Police

Seattle Sues Attorney For Requesting Police Dash-Cam Footage

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Seattle has a brilliant solution to their many police problems — refuse to release police dash-cam footage, then sue [pdf] the person requesting said footage. 

Reports KOMOnews.com:

KOMO News sued the city of Seattle after public information requests for police dash-cam video were not fulfilled. The suit alleges violation of the public records law. 

But criminal defense attorney James Egan never expected the city would preemptively sue him just for asking for police dash cam video.

"Shocked. I am shocked," he said. "What the police department is saying is if you make a request for public documents, ultimately you will be sued."

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. 

But Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, who filed the lawsuit, says the city is caught between two conflicting laws.

"There's a plain conflict in the laws between the Public Records Act (and) the Privacy Act. The city will pay dearly if it makes the wrong choice," said Holmes. 

When asked whether an attempt was made to cover up the 36 requested videos, Holmes said, "None whatsoever."

The most beautifully convenient part? Says ABAjournal.com, with emphasis added:

Although Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes says the city will abide by the court's decision, Egan told King 5 TV that the Washington privacy act prevents the footage from being made public until the final disposition of related litigation. That is, until the officers can no longer be sued for what they did in the video.

"The idea that you can't get a video until three years later is self protectionism," Egan said, according to the station's report. "They don't want the public to know the skeletons in their closets."

And there are many skeletons in the Seattle PD's closet, not just the recent news that a member of their force was arrested for buying crack, then mysteriously shot to death. There's also the fact that the Department of Justice recently finished a year-long investigation of the SPD, and they weren't happy with what they found. For example, the DOJ dubbed one in five uses of force by the police to be "unconstitutional." They also said that there was no official policy of discrimination, but minorities did suffer disproportionately and there was "potential" for discrimination in certain encounters.

In order to sooth the DOJ, the PD has made some changes which will supposedly enhance accountability, one is making sure squads report to a single sargent, instead of a rotating team of supervisors. Let's hope that supervisor is keen on policing his or her own people. Do you know what might help even more with that task? Dash-cams. Except they didn't do any good when one of the Seattle PD shot woodcarver John T. Williams to death in 2010. But if what footage does exist had not been released, chances are prosecutors wouldn't have even debated bringing charges against officer Ian Birk at all. 

Reason.tv on "The Government's War on Cameras":