The summer of 2009 was one of Seattle’s hottest, with temperatures soaring into the upper 90s and blistering the city for weeks. The morning of Tuesday, July 28 followed the warmest overnight low in history, and by 5 p.m. that evening, when 19-year-old Evan Sargent steered his grandfather’s gold Chevy S-10 pickup into a West Seattle alley, the daytime high had reached 97 degrees.
Sargent was making a weekly laundry pickup from his mother’s massage-therapy business on California Avenue Southwest in the heart of the Alaska Junction. A recent West Seattle High School grad with a hefty frame, a blond buzz cut, and a laid-back demeanor, the teenager was still living with his parents, and taking care of dirty sheets for his mom was a mandatory chore.
The busy intersection was clogged with rush-hour traffic. Figuring his errand would take only a few minutes, Sargent turned right off of Southwest Alaska Street into the alley, passing a mural of the Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet and parking behind The Matador and Maharaja restaurants, where cigarette butts left behind by kitchen workers were scattered across the grimy pavement. Sargent switched on his hazard lights and hustled upstairs.
Moments after Sargent left to take care of business, off-duty Seattle Police detective Donald Waters turned down the alley headed southbound in his personal vehicle, a silver Honda SUV. Attempting to avoid the traffic jam, Waters found his shortcut blocked by Sargent’s truck. Too deep into the alley to back his way out, Waters parked and poked his head through the nearby kitchen doors to ask if restaurant employees were responsible for the holdup. No more than five minutes passed before Sargent returned with two heavy bags of laundry in tow.
No definitive video proof shows precisely how the ensuing events transpired, but what is certain is that the confrontation has led to protracted litigation and more of the sort of allegations—excessive force, impunity, and lack of transparency—that have plagued SPD in recent years. The trivial act of blocking an alley has spawned both a federal civil-rights lawsuit and a case pending before the State Supreme Court, each of which could ultimately cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages and legal fees.
Sargent’s alley encounter was one of several high-profile incidents between 2008 and 2011 that prompted outrage from community groups and led the Department of Justice (DOJ) to declare that “failures to supervise patrol officer’s use of force occur at every level of SPD management.” The DOJ demanded change, and, on the brink of a costly and ugly lawsuit with the feds, Mayor Mike McGinn begrudgingly acquiesced to a settlement agreement and Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that requires a court-appointed monitor to oversee reforms related to SPD’s use of force, while also calling for the creation of a Community Police Commission, made up of citizens, to generate ideas for how SPD can be reformed.
But the blue-ribbon panel’s recommendations are not binding, and the possibility is very real that they could be brushed aside or hamstrung by bureaucracy. City Hall and SPD say they welcome change, but there’s cause for skepticism.
“This is not effectively done if all you do is point a finger at the cops and say ‘Reform yourself,’ ” says Al Gerhardstein, a civil-rights attorney who in 2002 helped spearhead the successful overhaul of Cincinnati’s broken police department in conjunction with the DOJ. “That won’t work.”
As cases like Sargent’s prove, the need for change is glaring. The current police-accountability system was the result of a previous crisis/reform chain reaction. Will things be different this time?
As Sargent tossed the laundry bags into the pickup bed, Waters, 47, a veteran of the SPD’s gang unit with a linebacker’s build, confronted him about blocking the alley. Tempers were running short on the scorching day, and both men accuse each other of rudeness.
“Next time you should park decent, like a normal person,” Waters allegedly told Sargent as the latter started his pickup, according to police reports. (Reached for comment via phone, Waters declined. An attempt to reach him through SPD spokesperson Sgt. Sean Whitcomb was similarly denied.)
“What business of yours is it, anyway?” Sargent responded, according to Waters. The teenager claims he added, “You know, instead of yelling at me, you should maybe just go the other way next time.”
With that, Sargent put his car in reverse and started a three-point turn to get out of the alley. Waters, clad in cargo shorts and a polo shirt, claims it was then that he pulled out a police employee ID card (not his badge), identified himself as a cop, and asked for Sargent’s driver’s license. Sargent says he didn’t see any police ID, just a large, angry, and seemingly random guy getting in his face. He decided it was time to leave. “I don’t normally hand over my identification to strange people in alleys,” he later told police investigators.
As the teen continued in reverse, Waters pounded on the hood of the truck and started to move around to the passenger side. The detective let loose what Sargent would later describe as a “Superman lunge punch” and smashed the side-view mirror, knocking it to the ground. “All I saw was glass shattering,” Sargent recounted later.
