Monday, July 14, 2008

Seattle to pay $100,000 excessive force settlement


SEATTLE - The City of Seattle will pay more than $100,000 to settle a complaint of excessive police force.

A young woman sued the city, saying an officer kicked her legs out from under her during an arrest and sent her face-first to the ground.

Before Brittany Beaulieu's first run in with the law, she was working in marketing and excited about the next phase of her life.

Her encounter with Seattle Police left her face swollen, her cheekbone broken in three places.

"She was seriously injured, she was emotionally injured," said Allen Ressler, Beaulieu's attorney.

Ressler says the 30-year-old was with friends on Seattle's Queen Anne neighborhood on April 21, 2006. They had just left a bar when Beaulieu saw one of her friends get pulled over for DUI. Trying to help, she walked up to her friend and offered legal advice.

An officer warned her to back away. When she didn't, Ressler said she was forced to the ground.

"All of a sudden for reasons she can't fathom, she's forcefully thrown to the ground," said Ressler.

The police officer had used a common maneuver called a leg sweep to subdue Beaulieu, basically grabbing her arms while trying to sweep her legs from underneath her. Somehow, the officer lost control of Beaulieu and she slammed face first into the cement.

An initial internal investigation concluded the officer had used unnecessary force and recommended he be disciplined. But in a follow-up, the head of the Office of Professional Accountability, which investigates police misconduct, exonerated the officer, suggesting instead he get more training.

This case follows previous complaints of excessive police force where the officer was not punished, like the 2005 arrest of Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, a littering case that got out of control. In November, 2007 the city of Seattle settled a lawsuit brought on by Alley-Barnes for $185,000 against the police for use of excessive force.

In fact, last year, a citizen review board noted 23 cases where an officer was recommended for discipline, but Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske reversed the decision.

"Something's broken," said Ressler.

Ressler says while the latest settlement brings a close to Brittany Beaulieu's case, the larger issue remains.

"The police should not police the police," said Ressler. "You need someone to take a critical look at what happened…The process is skewed now towards exonerating the officer."

The Seattle Police Department, the city attorney's office and one Seattle City Council member all declined to comment for this story.

Earlier this year, the Seattle Police Department adopted 29 recommendations from the mayor's office aimed at more openness and police oversight.

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