Judge tosses Seattle officer use of force lawsuit

A U.S. District Court judge has ruled that SPD officers' arguments were not supported by the Constitution or case law.
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A U.S. District Court judge has ruled that SPD officers' arguments were not supported by the Constitution or case law.

Updated at 7:52 p.m.

A U.S. District Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by more than 100 Seattle cops over a use of force policy that the city's police department adopted earlier this year as part of a federally mandated reform process.

The officers had asked the court to stop the implementation of the policy, saying that it was contradictory, vague and impaired their ability to protect themselves in dangerous situations, thereby violating their constitutional rights. But in an order issued last Friday, U.S. District Judge Marsha J. Pechman said the officers’ arguments were not supported by the text of the Constitution or case law.

The city's police reform process was prompted by a 2011 U.S. Justice Department investigation that found a pattern of excessive use of force within the Seattle Police Department. Pechman said in her ruling that "It would be at least surprising if allegations of such a pattern or practice did not lead to the adoption of stricter standards for use of force by officers."

Athan Tramountanas, who represents 91 of the plaintiff officers in the case, responded to the ruling in an emailed statement.

"My clients are disappointed," he said, "but remain resolute in their belief that the new use of force policy unreasonably restricts their ability to defend themselves and perform their jobs in a manner that best keeps themselves and the public safe."

In the ruling, Judge Pechman also said that the officers cannot sue Merrick Bobb, the court-appointed monitor overseeing the reform process. Bobb was one of the defendants named in the suit. But the judge said that Bobb has “absolute immunity” from lawsuits related to his work helping the city meet the terms of a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. Forged in 2012, the settlement agreement is one of the key documents guiding the police reforms.

Among the other defendants named in the suit were U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Mayor Ed Murray and the City of Seattle.

Murray issued a statement about the ruling on Monday

“I want to thank the City Attorney’s Office for their successful work in defending the Seattle Police Department’s use-of-force policy against a lawsuit brought by SPD officers," he said. “Judge Pechman’s dismissal of the suit today confirms that SPD’s use-of-force policy is both practical and constitutional."

City Attorney Pete Holmes had argued for the dismissal of the case on the grounds that the officers were misinterpreting their constitutional rights. In the city's motion to dismiss the case, Holmes also noted that nothing prohibits a police department from implementing a use of force policy that employs a standard more restrictive than that permitted under the Constitution.

“We are enormously gratified by Judge Pechman's ruling," Holmes, who is traveling in Atlanta, said in a statement.

The new use of force policy, which went into effect on January 1, is one of the cornerstones of the ongoing reforms.

"The Policy provides officers with a wide range of tools to gain control over situations and to protect themselves, from use of verbal commands to physical restraint, TASERS, pepper spray, and batons, in addition to firearms," Pechman wrote in her order. "The Policy is not so inflexible and arbitrary as to shock the conscience, even if it slows or even forestalls the application of force in police interactions with resisting subjects."

The Seattle Police Officers Guild did not support the officers' lawsuit. 

Tramountanas, the lawyer representing some of the officers, said a decision on whether to move forward with an appeal would be made in the next 30 days.


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