Full video below.
Seattle attorney James Egan has been at odds with the Seattle Police Department over the release of its dash-cam videos for a long time. Using the Public Records Act, Egan has requested countless dash-cam videos from the SPD archives that he believes show excess force by the department. Recently, Egan got his hands on video of an event that inspired an Office of Professional Accountability investigation.
Full video below.
The police report, penned by SPD officer Dorian Oreiro, notes:
Upon arriving the male initially refused to stop for officers, and kept his hands in his pockets despite had been given [sic] an order to lay down the ground, he did not comply with orders given to him. He was then detained and assisted to the ground where he was handcuffed. Spencer was non-compliant with officer orders.
Spencer was alert and conscious, and state [sic] that he sees us as dream, and that he doesn't know what's going on. Spencer continued stating that he was not living in his body, that it was just carbon.
Victim 1 stated that Spencer had punched him from behind in his right shoulder, then shoved him into parked cars in the parking lot. Spencer then went for an item in his sock. [Victim 1] got up and ran, Spencer giving chase.
Victim 2 told me that he observed what was going on with [Victim 1] than [sic] then ran up to him and started poking him in the chest and was yelling at him. [Victim 2] only could understand the word "Jews" from Spencer. [Victim 2] stated that Spencer was unintelligible in what he was saying, and then with an open hand punched him in his left shoulder and walked away.
Here's the dash-cam video of Spencer's subsequent arrest:
While Spencer did not make a complaint to SPD's Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), an alarmed customer at a nearby restaurant who witnessed the arrest did. Egan alerted Seattle Weekly to the video yesterday, and also forwarded a copy of the official OPA investigation report, which was complete by late 2009 and concluded the use of force was justified.
From the OPA report:
"When the officers are rolling up on a call like this it's absolutely terrifying," says SPD Sgt. Sean Whitcomb. "No one wants to get shot or stabbed. We're trained to go into dangerous situations. When there's something that dangerous, other people are trying to get away from it, we're going to it. So we have to take all precaution to make sure we get a scene under control as quickly as possible."
"The state has very clear guidance when it comes to the use of force - it has to be reasonable, and it has to be necessary. This was reviewed, and everything was determined to be within training," Whitcomb continues. "It seems like the officers acted very decisively, and they did, and I would have done the exact same thing."
Online records available through the Municipal Court of Seattle website indicate two charges of assault against Spencer were dismissed without prejudice on May 18, 2009 because of "proof problems."
Whitcomb says the recent agreement between SPD and the Justice Department wouldn't have changed the way the officers reacted to Spencer.
"Absolutely not," says Whitcomb when presented with that question. "This was textbook police work. These officers did a great job."
While SPD and the OPA have determined the responding officers used appropriate force taking Spencer into custody, Egan, who has been embroiled in a lawsuit with the city regarding its hesitancy to release dash-cam videos, takes a different stance. Egan says the video clearly depicts excessive force, and furthermore that the city's policy of holding dash-cam videos from the general public for three years allowed the OPA to sweep the situation under the rug -- completing its investigation without risk of the media or public having a chance to scrutinize the tape.
"What this video shows to me is a cover-up - that they never thought anyone would notice," says Egan. "The investigation by the OPA was a sham, something you would only know by looking at the video, which they weren't going to give anybody."
"I only got this video because I requested it right before it was scheduled to be deleted," says Egan of SPD's three-month waiting period dash-cam protocol, which the agency has attributed to "uncertainties as to whether and when litigation of any given case will be will be resolved." The statute of limitations for filing of most civil and criminal lawsuits is three years, so SPD withholds the videos for that period of time to protect the legal process, and then - typically - deletes them shortly thereafter, much to the chagrin of many, including folks like Egan.
Whitcomb takes issue with that contention, reiterating that SPD is simply following the guidelines the agency has been given in terms of the release of dash-cam videos, and noting that any party involved in Spencer's arrest could have requested the video without waiting three years.
"It doesn't matter what we want to do regarding video, the city law department has advised us that we are not to release video until after three years," says Whitcomb. "We retain it for about three years, and then we don't hold onto it for much longer.
"Clearly, people like James Egan have no problem getting the videos."
While there are many who would like to see SPD dash-cam videos immediately available to the public, Whitcomb says there are a number of considerations that go into the decision.
"It's a very fine balancing act," says Whitcomb. "That's what public disclosure is all about. It's about privacy interest and government accountability/transparency interest, and where those two intersect."
"You're weighing different competing interests. You're weighing the interest of privacy and the interest of transparency and accountability," Whitcomb continues. "Ultimately, it's our job to follow the law. If there's anything that we need to be doing different, we're happy to do that, we just need clear instruction."
Ultimately, however, those words ring hollow to Egan.
"The public got cheated in Mark Spencer's case, and probably hundreds of others where the Office of Professional Accountability closed its doors to any transparency," says Egan. "It's embarrassing."
Find the official OPA report regarding Spencer's arrest below: