05 January 2012

SPD sues lawyer for making public records request

Yes, you read that right. The good-ol-boys at the SPD are at it again.

Here's a link to the article from Seattle Weekly.

According to that article, city attorney Pete Holmes - representing the city and the Seattle Police Department - is suing local attorney James Egan for requesting public information.

[Holmes] says he's seeking "guidance" from the courts, arguing that the videos taken by public servants in public places is somehow private information.

He says in the lawsuit that the state privacy act prevents such videos from becoming public until any litigation surrounding them is concluded.

Egan says that's hogwash. A Seattle attorney who represents clients suing the police, Egan - making a public records request as any average citizen might - sought 36 dash cam videos. He was turned down. Then notice of Holmes' lawsuit arrived.

"I was floored," he told KING-TV. Should Holmes prevail, it would take at least three years to obtain the vids - just when the statute of limitations for lawsuits against SPD runs out and when the department routinely erases stored videos.
Here's another article on the subject from KOMO News.

This article gives us a bit more context. Egan is representing (pro bono) two victims of the SPD's brutality. Videos from those cases - which the SPD originally attempted not to share - were important in establishing that unnecessary force had been used. Egan was attempting to find out if this was a pattern from those particular officers or not.

The situation involves two cases Egan handled pro bono. He believed the videos in each case show officer misconduct. Egan wanted to know if those officers had other questionable arrests, so he asked for 36 additional dash-cam videos.

But the city refused, citing privacy laws. Egan appealed, and now the city is suing him.

"This is ridiculous. It would be comical if it weren't alarming," he said.

Egan believes the city is retaliating for making these other videos public.

"I kind of expect for something like this that they really do have something to hide," said Egan.

The KOMO article also clarifies the "three years" note from Seattle Weekly, unlinking it from the particular case and tying it into a more specific plan from the city and from SPD:

The city argues it doesn't have to release any videos for three years. That also happens to be when the statute of limitations runs out for suing the city and, as a KOMO News investigation discovered, it is also when dash-cam videos are routinely erased from the system.

KIRO's article on the topic identifies one of the cases that caused Egan's inquiry.

In that case, police pulled a car over for speeding, running a stop sign, and endangering pedestrians, then proceeded to pull the driver and his passenger out of their vehicle and taunt them, saying, among other things, "This ain't Yakima, homeboy. This is the big city. You talk like that to the police and you get hemmed up. I’m not a Yakima County fucking bumpkin police officer." (It should be noted that "saying mean things to the police" isn't a crime.) One officer was also recorded threatening to "skullfuck" one of the men and drag him down the street.

None of this would have come out if Egan hadn't been able to get the video - which also showed the car stopping at the stop sign in question, then driving through a crosswalk with nary a pedestrian in sight - from the SPD. Small wonder that they're attempting to keep Egan - and anyone else - from obtaining other videos.

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