City of Seattle Pays $195,000 to Settle Civil Rights Claims
This week, on March 25, 2014, the City of Seattle and several of its police officers finalized their agreement to pay $195,000 to settle First and Fourth Amendment federal civil rights claims, in Matthew Adams et al v. David Bauer et al, No. 13cv338-JCC, brought by five guests of a housewarming party that the police officers broke up, with warrantless entries onto the property and use excessive force.
On the night of the party, July 22, 2011, SPD officers went to a home in the Columbia City neighborhood to check on a noise complaint. On arrival, three officers encountered a house party, and without a warrant, entered the backyard. The party guests objected to the warrantless entry and told the officers to leave. Outside, the officers questioned the home’s tenant and then arrested him for obstruction. This upset the guests who had gathered at a side gate and yelled at the officers.
SPD Officer David Bauer then entered the backyard and pushed the crowd back. He also picked up a shovel that he then swung at the guests, striking several of them and gashing the scalp of one plaintiff. Other officers followed Officer Bauer and began arresting people for “riot” and “assault on an officer.” Officers arrested one plaintiff, then led him out as other officers struck him multiple times with fists, flashlights, and batons. Another plaintiff was cornered, tased and stomped on, resulting in a broken leg.
Three plaintiffs were jailed for three days, and released on July 25, 2011, after the SPD “rush” filed the case with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and recommended the arrested guests be prosecuted for felony assault on an officer and riot. King County prosecutors investigated the assault allegations for nearly a year, with on-going cooperation from the guests who eventually filed this suit. Prosecutors declined to file charges, in part because Officer Bauer withheld from his mandatory use of force report the fact he had wielded a shovel, which is considered a deadly weapon, and only divulged this fact much later when questioned by an SPD investigator. The Seattle City Attorney also declined to file charges and dismissed the prosecution against the tenant arrested for obstruction due to “evidence problems.”
The officers’ actions occurred while the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) was investigating the SPD for having a pattern and practice of using excessive force.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, David Whedbee, from MacDonald Hoague & Bayless, said: “My clients used their First Amendment right to protest the officers’ unconstitutional conduct when they came in the backyard, and then later when they arrested the house tenant for no good reason. And the police officers’ violent reaction—such as arresting people for ‘talking back’ and delivering multiple blows on people already placed in handcuffs—perfectly matched the specific types of unconstitutional abuses the DOJ identified in its December 11, 2011 Report. But I’m pleased the prosecutors in this case saw through the officers’ false claims of ‘assault on an officer.’ They did the right thing in refusing to file charges against my clients and the other arrested guests.”