March 11, 2010 seems like a long time ago. But it’s a date fresh in the memory of Seattle attorney James Egan, and probably even fresher still in the minds of his clients, Miguel Oregon and Hugo Perez. That was the night Oregon and Perez, both young Hispanic men from Yakima, were stopped for speeding on Capitol Hill. And it was the night SPD Officer Corey Williams put the disturbingly unprofessional term “skull fuck” into the public discourse surrounding policing in Seattle.
“The badge is the only thing preventing me from skull fucking you and dragging you down the street,” Williams infamously told Oregon after pulling him from his car.
After prolonged legal wrangling regarding its release, Egan would make dash-cam video of the stop public in December, 2011 – the same time the DOJ’s scathing report on SPD’s penchant for excessive force and biased policing was released. Needless to say, it was a bad month for SPD’s PR efforts.
While it’s been three years since the traffic stop – from which charges of negligent driving were dismissed by the City Attorney’s Office – Egan filed a lawsuit last week in King County Superior Court against the City of Seattle and the four officers involved in the confrontation, claiming the cops used excessive force, assaulted Oregon and Perez, falsely arrested them, and wrongfully searched and seized their vehicle. The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, attorney fees, and – most telling in terms of the ongoing motives of Egan in such cases - a court order demanding SPD refrain from ”further violations of rights and excessive force,” the disclosure of the 240 victims of excessive force cases found by DOJ, and discipline of all officers involved in such cases, including the officers named in the Oregon/Perez suit.
While it was the threatened skull fucking that made headlines, it wasn’t the only troubling aspect of the stop. As Seattle Weekly’s Nina Shapiro reported at the time, “What is clear [from the dash-cam video] is that at least three of the officers almost immediately released a torrent of profanities. “How about you shut the fuck up?” one officer said as he first talked to driver Miguel Oregon and passenger Hugo Perez. When Oregon took his time getting out of the car, an officer reached inside, yanked him out, twisted his arm and pushed him toward the hood of a patrol car. … The following are but a few of the comments made by the officers to Oregon and Perez: “the badge is the only thing preventing me from skull fucking you and dragging you down the street.” “Don’t suck my dick here, alright?” “This is not Yakima any more, homeboy, this is the big city.”
It’s no surprise the incident inspired a Office of Professional Accountability investigation, in which the officers claimed that Oregon and Perez were “obvious gangbangers” (a contention Egan denies), and were “DOC active” (meaning they had a criminal record). Most curiously, the officers claimed that the “torrent of profanities,” as Shapiro called it, represented a tactic used to de-escalate the situation.
In response to the OPA investigation, three of the officers were suspended for up to 20 days – a punishment Egan finds hard to stomach.
“Despite the apparent age of this incident (over three years ago) this and other matters have never been reconciled by SPD,” Egan writes via email to Seattle Weekly. “Days off for swearing is interesting, but without profanity the statements are equally alarming… De-escalation? Or arrogant and bizarre biased policing?
“It remains a conundrum to me that an officer who says only his badge prevents him from doing serious violence to detainees, and those that stand around to laugh at that comment, continue to wear those badges.”
As Egan writes in his suit: “On March 11, 2010, during the period studied by DOJ, the defendants, Seattle Police Officers Casey Steiger, Corey Williams, Brett Schoenberg and Daniel Auderer were on patrol in two separate cars, and they maliciously acted in concert and through their illegal agreement and conspiracy (a) wrongfully detained and searched Oregon, pointing their gun(s) at his person, and wrongfully searched and then towed Miguel Oregon’s car, (b) wrongfully detained and searched Hug Perez, (c) falsely and illegally arrested both through their show of force, comments, physical restraint and display of authority, (d) illegally and unreasonably prolonged their stop, arrest and detention, (e) used racially loaded terms designed to degrade the two, (f) threatened to kill and/or seriously injure Oregon and Perez and (g) intentionally assaulted both of them, battered them and inflicted illegal violence and excessive force upon their bodies and persons, which caused physical injury, pain, humiliation, insult, loss of dignity, emotional distress and other injury.”
“The officers each deserve the opportunity to explain their collective conduct to the public as not being racist, dishonest and grossly unprofessional,” Egan continues. “I’m giving them that opportunity.”
A spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office had no comment on Egan’s lawsuit as litigation is pending.