Panicked, Sargent popped the clutch and stalled his truck. Having already locked the driver’s-side door as a safety precaution, he struggled with the latch and tumbled to the ground when it finally popped open. Waters quickly moved back around the front of the car and towered over Sargent as the younger, smaller man lay on his back.
Victor Odom, kitchen manager of The Matador, watched much of the argument unfold and was worried about Sargent. “He’s got a gentleman twice his size coming at him,” Odom told police months later. “He was probably crapping himself.”
To defend himself, Sargent reached into the truck and grabbed a 30-inch, black, aluminum Little League bat that he’d used earlier in the day in a ballgame at nearby Lincoln Park. Sargent quickly got to his feet, told Waters to step back, and took “a couple check swings” for good measure. Waters gave a sworn statement saying he could “feel the air” from the first swing, but witnesses say he was standing several feet away, well beyond striking distance. Waters identified himself as a police officer, but Sargent was incredulous. “You’re not a fucking cop!” he shouted.
Trying to stop the fight behind his restaurant before any blood was shed, Odom yelled, “Not back here!” Sargent lowered the baseball bat and started to plead his case. Waters, meanwhile, backpedaled to his SUV and fished out his gun. Odom ducked back inside the restaurant to call 911. With his pistol in his right hand and his police badge in his left, Waters took aim at Sargent and told him to drop the bat. The command was promptly obeyed.
“I was like, ‘Hey, this isn’t the time, just put the gun away, we don’t need the gun out,’ ” Sargent later told police, making it seem as though Waters was on the verge of squeezing the trigger. “I really thought, ‘This is how I’m gonna die . . . some guy in an alley I was blocking is gonna shoot me.’ “
Waters called 911 on his cell phone. Backup arrived quickly.
“At the time, I had no idea I was in trouble,” Sargent says. “I thought he was going to get in trouble. That was until they asked me to turn around and put on the handcuffs. I’m like, ‘What is going on?’ “
Waters claimed that Sargent tried to pin him against the alley wall when backing up. The mirror somehow broke when he “jumped backward” to avoid being hit by the truck. After that, the teenager “aggressively charged” at him with the bat. A witness from a nearby retirement home told the cops he only saw Sargent swinging the bat and “acting nutty.”
Sargent, who had no prior criminal history, spent the night in jail, and police recommended to King County prosecutors that he be charged with felony assault on a police officer. After King County refused to take the case, SPD asked the City Attorney’s Office to charge Sargent with reckless endangerment and obstructing a law-enforcement officer. For good measure, Sargent was also cited for blocking the alley. Again, prosecutors refused to file any charges.
Aided by his attorney Pat Preston, a family friend from the powerful Seattle law firm McKay Chadwell, Sargent hired former King County detective Roger Dunn to independently investigate. Upon review by Dunn, it turned out that SPD had failed to interview two other eyewitnesses—including Odom, the original 911 caller—and relied heavily on Waters’ embellished version of events. Waters later admitted he broke the mirror after pounding on the hood, and Odom said Waters was “clearly upset and the aggressor.”
Sargent filed a complaint against Waters with the SPD’s Office of Professional Accountability, which handles internal investigations and discipline. On May 26, 2010, the ruling came back “not sustained”—meaning that, officially, “the allegation of misconduct was neither proved nor disproved by a preponderance of the evidence.”
“We thought the evidence was very clear showing misconduct,” Preston says. “They only investigated Officer Waters for breaking the side-view mirror. Our complaint was ‘My God, the man threatened Evan Sargent with a firearm in an alley, threatened his life.’ “
If Sargent was frustrated by the outcome of his OPA complaint, he would soon be even more irked when he tried to learn more about the decision.
To pin down the details of Sargent’s case, his attorneys filed a public-records request for police reports, OPA paperwork, and other evidence. State law requires police to hand over such information after a criminal case is referred to prosecutors for a charging decision. Documents related to ongoing criminal investigations are exempt so that suspects won’t have access to the same information as detectives. Nearly everything else is public record.
But because prosecutors twice refused to press charges and referred Sargent’s case back to police, SPD claimed that their investigation was still open. Sargent was denied access to everything except the initial incident report and dash-cam video from the police cruisers that arrived on the scene shortly after the confrontation with Waters.
In August 2010, Sargent’s attorneys took SPD to court for refusing to divulge the documents. A lower court judge fined the Department $70,000 for violating the Public Records Act, a decision that was later partly overturned and is now pending before the Washington State Supreme Court. The Washington Coalition for Open Government petitioned the court 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.
