SEATTLE — More than 125 Seattle police officers have filed a private lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Justice Department and Seattle city officials, alleging use-of-force policies instituted as part of a federal court consent degree endanger them, it was confirmed Wednesday.
The Seattle Times first broke the story.
Defendants in the U.S. District Court suit include Attorney General Eric Holder, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, the Seattle police chief, and federal monitor Merrick Bobb.
“Defendants have promulgated and imposed new use of force (UF) policies and practices in reckless and deliberate indifference to the protections afforded Plaintiffs by the Constitution,” the pro se suit says.
“The UF policies and practices unreasonably restrict and burden plaintiffs right to use force reasonably required, to protect themselves and others, from apparent harm and danger in violation of the Second, Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution,” it reads.
“The new UF policies and practices require — without appropriate consideration of an officer’s knowledge, training, experience, or the apparent danger of the circumstances confronting him or her — that Plaintiffs use significantly less force than is being threatened against them by suspects.
“This includes, for example, prohibiting Plaintiffs from using reasonable and effective force tools or techniques against vaguely defined, newly protected classes of suspects unless deadly force is the only other option. This significantly increases the likelihood that such persons will get killed or seriously injured in encounters with the police…,” it reads.
The suit seeks an immediate injunction against the use-of-force policies that went into effect Jan. 1, and seeks unspecified punitive damages “based on Defendants misinformation about and ungrounded maligning of, the good work of the SPD’s patrol officers…”
In an exclusive interview on Q13 FOX News, Mayor Ed Murray said he had just learned of the suit and had no comment on it.
But he then added, “The Justice Department and the federal courts say we need to deal with issues of use of force as well as other issues in our police department.
“We are under a federally mandated court order. We will follow that court order. We will fulfill that court order. We will not fight the Justice Department and we will not fight the federal government. This is not the 1960s.”
Asked if the new use of force policies are making police officers’ job tougher, Murray said, “There are probably issues that need to be worked out. It’s a new policy. With any new policy, we need to get the implementation part right. That’s something we can work on, but the issue that we’re going to change it is not up for debate.”
The Seattle City Attorney’s Office issues this statement: “Our response will be the answer filed in federal court.”
In the wake of high-profile incidents of alleged police brutality, the Department of Justice announced March 31, 2011, it was launching a formal civil rights investigation into SPD practices. It later found the department had engaged in excessive use of force and ordered changes. Under a court-approved consent agreement with the DOJ, the police department agreed to implement reforms.
In December 2013, a U.S. District Court judge accepted a new use-of-force policy between the Department of Justice and Seattle police in an effort to bring court-mandated reforms to the department.
The new use-of-force policy changes the way officers use and report force, according to the DOJ.
The new regulations were submitted to U.S. District Judge James L. Robart. The 70-page policy requires all but minimal force be reported, and replaces the previous 5-page policy.
The new policy requires that officers be armed with one (1) less-than-lethal tools and the building of a new Force Investigation Team, to be implemented whenever officers use force. The DOJ found that SPD officers were too quick to use force and used too much when they did.
DOJ officials called the new force policies further proof that the SPD is trying to improve the ways of a previously beleaguered and belligerent department.
“This policy will help ensure that the people of Seattle have a police department that respects the Constitution, secures the safety of the public and earns the confidence of the community,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels.