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Seattle police sue DOJ over use of force changes

Updated: 05/29/2014 5:58 PM | Created: 05/29/2014 5:57 PM
By: Kai Porter, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Dozens of Seattle police officers have filed a federal civil rights complaint against city and federal officials, saying use-of-force polices are restricting their constitutional rights to protect themselves.      

In 2012 Seattle officials agreed to an independent monitor and court oversight of the city's police department as part of a deal with the U.S. Justice Department following a report that found officers routinely used excessive force.

KIRO reports that the officers' complaint, filed Wednesday afternoon, says the use-of-force policies "unreasonably restrict and burden their right to protect themselves and others in violation of the Second, Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution"

Among those named in the lawsuit are Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, City Attorney Pete Holmes and the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

The Justice Department launched a civil rights investigation of the Seattle department in 2011 after the fatal shooting of a homeless Native American woodcarver and other incidents involving force used against minority suspects. A Justice Department report later found officers were too quick to reach for weapons, such as flashlights and batons, even when arresting people for minor offenses.

Similar changes could be coming to Albuquerque, where the DOJ also found officers used excessive force. An agreement between the feds and the city is still in the works.

"We have to protect the rights of our police officers,” said Bob Martinez, president of the Fraternal Order of Police in New Mexico. “The officers have rights as well."

He also believes the new DOJ rules in Seattle are putting officers in danger and he doesn’t want that to happen in Albuquerque. He feels officers need more input as the DOJ works to come up with solutions. He said changes need to come from the bottom up, not the top down.

"They can come in here and start telling officers what to do and how to do it and this creates a very serious issue with police officers with their ability to make a decision,” said Martinez.

Mayor Richard Berry plans to have officers contribute to the process.

"We have not reviewed the situation in Seattle, but we do feel that broad-based community and officer feedback is critical to this process,” said a spokesperson for the mayor. “That's why we have and will continue to engage in community wide discussions. As we work with the DOJ our goal will be to create reforms and an agreement that work for the community and the police department."


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