“They’re allowed to prevent the public from having access to any of that information simply by saying they have an investigation that can be of infinite duration,” says WCOG director Toby Nixon. “It makes it impossible, effectively, for the public to know what’s going on. “
Sargent was in a bind. He believed that the police had wronged him, but he was unable to examine evidence held by police that could potentially corroborate his claims. And because the OPA ruled that his complaint against Waters was “not sustained,” he and his attorneys were also not allowed to view additional documents and evidence from the OPA investigation. (Previously, OPA case files were released only when a complaint was ruled “sustained.” Today, owing to a 2011 State Supreme Court ruling, partially redacted internal-affairs files can be disclosed once an investigation is complete, regardless of the outcome.)
More than a year after Sargent’s attorneys filed suit, SPD capitulated and handed over the files. Outside observers say their ordeal is emblematic of the larger flaws of SPD’s transparency and accountability processes.
“They absolutely don’t want to release the video or audio or other records when it would prove police wrongdoing or exonerate the person arrested,” Nixon says. “I think that happens way more than what people think, just [judging by] the number of cases we have found where there is resistance to releasing these records and hiding behind the claim that somebody’s privacy rights might be impacted.”
Video has been a particularly thorny issue for SPD. From the infamous “Mexican piss” comment to the shooting of John T. Williams, some of the most egregious incidences of misconduct have been caught on camera (see “BrutaliTV” by Rick Anderson, SW, Feb. 23, 2011). Citing privacy issues and the advice of the City Attorney’s office, the Department refuses to release dash-cam videos to anyone other than the victim or suspect involved until three years after a recorded incident. But by that time, SPD’s records division can legally destroy the archived footage.
“You’re supposed to weigh on the side of disclosing public records as opposed to withholding them,” says Judy Endejan, attorney for Fisher Communications, the parent company of KOMO-TV, which is suing SPD, claiming its video policy runs afoul of state law. “I’m absolutely flabbergasted that rather than taking efforts to expand openness and accountability, the Seattle Police Department seems to have retrenched and gone into this sort of bunker-like mentality.”
Other observers acknowledge that SPD has become more responsive of late to requests for dash-cam videos, and the Department itself says budget issues and technical difficulties complicate these requests. It took months to obtain the video in Sargent’s case, and the clip turned out to be useless.
Waters was driving his personal vehicle, so there’s no record of the confrontation. Dash-cam footage from the car of Willie Askew, the first responding officer, shows him speeding into the alley and pulling up behind Waters’ SUV. Askew steps out of his car and approaches Waters. When the detective starts to explain his version of what happened with Sargent, Askew casually reaches up and mutes the uniform-mounted microphone. The rest is silence.
After their months-long investigation earlier this year, the DOJ identified several troubling issues with Seattle’s finest. Most notable was that SPD has engaged in “a pattern or practice” of unnecessary force. Yet the OPA, the apparatus created to discipline officers who use excessive force, was declared mostly sound. The feds concluded that OPA investigations “are generally thorough, well-organized, well-documented, and thoughtful.”
That praise, however, was immediately followed by several massive caveats.
According to the DOJ, when SPD investigates itself, accused officers tend to be asked “an overabundance of leading questions.” The report identified “gaps in evidence collection” during OPA investigations and “a misunderstanding of the nature of (and an apparent underlying lack of training regarding) unbiased policing investigations.” There was also “a tendency to give the named officer’s testimony disproportionate weight based on credibility over that of the complainant and, even, over other third-party witnesses.”
Nearly all those flaws factored into the initial police investigation of Waters. He was allowed to wait until 27 hours after the incident to give his official statement, and the questioning he faced later was hardly a grilling.
“What Mr. Sargent is alleging here is that you intentionally damaged his property,” Detective Nathan Janes explained to Waters. “Like a, you know, a crime, if you will.” Janes then asked if Waters broke the mirror intentionally.
“There was absolutely no time for me to think, ‘Hey, I’m gonna knock this guy’s mirror,’ ” Waters answered. “It was just like, boom, I’m slamming. The car was still moving.”
Waters’ colleagues took his explanation at face value. He was never reprimanded for breaking the mirror and escalating the confrontation with Sargent.
“It’s kind of a bellwether case for what was wrong with SPD during that period of time,” says Preston, Sargent’s attorney. “The DOJ is saying, ‘On paper, OPA looks like an organization that could or should be able to address police-misconduct issues.’ They give them credit for having a process, but it’s really the execution of the process that’s flawed.”
