The Back story
This past summer, Amanuel Gebreselassie, 23, uploaded an incriminating video on YouTube. In it, Seattle police officers conduct a routine traffic stop-- "Seattle Style" . But it's only now, after receiving the recording of his call to 911, corroborating the video, that he contacted an attorney.
The attorney, James Egan
, who earlier this month released the now-infamous Seattle Cops Gone Wild video
, now represents Mr. Gebreselassie.
This week, Mr. Egan told Seattle's King5 News
that his client's video, along with the previous videos, confirms the Department of Justice's
scathing review of the Seattle Police Department.
"The chief does not have the capacity to clean his own house,"Mr. Egan said. "That’s what the DOJ [Department of Justice] has already pointed out.”
The federal civil-rights investigation, released to the public on Friday Dec. 16, 2011, also pointed out that the Seattle Police Department engaged in a “pattern or practice” of violating the constitutional rights of citizens, especially of color, by using excessive force due, in part, to a lack of leadership, starting with Seattle's top cop, Chief John Diaz.
Praising the report, leaders in Seattle's minority communities say it lends credibility to a painful reality that has gone on for far too long — that when Seattle police officers use excessive force more often than not, the individual is often a person of color.
But Chief Diaz says the report is an over-exaggeration. Mr. Egan and Mr. Gebreselassie says its not. Instead, they want you, the reader, to judge for yourself. Here's their story.
ACT I: The Predator and his Prey
“ I WANT TO MAKE this clear. This department isn't broken. Across the country, this department is considered one of the best departments. I personally believe this is one of the best departments in the country. The men and women I put in harm's way every day ... I believe they discharge their duties in an incredibly great way.” — JOHN DIAZ, Seattle Police Chief
Shortly after midnight on August 17, 2010, a Seattle police officer spots his prey:
Location: Rainier Ave. S. and King Street.
The police dash-cam video shows a black Chevrolet pulling over rolling to a stop. Behind the wheel is twenty three year old Amanuel Gebresalassie. He gives his driver's license to the officer.
According Seattle Weekly, in a police report filed by Officer Brett Schoenberg
, one of the stars involved in the previous video, said the driver was "extremely verbally aggressive" even telling the officer “fuck off rookie.”
But Mr.Gebresalassie says it was the other way around.
"He's using profanity. He's not acting professional. He's just not acting like an officer," he said
Asked for an example he said when the officer first approached the car his first words were: “Roll down the fucking window.” (The window was only rolled down, part way.)
While inspecting his car with his flashlight, the officer spots a plastic bag. Mr. Gebresalassie grabs the bag holding it up to the light to show him it was empty. He asked the officer, "How is this relevant?"
“Oh you want to be a smart guy?” the officer snapped, he said.
Officer Schoenberg ,26, turned and walked back to his car. Mr. Gebresalassie didn't like what was happening.
Feeling threatened, “I decided to call 911,” he said.
By now you might be asking yourself, why would an officer, talk like that, even if he was provoked. To find out the answer to this riddle, we'll ask Officer Schoenberg himself. Take a look at a passage from a deposition he gave earlier this year.
WOOLERY: The words 'fuck' and 'shit' were used during this incident. Why do you feel your conduct and language used during this incident was professional and acceptable?
SCHOENBERG: Dealing with these people, they're, they're obvious gang-bangers, the way they've been talking ... that just, it's the way we have to talk to them... I mean dealing with them you have to lower yourself to their level to talk the way that they do so that they can understand who we are and kind of what—to get our point across.
ACT II: The Kill
"Yeah, I used a control technique to de-escalate the situation, make it gain, gain pain compliance without having to injure or use excessive force on the driver. I apply a loose gooseneck technique, causing him to de-escalate and not go forward with what I believe were probably thoughts of pre-attack indicators toward myself and other officers. At the point he agrees to become compliant."— Officer Casey Steiger,deposition
Operator: "911. What are you reporting?"
"There's an officer here," Mr.Gebresalassie said, "he's talking crazy to me."
“You know, I just want to make sure he's a real officer.”
Meanwhile, a group of five officers gather around his car which included Casey Steiger, 27, his co-star from the earlier performance.
“Step out of the car,” an officer yells, heard in the background on the 911 tape.
"Step out of the car, man."
“Hold up ...”
Muffled sounds echo in the background, then silence.
In a matter of seconds, three officers lunge into the car, grabbing Mr. Gebresalassie's arms yanking him to the ground. As he struggles, an officer kicks him in the groin
, while another, pins him down, knees thrusting into his back.
Having caught their prey, they handcuff him.
ACT III: The Aftermath
After the camera stopped rolling, the story continued.
Mr. Gebresalassie spent time in the county jail because officers found 53 grams of pot in his trunk. ( He claims he was a caretaker for someone authorized to use medical marijuana.)
No charges were filed because the search, was illegal. After two days, he was released from jail.
He was also released from his job. When didn't show up at Taco Time for his shift, because he was in jail, they fired him.
Fed up, Mr. Gebresalassie filed a complaint about the officers behavior to the Office of Professional Accountability, run by - The Seattle Police Department.
On November 17, the Office of Professional Accountability wrote him a letter stating that after an internal affairs investigation, they concluded that the behavior the officers displayed were, unprofessional. As a result, the department reprimanded three officers for the illegal search and for using profanity, a supervisor would review the incident with them.
The officers were not, however, found to have used excess force.
Chief John Diaz Hates Choosing Apples
The dash-cam videos,the Department of Justice report, and high profile cases portray the Seattle Police Department as a business more focused on public perception of perfection over admitting deficiencies and making a change, "I'm not sure what lessons are ever learned when the police department can't police its own," Mr. Egan says.
Egan tells Seattle weekly that if Chief John Diaz is "unable to weed out bad apples," it's time for him to step down and give the job to someone who can.
“Do we have bad apples?" Joseph Bouffiou, 68 says to Police One
. "Of course. If the Seattle Police Department is corrupt, then the whole world is corrupt."