Donald Fuller is arrested in 2009
Who says complaining doesn't pay off? Sometimes it just takes longer than it should, and maybe requires the help of a lawyer adamant about cleaning up what he perceives as rampant corruption.
Donald Fuller is arrested in 2009
Such is the case of Donald Fuller, who on Friday learned that Pete Holmes and the Seattle City Attorney's Office will formally ask a judge to vacate the 2010 conviction against him for obstruction. The decision comes after Fuller, with help from his lawyer James Egan, raised a serious (and justifiable) stink about how an OPA complaint he filed resulted in charges against him that he otherwise would not have faced.
As you'll recall, Fuller was stopped by Seattle Police in 2009 after an alleged jaywalking violation. Concerned he was being targeted and harassed because he's an African American, Fuller questioned police, and was in turn Tased, arrested, and held in jail for four days. Ultimately, Fuller was released after prosecutors concluded there was insufficient evidence to charge him.
A day after Fuller was released from jail he filed a complaint with the OPA over the way he was treated.
But instead of providing closure, documents associated with the OPA investigation reveal that the investigator assigned to the complaint - Caryn Lee - took it upon herself to persuade the City Attorney's Office to charge Fuller. Lee ultimately prevailed, and - as a direct result of his OPA complaint - Fuller was charged with obstruction and assault, charges he almost certainly wouldn't have faced otherwise. The City Attorney's Office, saying it makes its own charging decisions, contends it went directly to the officers involved in the incident and established there was enough evidence to let a jury decide about Fuller's guilt.
A jury found Fuller guilty of obstruction, but the assault charge didn't stick.
With Egan's help, Fuller recently filed a motion seeking to dismiss the obstruction conviction on his record, arguing that it was the outcome of what's known as a "vindictive prosecution." In response to Fuller's situation, the Seattle Human Rights Commission recently called for an investigation into the matter.
While being deliberate not to admit real guilt in the matter, on Friday the City Attorney's Office announced it agrees Fuller's conviction should be vacated.
"Even though the jury convicted Mr. Fuller of obstructing a law enforcement officer and, in my view, there was sufficient evidence presented at trial to support that conviction, the fact remains that Mr. Fuller would not have been charged, tried or convicted of a crime if the OPA sergeant had not contacted the CAO to urge reconsideration of the decision not to charge Mr. Fuller," Pete Holmes said in a press release distributed to the media. "I understand the SPD and OPA have taken measures to ensure that OPA investigators will not unilaterally intervene in criminal charging decisions against complainants in the future."
While the City Attorney's Office has agreed Fuller's conviction should be vacated, Holmes adamantly denies the charges and the conviction were a result of misconduct by his office.
"There was no prosecutorial misconduct in this matter, and I strongly disagree with any suggestion to the contrary," Holmes says in the release. "However, when he filed his OPA complaint, Mr. Fuller was entitled to rely in good faith on OPA's policy that '[f]iling a complaint does not affect other civil or criminal proceedings.' As a former member of the OPA Review Board, I understand that it is vitally important for the community to know that neither OPA nor any other arm of law enforcement will retaliate when individuals exercise their rights to complain about police misconduct.
"I am taking this action because it is crucial that the public have full faith and confidence in both OPA and the criminal justice system. The CAO will continue to work to build the public's trust in this system."
"[Fuller] feels like a burden has been lifted off his shoulder," says Egan of his client's reaction to the City Attorney's decision. "Donald fuller feels like he was a victim, but now he's going to be a survivor."
But that's not to suggest everything is hunky-dory. Now that the obstruction conviction will soon be part of Fuller's past, Egan has turned his attention to making the matter right - monetarily speaking. Claiming Fuller has endured multiple visits to the doctors, a slipped disc in his back, battles with PTSD from his stay in jail, and difficulties finding work in the wake of his unjust conviction, Egan says a lawsuit seeking damages for Fuller is the next step.
"I would do this for anybody in this circumstance. I would stand up and say they're entitled to compensation. I think most people would agree that he's entitled to compensation, so the only question is how much?" says Egan.
"Punitive damages are the grand legal smack-down for this kind of outrageous conduct, which is appropriate in these circumstances," Egan continues. "The city will be paying actual damages, and punitive damages. And if they don't, federal court action is appropriate to get them to do so."
As you may have guessed, while both parties now agree that Fuller's conviction is best vacated, when it comes to damages it's an altogether different situation.
"We believe that neither actual nor punitive damages are warranted in this instance, so we must respectfully disagree with Mr. Egan," responds Kimberly Mills, a spokesperson for the City Attorney's Office.