The pressure on Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske continues to grow as he’s accused of failing to discipline officers in several troubling incidents. One of the incidents occurred in 2005 in Capitol Hill, when Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes was beaten by police after his friend tossed something on the ground as they left a club. According to witnesses, the altercation began when Alley-Barnes questioned why the officer detained his friend over something so trivial. The Seattle Times reports on the incident:
Barnes and a group of friends were leaving the War Room, a bar on Capitol Hill, shortly after midnight on April 13, 2005. Outside was Seattle Police Sgt. Greg Sackman, who was on patrol there. A bouncer said he seemed “agitated” and had positioned himself directly in front of the door so people would have to walk around him as they left.
The bouncer, Tim Rhodes, later said one of Alley-Barnes’ friends apparently threw a piece of paper or straw into the gutter. When the officer pointed it out to him, the friend picked it up and apologized, Rhodes said in a court deposition.
Sackman decided to detain the man, according to police reports and other court documents. It was then that Alley-Barnes went up to Sackman and complained that he was harassing his friend because the friend was black, according to several witnesses.
The rest of the details are pretty hard to stomach:
In the Alley-Barnes arrest on Capitol Hill, a patrol-car dashboard camera captured audio but not video. The audio revealed inconsistencies in the officers’ accounts, according to court records.
Blows can be heard. A woman can be heard saying, “Oh my God!”
At one point, the 29-year-old Alley-Barnes — an artist with no criminal record — pleads with the officers to “please stop kicking me!”
Another voice can be heard saying, “That’s way too much!”
The charges against Alley-Barnes were dismissed because the city failed to turn over the video to defense attorneys, according to court and police internal-affairs documents.
In dismissing the case, Municipal Court Judge Jean Rietschel found statements on the tape “impeach the officers’ statements” because “there’s nothing on the video about the alleged commands that each of the officers said were said to Mr. Alley-Barnes” — including telling him to put his hands behind his back.
What the tape does reveal, the judge said, are “a number of very inflammatory statements made by police” about “arresting a black” and about Alley-Barnes getting in trouble because of his big mouth.
I understand that the chief can’t be held responsible for every single incident by his officers, but the picture that’s emerging here is one where Kerlikowske feels that he doesn’t have to be responsive to community oversight on these matters.
Another incident that is raising questions is the January arrest of a wheelchair-bound man named George Patterson for drug dealing. Video of the arrest shows officer Greg Neubert putting Patterson (who is paralyzed from the waist down from a car accident five years ago) in a lengthy choke hold and later putting things in his hood. Patterson claims that he didn’t have any drugs on him that evening and certainly did not have crack cocaine in his lap as the officers alleged. Since the incident, Chief Kerlikowske has been very aggressive in shielding the two officers from any scrutiny over the arrest, even though the charges have been dropped and the video reveals inconsistencies in the officers’ stories.
As for Neubert, he already had a long history of complaints of inappropriate behavior. The Stranger wrote about him all the way back in 2001:
While the two dailies relied solely on the Seattle Police Department’s file on Neubert, we compiled our report by looking through court documents arising from Neubert’s arrest cases and by talking with Central District neighbors. (Neubert, 35, has worked the Central District beat for most of his nine-year career.)
Our reporting ["Court Documents Reveal Officer Greg Neubert's Controversial History," Amy Jenniges, June 28] found an alarming picture of an officer who physically and verbally bullied civilians, gave faulty court testimony, and–similar to Neubert’s current account about being dragged by Aaron Roberts’ car–complained that civilians were attacking him.
“I thought it was absurd to see how much he [Neubert] was praised here,” says Guy Thomas, weekend night manager at Philly’s Best Steaks & Hoagies at 23rd and Union, pointing to the Seattle Times write-up of the SPD’s records. Thomas, a tall 33-year-old black man, adds, “What I’ve heard from customers is not the same picture. It’s not a good picture.”
“I have friends that have been arrested by Neubert,” says Kisha McCraney, an 18-year-old black woman, as she gets into her car in the Philly’s parking lot. “One of my friends got pulled over by Neubert for no reason at all. He wasn’t speeding or anything. This was just a couple of months ago. He was on a back street, and when he saw Neubert he went onto a bigger residential street because he knows how Neubert is. Neubert came over, dragged my friend out of the car, and handcuffed him.”
Of course, this didn’t stop both Neubert and the other officer involved in the arrest of George Patterson, Michael Tietjen, from being given “officers of the year” awards in 2006.
When you consider the massive racial bias in drug arrests, it’s very clear that the SPD under Chief Kerlikowski disproportionately targets African-Americans. Occasionally, there can be justification for targeting certain neighborhoods because there are more complaints or a higher incidence of crime. But the numbers compiled by UW Professor Katherine Beckett are beyond what anyone can imagine as acceptable:
Though they account for less 9 percent of the city’s population, Beckett said yesterday, blacks make up 64 percent of those police arrest for dealing drugs. At the same time, her study found that the vast majority of drug users and dealers are white, not black.
Beckett’s findings also show that Seattle’s disparity is worse than any other similarly-sized American city. The idea of Seattle being a progressive city when it comes to dealing with issues of justice within the African-American community is largely a myth. And the picture of Chief Kerlikowske as someone unafraid to take on the problems within his department’s ranks appears to be mostly a myth as well. He’s had enough chances to deal with problem officers like Greg Neubert and to show that his department isn’t unfairly targeting African-Americans. He hasn’t.
And when you look at a case like Patterson’s, you also have to wonder how Kerlikowske can be aware of the details and not make the connection between how his officers acted that night and why African-Americans in this city are arrested for drugs at such disproportionately higher numbers. We’ll probably never know whether it’s cluelessness, apathy, or worse, but the NAACP is justified in calling for him to resign.