A Seattle man says that a complaint he made with the Seattle Police Department's accountability office led to him being charged with a crime he had earlier been cleared of for lack of evidence—rather than determining whether he'd been a victim of excessive force and biased policing.
Now, with the help of Seattle attorney James Egan, Donald Fuller is headed to court, hoping to shine a light on a string of vindictive prosecutions that Egan classifies as "a major scandal."
In March 2009, Fuller, a middle-aged African-American man, was crossing the street at the corner of Second Avenue and Pike Street downtown when he was confronted by Seattle Police for jaywalking.
When ordered to present identification, Fuller felt harassed and singled out because of his race. He refused to show the cops identification, and instead reached for his cell phone—in order, he says, to call the officers' supervisors regarding what he considered an obvious act of racial profiling.
Fuller's acts of defiance didn't go over well with the officers, who arrested him for obstruction. When one officer stepped forward to grab Fuller, police reports indicate Fuller knocked the officer's hands away, at which point the Taser was brought out.
"I thought the world basically had come to an end at that point," says Fuller of being Tased. "As I'm on the ground with both officers, as I feel the Taser, I'm literally screaming at the top of my lungs, 'Why do you keep Tasing me? This thing hurts.' I heard one officer say 'You're resisting arrest.' I said, 'What do you mean I'm resisting arrest? My body is locked up!' "
Once Fuller was subdued enough to be handcuffed, he was booked on suspicion of assault, obstruction, and resisting arrest. In a precinct holding cell, Fuller says, thanks to the multiple Taser shocks he'd received, he started to feel faint and had trouble breathing, so he was transported to Harborview Medical Center for treatment.
Fuller spent a total of four days in jail, all stemming from his initial confrontation with police over jaywalking. On March 10, 2009, citing insufficient evidence, the Seattle City Attorney's Office decided not to charge Fuller, and he was released.
Shortly afterward, Fuller walked into the SPD's Office of Professional Accountability—the entity in charge of investigating civilian complaints of police misconduct—and filed a complaint, contending that the entire incident was a result of biased policing and that the force used on him was excessive. But instead of finding closure, Fuller was charged with the crimes prosecutors initially had concluded there wasn't enough evidence to support: obstruction and assault. A jury convicted Fuller of obstruction, but the assault charge didn't stick.
There are many problems with the way this all transpired, according to Egan. The most important: The OPA investigator tasked with looking into Fuller's complaint lobbied for, and eventually convinced, the City Attorney's Office to change its mind and file charges it otherwise wouldn't have. That action, as Egan's motion argues, represents a vindictive prosecution.
Indeed, a follow-up form filed by OPA Investigator Caryn Lee as part of Fuller's OPA complaint (one of the documents obtained by Egan under a public-records request) clearly shows that the OPA did take a peculiar interest in seeing that Fuller was charged.
As Lee noted on May 19, 2009: "I spoke with Marc Mayo with the City Attorney's Office. After respectfully listening to his explanation [about why Fuller wasn't charged], I explained I did not agree with his decision. He agreed to reconsider after determining it was a legal stop and the Officers had PC. He said at a minimum he would file Obstructing charges and [possibly] the Assault."
Internal documents indicate that the OPA's conduct regarding Fuller raised concerns with higher-ups. The documents also note that at least one other case, involving similar pushes for prosecution, raised red flags. But City Hall spokesman Aaron Pickus says that the memo shows not that there is a widespread scandal at the OPA, but that the office had dealt with the issue.
Pickus also says the OPA subsequently changed its policies regarding cases like Fuller's, advising that recommendations filed by the OPA "should be reduced to writing and approved through the OPA chain of command."
Egan, however, isn't soothed. "I don't think Mr. Fuller is an anomaly, by any shape or form," says Egan. "I like Mr. Fuller. He's my client. But do I think he's the only person who went through this situation with Seattle Police? Not at all. And I can prove it with their own documents."