Seattle Suburb Pays $300K to End Police Abuse Lawsuit


A federal civil rights trial alleging police in the Seattle suburb of Tukwila used excessive force in the 2011 arrest of an intoxicated 60-year-old man, who was handcuffed and then pepper-sprayed at a bus stop, ended suddenly this week when the city agreed to pay the victim $300,000, reports the Seattle Times.

David Earl Lott sued the Tukwila Police Department alleging two officers, Zachary Anderson and Jacob Berry, shoved him against the bus stop and took him to the ground, where he was arrested and handcuffed.

He was slammed on the trunk of a patrol car after he was handcuffed, according to dash-camera video of the incident, which also shows Anderson directing a blast of pepper spray into the handcuffed man’s face.

He was driven to the police station before the irritant was washed from his face, according to the lawsuit. Lott alleged the Tukwila department has displayed a “pattern and practice” of the unconstitutional use of pepper spray, and he sought an injunction stopping its officers from using it without justification.

Lott, in a lawsuit filed last year, alleged the Tukwila department has displayed a “pattern and practice” of the unconstitutional use of the powerful irritant, and he sought an injunction stopping its officers from using it without justification.

Joseph Shaeffer, one of Lott’s lawyers, said the settlement offer came Wednesday after two days of testimony in a bench trial before U.S. District Judge John Coughenour, after the judge questioned Tukwila Deputy Chief Bruce Linton about “what he thought that injunctive relief might look like.”

Shaeffer said Tukwila defines the use of pepper spray as a “type 1 or level 1” use of force, among the least amount of force that can be applied to gain compliance of an arrestee or suspect.

However, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has found in a series of cases that the use of pepper spray constitutes an intermediate level of force, and that its use is an “unreasonable application of force against individuals suspected of only minor criminal activities, offer only passive resistance and pose little or no threat of harm to others.”

“Under that policy, the city trains and has trained its officers to use pepper spray in situations that call for very low levels of force,” according to Lott’s lawsuit, which alleges “That policy is facially unconstitutional, and causes Tukwila officers to systematically use excessive force when pepper spraying people.”

Telephone messages left for Police Chief Mike Villa and Deputy Chief Linton were not returned Thursday. Richard Jolley, one of the lawyers representing the city of Tukwila, said the notice of settlement has not been filed with the court and that he could not comment.

The two officers had responded to a call of an intoxicated man yelling at the bus stop about 9 p.m. on Aug. 11, 2011, near 3400 South 144th Street. According to the officers’ trial brief, Officer Anderson arrived to find Lott “yelling wildly” at people across a busy street.

Anderson, in his report and in sworn depositions, said he approached Lott “cautiously” and, when he asked for identification, said Lott became abusive and confrontational and said the officer was harassing him.

Anderson said he told Lott to sit on the bench, but that Lott refused and moved away from him as if he was going to fight. According to the court documents, Anderson became concerned the intoxicated Lott might fall into traffic so he “pushed [Lott] toward the bus shelter” for Lott’s own safety, and decided to arrest him.

At that point, Berry arrived. The initial confrontation between Lott and Anderson is recorded on his patrol car’s dash camera. The video was shown during the trial.

Coughenour, in an order last November sending the case to trial, said Lott’s version of events was that Anderson “intentionally and roughly threw Mr. Lott against the brick and concrete structure, provoked not by genuine fears of safety but by ire at plaintiff’s lack of cooperation and obscene language,” the judge wrote.

Added Coughenour: “The court will note that the video footage frankly favors [Lott’s] version of events.”

Once Berry was on the scene, the video shows the two officers taking Lott roughly to the sidewalk, handcuffing him and escorting him to the patrol car. The video does not contain sound; however, the officers say Lott was swearing at them.

Lott is escorted to the patrol car, where he is slammed onto the trunk by the officers, who testified that he was resisting and swearing at them. At that point, both officers pull out their pepper-spray canisters, and, about four minutes into the video, Berry can be seen putting his can inches from Lott’s face and spraying him before forcing him into the back seat.

The officer said he delivered a three-second burst of the spray to force Lott’s compliance after he refused to comply with a five-second countdown to get into the car.

The officers drove Lott to the police station, where paramedics washed the irritant from his face and took him to a hospital, where it took three stitches to close a head wound suffered during the incident, according to court papers.