Two Seattle firefighters accused of beating two homeless men in Pioneer Square will not be facing felony charges from the King County Prosecutors Office.
KIRO Radio's Dori Monson, who heard from an eyewitness the day after the attack that it was one of the worst things he's ever seen in the area, wanted to know whether the fact that accused were firefighters had anything to do with them not getting charged.
"It is a wondrous thing to be a government worker in a government town like Seattle. To be a firefighter, you can get stinking drunk at a Sounders game, you can beat on a homeless guy and nothing happens to you," says Monson. "I have an eyewitness who said he saw a brutal assault, one of the most brutal he's seen, two strapping Seattle firefighters beating down, as he put it, two little homeless guys under a blanket in Pioneer Square and there's not enough to file charges?"
Ian Goodhew, Deputy Chief of Staff in the King County Prosecutor's Office, agreed to come on the show to answer Monson's questions regarding the incident. Monson told Goodhew he was genuinely angry when he heard they weren't pressing charges and asked why.
Goodhew explained that the county prosecutor's office has felony jurisdiction within the City of Seattle and any misdemeanors that could be charged would be done by the city attorney's office. So the King County Prosecutor's Office was only looking at one of many of the allegations that came out of the incident.
"That was the allegation that one of the two male suspects struck a victim with the stick, a stick that the victim had initially, and that the suspect was accused of taking from the victim and striking him in the head and the arm," said Goodhew.
The other potential charges in the case appeared to be misdemeanor charges that would fall to the city attorney's office, Goodhew explained.
Monson said the eyewitness he spoke to following the incident told him that he saw the firefighters swing at one of the homeless men's head and punch him in the chest. But Goodhew said that would not necessarily be felony assault.
"Punching in the chest, unless you leave some type of serious or significant injury, is not going to be a felony," said Goodhew. "When you use a weapon, when you use something like a stick, that potentially becomes not an assault four, which is a misdemeanor, but an assault in the third degree, which is a class C felony."
Goodhew said it was also difficult for them to determine exactly how the altercation happened, when it came to use of the walking stick. They did have a witness report they saw one of the suspects strike the victim with the stick. But they also heard reports the victim may have been waving the stick first.
"The most important thing we found in our investigation, Dori, is that when we talked to the victim, the individual who was reported as the victim, he indicated that he started the incident, in the sense that he initiated swinging the stick at the suspect," said Goodhew. "There may have been reasons for that, but he wasn't wanting to go into it and in the end, he wasn't ultimately willing to cooperate with our prosecution."
While the witness Dori spoke to said it looked like the firefighters the aggressors, Goodhew said they have to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt and if the closest witness to the event, the alleged victim, is not providing them that information, it's difficult to go on.
"We have to operate with the facts and the law that we're given. And in this situation, when we don't have consistent evidence to prove that charge beyond a reasonable doubt, we can't file a charge, but that by no means exonerates anyone's behavior."
Goodhew said their position as firefighters also had nothing to do with the fact that they did not face charges from the King County Prosecutor's Office in this case. "Their status as firefighters had no relevance to this criminal decision whatsoever as to whether to file charges or not."
The firefighters could still face charges from the city.
"Now the case is going to the city attorney's office," said Goodhew. "They very well could face misdemeanor charges there. But my colleagues there have to have an opportunity, obviously, to review the case."