Last week, an attorney released videos of police officers behaving like foul-mouthed bullies. Coming just as the feds released their scathing report on SPD, the videos reinforce the contention that officers escalate rather than diffuse conflict. What's even more remarkable is the officers' explanation for their conduct.
What is clear is that at least three of the officers almost immediately released a torrent of profanities. "How about you shut the fuck up?" one officer said as he first talked to driver Miguel Oregon and passenger Hugo Perez. When Oregon took his time getting out of the car, an officer reached inside, yanked him out, twisted his arm and pushed him toward the hood of a patrol car.
The following are but a few of the comments made by the officers to Oregon and Perez: "The badge is the only thing preventing me from skull fucking you and dragging you down the street." "Don't suck my dick here, alright?" "This is not Yakima any more, homeboy, this is the big city."
So what did the officers claim they were doing? De-escalating the situation. That's right. During an investigation by SPD's Office of Professional Accountability, according to documents obtained by SW, the officers claimed that that Oregon and Perez were "obvious gang-bangers." (See pdf of OPA's summary findings.) Officer Corey Williams explained further:
And unfortunately with gang members, you have to get on their level or typically they're gonna, it could escalate into a use of force, and my having to get down to their level and talking to them in a way they can understand, I feel like I prevented a use of force.
"The reason I used [profanity]," Officer Casey Steiger further explained, "is because I want to put it in his head that if he decides to fight me, that it's not gonna be something where it's just gonna be an easy situation for me." The officers had to show that they couldn't be "verbally pushed around," added Officer Brett Schoenberg.
OPA wasn't buying it, saying the profanity used "served no useful purpose." And even Williams seemed to admit that his "skull fuck" comment was a little weird. "That's just a non sequitur that I picked up in boot camp," he told OPA interviewers. (Note to Chief John Diaz: Take a long, hard look at the culture of boot camp.)
What's more, it's not evident that the officers had reason to believe that Oregon and Perez were really gang members as they were practicing their "de-escalation" techniques. The officers claim that the men shouted abuse at them indicating such. The police report alleges that Oregon, as he was being "escorted" to the hood of the patrol car, said this: "You fucking pussies, that's why you cops are all getting blasted, you motherfucker, wait until I bring my homeboys."
That can't be heard from the videos, however, which capture much more of what the officers say than Oregon and Perez. The two do seem to be talking back somewhat. James Egan, the attorney who released the video and who represents both men, concedes that Perez at one point said "let's turn off the cameras and we'll fight."
And both men had a criminal record, which the officers appear to have looked up, judging by one's comment that Oregon and Perez were "DOC active." (Egan says, however, that he believes only Perez was Department of Corrections active, meaning still subject to probation.)
Egan maintains that doesn't justify the officers' conduct, which he asserts should have been grounds for firing. Instead, three of the officers were suspended for up to 20 days.
The attorney notes that shortly after this stop came the infamous "Mexican piss" incident, whereby an officer was caught on video uttering that slur as he stomped the head of a Hispanic suspect. That incident might never have happened, Egan contends, if Diaz had sent an earlier message that he would not tolerate such abuse.