Proof that something is seriously amiss with SPD’s accountability wing can be found in the numbers. In 2009, SPD received 1,442 total allegations of misconduct. Of those, 155 triggered OPA investigations, and 19 were sustained. As Chief John Diaz proudly noted in a court filing in Sargent’s case, that means “a mere 2 percent” of overall misconduct claims were deemed legitimate. By comparison, the DOJ report found that force was used unconstitutionally one out of every five times an officer resorted to it.
“The benefit of the doubt is too frequently given to the police officer,” says Terrence Carroll, a former OPA auditor and retired judge now serving as a Distinguished Jurist in Residence at the Seattle University School of Law. “I don’t think it’s a system that isn’t responsive. Whether or not the system is as effective as the public wants it in preventing incidents is another question. Small incidents seem to get blown way out of proportion too often.”
The OPA was created in 1999 in response to a much-publicized scandal during which a detective stole $10,000 cash from a crime scene. Other officers knew about the theft; none reported it. A panel of experts—including Sargent’s co-counsel, former U.S. Attorney Mike McKay—was selected to revamp the internal-affairs process.
The group devised a three-pronged system that includes the OPA, an auditor, and the OPA Review Board. The OPA is staffed by sworn officers but led by a civilian director (currently Kathryn Olson) who reports directly to the Chief of Police—a potential conflict of interest that has raised eyebrows. The civilian auditor reviews the OPA rulings for fairness, objectivity, and trends. The Review Board makes recommendations on how the system can be improved, but has no real power or influence over the process—a fact the Review Board lamented in a report they published in June. “To be effective, civilian oversight should be a simple, transparent system that is easily understood by the participants and the community at large,” the OPA Review Board writes. “Currently, that is not the case in Seattle; rather, the community is confused about the relationship between the various components and the roles each is supposed to play.”
One glaring flaw identified by the OPA Review Board and other critics is that too often complaints are ruled “inconclusive” or “not sustained,” as was Sargent’s case. McKay, who helped create the OPA, compares the outcome to a hung jury, and says it happens far too often. As of May 31, 12 percent of the 190 allegations lodged with the OPA in 2012 were ruled inconclusive, while 13 percent were sustained.
“It’s a punt,” McKay says. “If they’re forced to make a tough decision about other officers, they will just say it’s not sustained. I think that’s a very troubling statistic for the Department, and it’s a great way to let their officers off the hook.”
In Sargent’s case, OPA director Olson cited “contradictory testimony from the parties and witnesses involved,” and the fact that prosecutors did not charge either man with crimes, as the basis for the “not sustained” ruling.
SPD spokesman Whitcomb says the terminology used by the OPA system was recently simplified as part of the Department’s much-heralded 20/20 initiative (the “not sustained” ruling was discarded and replaced with “inconclusive,” among other changes), and there are good reasons why so many cases result in that verdict. “Not sustained is ‘We don’t really know—maybe [the officer] did it, maybe they didn’t—it can go either way,’ ” Whitcomb explains. “That’s when you have one person saying one thing and the officers saying another, and conflicting accounts from witnesses.”
As for transparency, Whitcomb says there had been a “shift in philosophy” at SPD, and public documents are more available now than ever before. “We don’t want to be asking the question ‘What do we have to put out?’ ” Whitcomb says. “We want to ask the question ‘What can’t we put out?’ We’re looking to share as much information as possible without jeopardizing investigations. That’s both criminal and internal investigations.”
Last January, Sargent’s attorneys joined the ACLU and 34 community organizations in urging the DOJ to investigate SPD officers’ use of force. In an eight-page letter to Seattle U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan, Preston claimed that Waters initiated “a potentially lethal incident of road rage,” and alleged that SPD violated Sargent’s civil rights.
The DOJ abided by the request, and issued their “pattern and practice” finding last December. With the feds threatening an unprecedented lawsuit against the city, Mayor McGinn negotiated a compromise. A settlement agreement and MOU announced in late July gives the city significant leeway in the reform process.
As it now stands, the mayor is tasked with appointing a “Citizens Police Commission” consisting of representatives from “the many and diverse communities in Seattle.” The number of members is yet to be determined, but should include citizens from each police precinct, police personnel, clergy, community organization members, and others. The city council can veto any of the mayor’s appointees.
Once formed, the Commission is supposed to meet regularly and issue a report within a year that identifies ways to improve SPD’s police practices and relationship with the community. The MOU does not specify how these hypothetical reforms will be implemented, or even how many staff members and resources will be available to the newly formed Commission.
