Zach Heistand via Flickr
An infamous 2009 incident in West Seattle that involved a blocked alley, a load of laundry, a Little League baseball bat, and an irate, pistol-toting off-duty SPD gang detective is now the subject of a federal civil rights lawsuit.
Zach Heistand via Flickr
Sargent, 19-years-old at the time, parked his pickup truck in the alley, left his hazard lights on, and went into his mother's business, Hands on Health, to pick up a load of commercial laundry.
Shortly after Sargent left his truck, Waters turned into the alley in his personal SUV, trying to avoid a rush-hour traffic jam. Blocked by the pickup truck, Waters began questioning bystanders and business owners looking for the vehicle's owner, gradually becoming more and more incensed until Sargent emerged with the laundry in hand. Waters reportedly berated Sargent, who claims he simply tried to get into the truck and pull away. Waters is accused of pounding on Sargent's hood, and punching and shattering the truck's sideview mirror.
According to Sargent's version of events, after the mirror broke he panicked. He stalled the truck, and then fell to the ground when he tried to open his driver side door and exit the vehicle. Waters allegedly stood over him in "a fit of rage." At this point, Waters had still not identified himself as a police officer and, since he was wearing street clothes, his cop status was not obvious. Sargent grabbed a Little League baseball bat from behind the seat of his pickup truck and "held it back in a defensive posture." He took "a check swing," but Waters was several steps away and stood no chance of being hit, according to an eyewitness interviewed later.
Waters then retrieved a pistol from his personal vehicle and aimed it at Sargent, who promptly dropped the baseball bat and put his hands in the air. Waters finally identified himself as a police officer, but Sargent was incredulous. "You're not a cop!" he reportedly said. Waters dialed 911 and reported being assaulted by Sargent. (An earlier 911 caller reported seeing a man in an alley with a gun.) Waters, the 911 tapes document, tried to downplay the incident and asked that responding officers not use lights and sirens. Backup arrived, and Sargent, who has no criminal history, was arrested. He spent the night in jail, and police recommended that he be charged with felony assault with a deadly weapon.
Prosecutors declined to press charges, and asked for further investigation. The City Attorney's Office likewise declined to charge Sargent with a crime, despite prodding from SPD. (The cops also tried to write Sargent a ticket for blocking the alley.) Sargent, meanwhile, filed an official complaint about Waters' conduct. It eventually emerged that, among other oversights, SPD failed to interview several witnesses, including the original 911 caller. Waters delayed giving a statement until more than 24 hours after the altercation, and then offered a self-contradictory account of what happened.
The night in jail, gun-pointing by Waters, and bungled SPD response -- previously described as "a full-blown cover-up" by Sargent's attorneys -- violate the fourth amendment, the lawsuit alleges.
The incident has already prompted extensive litigation in state courts (SPD was fined $70,000 for failing to divulge public records in the case, a ruling that was later overturned, and is now pending before the Washington State Supreme Court). Sargent's attorneys also reported the case to the Department of Justice during the federal investigation of SPD's use of excessive force.
Sargent's lawsuit echoes the DOJ finding that SPD engages in a "pattern or practice" of excessive force, alleging the City "tolerated SPD officers unnecessarily escalating incidents resulting in the use of unnecessary or excessive force."
Sargent claims he suffered "emotional distress" as a result of the confrontation with Waters, and he now seeks "special and general damages in an amount to be proven at trial."
Spokespersons for SPD and the City Attorney's Office declined to comment on the lawsuit.