Kyle Houk James Egan and Leo Etherly
UPDATE: Seattle Police officially released the dash-cam video of Leo Etherly's arrest to James Egan Tuesday. Here it is.
Kyle Houk James Egan and Leo Etherly
Straight off his victory last week getting Donald Fuller's obstruction of justice conviction vacated, Seattle attorney James Egan stood in front of reporters again Monday--a place he's been spending more and more time of late -- claiming that a dash-cam video he obtained through representation of his client Leo Etherly depicts "the worst case of police brutality I have ever seen."
(Editor's note: James Egan has disputed this quote, saying that he called the footage the "the worst video I've ever seen of police misconduct by far," not "the worst case of police brutality I have ever seen." He says that while there are clearly worse cases of police violence documented, he'd never seen such a video so clearly depicting officers breaking department protocol.)
He says that while there are clearly worse cases of police violence documented, he'd never seen such a video so clearly depicting officers breaking department protocol.)
Egan and Etherly, with the help of attorney Jim Lobsenz of the Seattle law firm Carney Badley Spellman, have filed a public-records lawsuit seeking to have the video in question released to them under the Public Disclosure Act, which would allow Egan to disseminate it to the public and the media.
How does Egan - who has been alerting the media to the video's existence for at least the last two weeks - know the footage is so explosive? The criminal defense lawyer, with a history of challenging SPD's dash-cam video release policies, says he already has a copy, obtained under pretrial discovery while defending Etherly on an assault charge that's supposedly featured in the action (a charge that has since been dismissed).
So what's the problem? Egan says he's barred from showing the video to the public thanks to the fact it was obtained as part of pretrial discovery, and not via a public records request. Egan's lawsuit contends that Seattle Police, and specifically SPD Chief John Diaz - who is named as a defendant - are purposefully dragging their feet on the matter and the public records requests he's made for the video. With a stack of emails as proof, Egan says his back-and-forth with SPD and Diaz over the video has now stretched over a month, and shows little sign of nearing completion.
And that has Egan upset.
"You'll see it. I don't know if it will be a week or a month, but you'll see it," Egan told the crowd of gathered reporters Monday of the dash-cam video.
In a statement released Monday afternoon, SPD's Sgt. Sean Whitcomb stressed that Egan already has the video he's making a fuss about, saying the agency's familiar foe has "received police records that were necessary to adequately represent his client." Any delay in processing Egan's public records request is chocked up to the sheer volume of such requests the SPD Public Disclosure Unit receives each year, which Whitcomb says averages around 4,000. He says every person who makes a public records request receives a response within five business days, as Egan has.
"Since 2008, Mr. Egan alone has made 316 requests of the Seattle Police Department. He has 10 requests that are currently pending," says Whitcomb. "His current request, like all others, will be handled in the order in which it was received."
Of course, Egan would settle for the city merely granting him permission to spread the video that he already has in his possession far and wide. But that hasn't happened quickly - thus illustrating that there's more to processing an SPD public records request than simply producing the video.
According to a statement to the media distributed by Egan Monday:
As a consequence of a clear violation of the state's Public Records Act, and a violation of Leo Etherly's First Amendment right to speak out on this video, Attorney Jim Lobsenz of Carney Badley Spellman is today filing a lawsuit against the Seattle Police Department and Chief John Diaz personally for interfering with our right to this public record. Currently, SPD anticipates at least 60 days to produce the in-car video where the in-car video should have been provided within 5 days under the Public Records Act. Upon production of the video, it will be immediately available to the media that follows the story.
The events allegedly captured on the much-hyped SPD dash-cam video stem from an Oct. 6 investigation of hit-and-run involving a bicyclist, in which Etherly was stopped as a suspect by three Seattle police officers in front of a Central District liquor store. During the course of being detained, police say Etherly spat on three cops, and it's this alleged spitting that led to assault charges being filed against him.
Whitcomb documented the arrest on SPD's "Blotter" blog when it happened, noting that "a particular force tactic employed by one arresting officer raised questions by the SPD chain of command and a decision was made to send the case to OPA for review."
"An officer readied handcuffs and took hold of the suspect's left hand. The suspect pulled away, resisting arrest. Officers began to forcefully place the man into handcuffs but before they could do so, he spit a glob of saliva into the face of one officer, exposing him to potentially infectious material," wrote Whitcomb. "The other two officers were also struck by the suspect's spit. Officers used additional force and took the man into custody.
"The suspect sustained injury during the arrest and was provided immediate treatment from Seattle Fire Department medics. Per standard procedure, he was evaluated at Harborview Medical Center and was then booked into King County Jail for assaulting officers."
Four days later, on Oct. 10, Etherly was charged by the Seattle City Attorney's office with misdemeanor assault, though it was apparently short-lived. Egan says charges against Etherly were dropped by Oct. 22, with the case forwarded to the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office for consideration of felony charges - which as of this point have not been filed.
According to Egan, the "particular force tactic" mentioned in Whitcomb's initial post involves a closed fist repeatedly and violently being applied to Etherly's eye. Egan says the dash-cam video of Etherly's arrest shows Seattle police choking his client, and SPD officer Eric Faust maliciously punching Etherly twice while he was detained on the hood of a cop car - an attack that allegedly led to partial blindness in Etherly's left eye. Egan also claims the dash-cam video shows Faust calling Etherly a "fucking idiot" while he's in the process of beating the crap out of him.
Courtesy James Egan
Answering to the accusation that led to charges being filed against him, Etherly contends any spitting he may have done was a result of being choked by Seattle police, and not intentional. He says he didn't deserve to be punched in the face, and brutality like this from SPD has to stop.
"[The dash-cam video] will make the public's jaws hit the floor," Egan says.
"It shows me being degraded as a human being," says Etherly.
As part of Monday's press conference, Egan distributed a cell phone video of Etherly's arrest shot by a bystander, and also surveillance video from the liquor store near where Etherly was apprehended. Those videos are embedded below.
Cell phone video
Liquor store video
Find the full lawsuit on the following page.
*Seattle Weekly intern Kyle Houk contributed to this story.