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The Washington State Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of Evan Sargent, a teenager involved in an infamous altercation in a West Seattle

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Evan Sargent vs. Donald Waters: State Supreme Court Accepts Public Records Lawsuit Appeal Against SPD

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The Washington State Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of Evan Sargent, a teenager involved in an infamous altercation in a West Seattle alley with an off-duty SPD gang detective.

Sargent's case was the subject of a Seattle Weekly cover story published earlier this month. Our report detailed the incident (Sargent was delivering a load of commercial laundry when his truck blocked a shortcut taken by SPD detective Donald Waters), the fallout (Sargent was arrested for taking a "check swing" at Waters with a baseball bat after the irate detective punched a side-view mirror off Waters' truck and initiated a physical confrontation), and the ensuing litigation (a federal civil rights lawsuit, the Department of Justice investigation of SPD's use of force, and a public records lawsuit).

Leading up to publication, Sargent's public records case was still pending before the Supreme Court. On September 5, the day we went to press, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Sargent's appeal, which disputes a lower court's decision to withdraw several thousand dollars worth of fines against SPD for withholding records among several other key issues.

"For the people of Washington, it's going to be about open government issues," says Pat Preston, Sargent's attorney. "It's going to be whether the police can keep things secret, can they keep investigative facts secret even when there's no possibility of prosecution going forward."

Kimberly Mills, spokeswoman for the City Attorney's Office writes in an email to Seattle Weekly that "the City substantially prevailed in Sargent," adding, "we intend to argue that the Court of Appeals got it right."

In previous court filings, the City argued that it "properly asserted exemptions for open and active law enforcement investigative records."

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photo by Renee McMahon
Evan Sargent, shown leaning on his grandpa's truck in the infamous West Seattle alley.
The legal wrangling dates back to August 2010, when Sargent's attorneys took SPD to court for allegedly failing to divulge public documents related to Sargent's arrest. A lower court judge fined the Department $70,000 for violating the Public Records Act, a decision that was later partly overturned.

The Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG) has petitioned the courts in support of Sargent, arguing that SPD and other law-enforcement agencies can use "ongoing investigation" as a pretext to suppress evidence of police misconduct.

"In this case in particular we're taking about records that may include evidence of wrongdoing by the police," WCOG director Toby Nixon says. "It's very important that such records be available to the public at large so that we can hold our public servants accountable."

Court filings from Sargent and the City of Seattle are due October 5. Sargent's attorney says his 23-year-old client plans to travel to Olympia to hear oral arguments when they take place in the coming months.

"He remains kind of a straightforward, enthusiastic participant in the court system," Preston says. "It's kind of neat to see someone of that age who seems to grasp the issues and genuinely cares about the case, and how the system works."

A separate Sargent lawsuit, a federal civil rights case against Waters and SPD, is also pending in Western Washington U.S. District Court.

View court filings that detail the key legal issues in Sargent's Supreme Court case on the following page.

Evan Sargent Supreme Court Documents

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