McKay, the former federal and King County prosecutor, says he advocated for years on behalf of law enforcement, but now believes SPD suffers from systemic problems. He is concerned that, despite public pressure and DOJ oversight, the mayor and SPD leadership will attempt to sidestep the most vital reforms. “There’s a cultural problem with the Department, and it has metastasized into the rest of City Hall,” McKay says. “The city entered this agreement not because they thought it was the right thing to do, but because they were clearly advised by their own attorneys that if they went to court, they would lose. It’s not because they want to correct the clear flaws that exist institutionally with the Seattle Police Department.”
McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus declined to comment for this story, referring Seattle Weekly to comments made by the mayor at the July 27 press conference announcing the DOJ settlement. There, McGinn said he “placed a high priority on implementing an agreement that would continue to engage the public,” in conjunction with SPD’s 20/20 initiative and the soon-to-be-appointed federal monitor.
Meanwhile, in the most recent issue of The Guardian, the newspaper published by the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (the cops’ union), the lead article cautioned that the city’s consent decree with the DOJ “does not trump labor law,” perhaps indicating a possible means of resistance to change. Union president Rich O’Neill did not respond to several messages seeking comment for this story. Speaking on behalf of Chief Diaz, Whitcomb also cited labor law as a consideration, but reiterated that the “philosophy and culture” of the Department is changing when it comes to transparency and use of force.
Still, McKay isn’t alone in his concerns. “The new commission can make all these recommendations,” says Chris Stearns, chair of the Seattle Human Rights Commission, “but there’s no requirement that anyone has to listen to them.”
On the other hand, the architects of the MOU and settlement agreement argue that collaboration is the only way to restore public confidence in SPD. “It’s an opportunity for the community to have a say about the overall structure and role and responsibilities of various entities, the timelines and transparency pieces,” says Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Bates. “Those are all policy decisions that need to be made with the input of the community.”
When U.S. District Court Judge James Robart provisionally approved the settlement agreement on August 24, he remarked that he was “delighted” to see that the community would be involved in the reforms, but also expressed concerns about the “ambiguity in the process.”
Those who have participated in DOJ-mandated reforms in other cities suggest that the best approach lies somewhere between Seattle’s blue-ribbon panel and the firmness desired by SPD’s staunchest critics. Gerhardstein, the attorney at the forefront of Cincinnati’s police restructuring, says community participation was invaluable. But, paired with the DOJ probe, a settlement from a class-action civil-rights lawsuit guaranteed compliance. In addition to cash settlements that came later, a group of Cincinnati citizens demanded an injunction and a place at the negotiating table during the reform process, as well as subpoena power for their citizen-complaint authority (the equivalent of Seattle’s OPA) and access to some internal police documents.
In Seattle, mandatory changes are largely precluded by collective bargaining with the Police Guild and the City Charter, but the hope is that the federal monitor and threat of further DOJ litigation will compel the mayor and city council to adopt most reforms suggested by the Community Police Commission. The MOU explicitly states that the Commission will only have access to public records and cannot evaluate individual cases.
A specialist in police-misconduct litigation, Gerhardstein says the Cincinnati police overhaul has been a resounding success. In addition to substantial changes in police training and supervision practices, officer discipline files are now searchable via an online database, and dash-cam videos are readily available upon request. “We have such good video and record-keeping of what happens,” Gerhardstein says. “There isn’t much opportunity for rogues to go off and beat people up and do stupid stuff.”
To its credit, SPD has already started to clean up its act. According to the latest OPA auditor’s report, use-of-force incidents in Seattle have gone down 37 percent since 2006, and SPD now receives 44 percent fewer use-of-force complaints than do other police departments of similar size nationwide. Most critical, in conjunction with the 20/20 initiative announced March 27, SPD created a Sergeant’s Academy that provides training on “key elements of the Race and Social Justice Initiative” and other important issues. The low-level chain of command has also been restructured so that, in the words of the OPA auditor, “sergeants have specific officers report to them, officers have a clear line of command, and more effective team building can occur.”
It is also important to note that the vast majority of Seattle police officers conduct themselves professionally and follow the rules: Roughly 85 percent have never had a complaint filed against them, and only five had three or more complaints leveled against them in 2009. A disproportionate few accounted for the majority of use-of-force incidents that year.
But the OPA, designed to discipline the handful of officers who do behave badly, has remained largely unchanged. And that’s cause for concern among those who have been through the OPA ringer and emerged frustrated on the other side.
“That piece of [the] puzzle is a little up-in-the-air,” Preston says of possible changes to the OPA. “What are they going to do with, for lack of a better word, the bad cops?”
