after attorneys for the city and Bobb moved to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds it was legally flawed, reflects open revolt to the reforms among a large segment of the police force.
Sprinkled with more pointed language than the original suit, the complaint alleges the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) improperly required the policies, which went into effect Jan. 1, based on a discredited and “fundamentally flawed finding” that Seattle officers had engaged in a pattern or practice of using excessive force.
The policies stem from a July 2012 consent decree between city and Justice Department, which required the Police Department to adopt sweeping reforms to curtail excessive force and biased policing.
The officers challenging the use-of-force changes, primarily patrol officers representing themselves without an attorney, filed suit without the support of their union, the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild.
In their new filing, the officers allege the policies do not reflect the work of Seattle police officials who were asked to develop them and instead were hijacked by Bobb and the Justice Department.
“Those personnel will testify that the UF policy they wrote was altered almost in its entirety and replaced with specific language provided, and required, by the Monitor,” the complaint says, referring to the overall use-of-force policy.
“This supports,” the officers wrote, their “contention that DOJ, in partnership with Mr. Bobb, intend to use consent decrees in Seattle, as well as other jurisdictions, to rewrite longstanding constitutional law and principles intended to protect officer safety, and eliminate reasonable police practices, with which they — from the comfort and safety of their desks and with no experience facing dangerous threats — disagree or find distasteful.”
Bobb has written semiannual reports that are “self-serving, bullying, and dismissive,” the new filing alleges, noting that Bobb, a Los Angeles-based consultant, and his staff have been paid $1.3 million so far by the city.
The complaint, in language similar to the original lawsuit, maintains that the new policies demand “perfection, not reasonableness,” setting an “impossible standard” that has left officers “scratching their heads and fearing for their lives” and the lives of others, including suspects.
Since filing their original suit, the officers assert, assaults against officers have increased.
“Evidence of police injuries is mounting,” the new complaint says, without providing details.
In seeking dismissal of the lawsuit, city attorneys wrote that it 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 Justice Department, 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.
Robart, during a court hearing last week on the progress of the reforms, touched on the officers’ suit, noting that no attorney had been willing to attest to the allegations.
“To those individuals,” Robart said, “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.’ ”