Race Plays Role in Seattle Internal Police Investigations

Race Plays Role in Seattle Internal Police Investigations

The Black Law Enforcement Association of Washington issued a statement criticizing prosecutors for filing an assault charge against an African American Seattle police officer involved in an off-duty brawl while not charging two white Seattle officers who stomped on a prone Latino suspect in another incident.

According to the Seattle Times, Officer Garth Haynes was charge with fourth-degree misdemeanor assault. Haynes was captured on the dashboard video of a patrol car stomping on the head of a handcuffed man, one of three young men said to have attacked Haynes during a brawl over the alleged theft of coats belonging to Haynes and a friend while they were inside Ballard bar.

On July 11, the Black Law Enforcement Association of Washington issued  at statement clarifying its position that the decision to charge Officer Garth Haynes “is demonstrative of the disparate treatment” that African Americans routinely encounter in the criminal justice system.

The association president and King County sheriff’s deputy, Carlos Bratcher, is adamant that assault charges from use of force should have also been brought against two white officers. Officers Shandy Cobane and Mary Woollum’s use of force against a Latino suspect while conducting a robbery investigation in South Lake Union in April 2010 sparked public outcry. Neither Cobane nor Woollum, who were both caught on a dashboard cam stompng on the man, was criminally charged after the City Attorney’s Office determined late last year they had used reasonable force under state law to gain compliance from a suspect who wasn’t handcuffed and ignored police commands. Cobane was also heard on the video threatening to beat the “Mexican piss” out of the suspect”  who was later determined to not have been involved in the crime.

In May, after an internal investigation by the police department, Cobane was suspended for 30 days without pay for the remark some considered racially charged along with other disciplinary actions, including being demoted from gang detective to patrol officer. Woollum also was to be disciplined for failing to report what she observed, although details have yet to be released.

Kimberly Mills, spokeswoman for City Attorney Pete Holmes, said that her office was ethically bound under professional rules of conduct from “trying this case” in the media.

“That said, race is not a factor in our charging decisions,” Mills said in a written statement.

In a second case of disparity, Bratcher and the Black Law Enforcement Association of Washington also cited the decision by the City Attorney’s Office to file an assault charge in April against an Asian-American Seattle police officer, James J. Lee, over his repeated kicking of a robbery suspect last year during an incident captured on video inside a convenience store.

The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild also has raised race issues in Haynes’ case, saying he shouldn’t have been charged because he was the victim of a racially motivated assault by three white men. Charges against those men have been dropped. It also has denounced the City Attorney’s Office for charging Lee, saying he was using accepted control tactics.

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