When the Community Police Commission convenes for the first time later this year, changes to the OPA may not be at the top of their agenda. Activists and community leaders say the more pressing issues are biased policing and policy issues within SPD that lead officers to use excessive force.
“Officers are put in a position in which they’ve been instructed to do things which then become the subject of complaints,” says public defender Lisa Daugaard, supervisor of the Racial Disparity Project. “That is never scrutinized. It’s only individual officer actions that are ever scrutinized.”
Daugaard expects the Community Police Commission to deal with big-picture issues, which the OPA loses sight of when it isolates complaints and puts them under a microscope. “We are asking [the OPA] to do something it is inherently not capable of,” she says. “At bottom, it is an employee-rights and discipline system. It’s not about shedding light on what happened and looking at policy.”
Nevertheless, the public perception that cops can flout the rules with impunity does not sit well with several key elected officials. City Councilmember Tim Burgess, a former SPD detective, says he knows from experience that cops are held accountable, but even he has his doubts about the OPA process. “The police department does discipline employees,” he says. “But if you ask people on the street ‘Hey, do you think the police department holds officers accountable?’, the response is ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t think so.’
“There definitely needs to be changes to OPA,” he adds. “I’ve got ideas about what those changes might be, but I do want to allow the Citizen Commission to weigh in on those. I don’t want to prejudge that.”
Councilman Bruce Harrell, by contrast, has no qualms about taking matters into his own hands in the immediate future: He plans to introduce legislation to empower the OPA review board by making it a sort of appellate court for citizens dissatisfied with their initial OPA ruling. “I don’t see the Commission as being that strong of an organization,” he says. “It’s merely an advisory group . . . Let’s not tout that as all of a sudden we achieved a great win.”
Critics of the OPA hope for a few specific changes, including distancing the director from the SPD command staff and hiring independent investigators—ex-cops from other agencies—to examine cases instead of current SPD officers. But the most forward-thinking request is for more training and supervision, to prevent excessive force and misconduct before it occurs. The DOJ deal requires greatly expanded training and oversight regarding use-of-force issues, which community advocates say is crucial going forward.
Beyond the OPA, improving access to SPD’s dash-cam and officer-mounted cameras is perhaps the most immediate concern. Serious questions loom about protecting the privacy rights of innocent bystanders (perhaps by digitally blurring their faces) and the cost of storing and managing several thousand of hours of footage. Currently, SPD is unable to accommodate detailed searches for video of specific types of incidents.
“It really does thwart transparency when you have records management that is archaic, or when some functions are not used to the advantage of the public,” says Jennifer Shaw, deputy director of the Washington ACLU. “We live in the land of Microsoft. Why can’t we come up with records management that allows for those kind of searches?”
The mayor’s 20/20 initiative calls for SPD to “convene a working group of stakeholders to consider and propose legislation in the next session to overcome obstacles to release of information, including body and dash-cam video.” But Whitcomb says that the cost of making SPD’s video database as reliable as its records-management and 911 systems would be “a massive financial burden to residents of the city.”
In March, Burgess and Councilman Nick Licata sent a letter to McGinn suggesting that the city tap its second-quarter supplemental budget to devise both technical and operational fixes for SPD’s video system. The letter, Burgess says, was ignored. “We said, ‘Let’s get going, begin the research, retain the necessary consultants, and figure what the solution is rather than keep kicking it off to the future,” he says. “Apparently, [the mayor] continues to kick it down the road.”
Pickus says McGinn did not receive the letter from Burgess and Licata in time to modify the second-quarter supplemental budget, but the mayor informed the council at the beginning of August that the video proposal will be incorporated into the next supplemental budget.
As for Sargent, in July his attorneys filed a federal civil-rights complaint against Waters and the city. He claims he suffered “emotional distress” as a result of the confrontation with Waters, and now seeks “special and general damages in an amount to be proven at trial.” The city formally responded to the complaint on August 17, requesting a jury trial, which will likely be scheduled in the coming months.
Still living with his parents but no longer picking up his mom’s commercial laundry (he is now a machine operator for a sheet-metal manufacturer), the 23-year-old says he mostly wants all this to be over with. He hasn’t been back to the Alaska Junction alley since that sweltering day in July 2009, but he’ll never forget what happened there.
“Before this, I was thinking about being a cop,” Sargent says. “I always thought of the police as our friends. I really looked up to them a lot, and still do. But this definitely opened up my eyes about the way things in the world work.”