Lawsuit claims SPD chief concealed video showing excessive force

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SEATTLE —

Lawyers for a man who said Seattle police used excessive force during his arrest are filing a lawsuit against Seattle Police Chief John Diaz, who is accused of concealing police dashboard camera video showing an alleged attack by officers.

 

Attorney James Egan said Leo Etherly was punched in the eye and choked as he was held down by Seattle police officers on the hood of a Seattle police car Oct. 6.

 

Egan said Etherly was punched in the eye a second time, causing permanent partial blindness in his left eye.

 

The lawyer said the incident was clearly captured by in-car video from the police car on which Etherly was held down.

 

Two other cameras captured images of the incident or its aftermath.

 

"They socked that man in his nose and his eye," said a woman who recorded the scene after the incident.

 

A camera inside a nearby liquor store showed Leo Etherly in handcuffs.  Etherly said two Seattle police officers held him down while another "strangled" and "punched" him in the face.

 

"I was motionless as he was still punching me, and he said something to the effect of, 'You f-ing idiot' as he was punching me," Etherly said.

 

But it's the video you are not able to see that led to a lawsuit filed Monday.

 

Etherly's attorney, James Egan, claims he received a copy of the SPD dash-cam video as part of discovery when Etherly was facing criminal charges. Those charges were eventually dismissed.

 

Egan said he was ordered by SPD Chief John Diaz not to share the video with anyone. Egan then tried to get the video through Public Disclosure Act -- a request he said has repeatedly been delayed, violating public disclosure and freedom of speech law, Egan claims.

 

"The Department of Justice's agreement with the Seattle Police Department has been breached. Apparently, the police department doesn't take it seriously. It's this disc that I would love to give to you, but I can't because the Seattle police chief tells me I can't," Egan said.

 

The officer Etherly said punched him in the face --- Eric Faust --- has faced allegations of racial profiling before.

 

Etherly himself has a lengthy criminal history for assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest, and more.

 

"Yeah, I have a criminal past, but you know, hey, that don't mean he can beat me up," Etherly said.

 

The lawyer said the incident was clearly captured by in-car video from the police car on which Etherly was held down.

 

Etherly was arrested on suspicion of a hit-and-run of a bicyclist, but was never charged and the case was dismissed.

 

Egan said he made repeated requests to Chief Diaz and the SPD for the in-car video of the incident so he could give it to the media.

 

Egan claims Seattle police stalled and “offered baseless delays” of production of the video as a public record and warned him that the video he received as criminal court discovery may only be used "for the purpose of conducting the party's side of the case."

 

"As a consequence of a clear violation of the state's Public Records Act, and a violation of Leo Etherly's First Amendment right to speak out on this video, Attorney Jim Lobsenz of Carney Badley Spellman is today filing a lawsuit against the Seattle Police Department and Chief John Diaz personally for interfering with our right to this public record," said Egan.

 

According to Egan, the SPD anticipates at least 60 days to produce the in-car video.  Egan said the video should have been provided within five days under the Public Records Act.

 

In an online blotter post titled "Clarification: City Has Already Released Much-Talked-About Video," Seattle Police spokesperson Sgt. Sean Whitcomb released the following statement:

 

Local attorney James Egan will receive the video he is asking for. In fact, he already has.

The Seattle Police Department via the City Attorney’s Office provided a copy of the in-car camera footage to James Egan as a matter of criminal discovery. Mr. Egan received police records that were necessary to adequately represent his client.

Mr. Egan made a separate request for the same in car video via the SPD Public Disclosure Unit.  This request is currently in process. Once completed, Mr. Egan’s will receive another copy of the same video.

The SPD Public Disclosure Unit handles on average 4,000 requests for records per year. Every requestor receives a response from the department within five business days.

Since 2008, Mr. Egan alone has made 316 requests of the Seattle Police Department. He has 10 requests that are currently pending. His current request, like all others, will be handled in the order in which it was received.