Donald Fuller and James Egan
Sometimes the lede writes itself. In this instance, with Donald Fuller having had his obstruction of justice conviction officially vacated Wednesday in Seattle Municipal Court, it's obvious: Fuller has significant reason to be thankful this holiday.
Donald Fuller and James Egan
But the story isn't finished. With the help of his lawyer, James Egan, Fuller filed a $1.5 million claim Wednesday against the city for damages. Fuller says the damages are warranted because of injuries he sustained as a result of his forceful arrest, the four days he spent in jail, the unjust conviction that up until yesterday was on his record, and the three-plus years of his life he spent on the wrong side of SPD and the City Attorney's callous collusion.
In addition to his obstruction of justice conviction being vacated, the court also ordered that the Washington State Patrol Access to Criminal History website delete any reference to Fuller's arrest and/or conviction, and all restitution and court fees from the case be returned to him.
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 and 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 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.
In September, Fuller and Egan asked the court to vacate the obstruction charge -- a request City Attorney Pete Holmes agreed to go along with. On Wednesday, in front of Judge Karen Donohue, it became official.
"It's been a long process," Egan told the court.
"It's a good day," Fuller said to the judge.
In a statement released to the media as the likes of KOMO's Tracy Vedder and others exited the courtroom, the City Attorney's Office says the right decision was made, while simultaneously stressing that, in its opinion, "there was absolutely no prosecutorial misconduct in this matter."
"Our office thanks Judge Donohue for vacating Donald Fuller's obstruction conviction. While there was absolutely no prosecutorial misconduct in this matter, when Mr. Fuller filed his OPA complaint, he was entitled to rely in good faith on OPA's policy that '[f]iling a complaint does not affect other civil or criminal proceedings," the statement reads. "An investigation of OPA's conduct is pending in the City's Ethics and Elections Commission. Already, though, SPD and OPA have taken measures to ensure that OPA investigators will not intervene in criminal charging decisions against complainants in the future."
"The process has been pretty long," says Fuller of the struggle that led up to his obstruction of justice conviction being vacated. "It's been a long time just to be able to feel the relief. I can breathe now. ... I've got a lot of positive things to look forward to."
"This is why I went to law school," says Egan of Fuller's conviction being vacated. "This is a bright day for me. ... It's a significant milestone for Mr. Fuller and for us."
In the $1.5 million claim for damages filed Wednesday, Fuller contends his back was permanently injured during his arrest, and the experience and conviction left him unemployable as a commercial truck driver.
"My back was twisted causing permanent lower back pain. I was tased about four times and the aggressive takedown resulted in scars. I spent four days in jail. When I complained about my perception of police misconduct, the OPA and City Prosecutor Marc Mayo violated city policy against retaliation and filed new charges against me," Fuller writes in his claim for damages.
Even before Fuller filed his claim for damages Wednesday, the City Attorney's Office responded to the possibility to Seattle Weekly.
"We believe that neither actual nor punitive damages are warranted in this instance, so we must respectfully disagree with Mr. Egan," said Kimberly Mills, a spokesperson for the City Attorney's Office, in late September.
"I believe they're going to eat those words," says Egan.
Egan says the City Attorney's Office has 60 days to respond to Fuller's claim for damages. While he's hopeful the two sides will be able to negotiate a settlement, he also leaves open the strong possibility of a federal lawsuit should that not be the case.