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Police expert questions SPD tactics in controversial video arrest

The debate rages about whether Seattle Police went too far when they arrested a man in what’s being called by some one of the worst cases of police misconduct ever caught on tape. But a police expert says if cops had handled the incident differently from the beginning, they wouldn’t have ended up in the position leading to a physical confrontation.

Ron Weber, a former police officer and criminology instructor in Fresno, California, viewed the controversial video and analyzed it in an interview Wednesday with Seattle’s Morning News.

“It seems like the first two officers had things at an even keel there and my question is why does this third guy come in and rile everything up,” he says.

In a story first reported earlier this week, the patrol car recording shows a suspect in a hit and run investigation struggling with police as they try to arrest him. While two officers attempt to subdue Leo Etherly and pin him to the hood of the patrol car, a third moves in and pushes his hand against the man’s throat.

“Quit choking me sir,” Etherly said.

“I’m not choking you,” said the officer. “I’m getting your head away from me.”

At that point, Etherly appears to spit in the direction of one of the officers. The officer who had him by the throat then punches Etherly in the left eye.

While the use of force is coming under fire, Weber questions the way police handled the initial arrest.

“You really do not want to deal with anyone where they have the front of their body up. This guy is sitting on the front of the car. They obviously have no control over this guy and basically they put themselves in a position where this guy did act up.”

Weber says police should have immediately placed the suspect face down.

“When I was a cop, I wanted to maintain as much control over an alleged suspect as possible and basically you have the most control when you’re behind the suspect. The things that he was doing with his face wouldn’t have happened if in proper position.”

While Weber questions the way the three officers handled the arrest, he says it’s difficult to determine whether it should be considered an improper use of force.

“Viewing the tape, it doesn’t rise to the level of Rodney King or anything like that, but there are some questions about what the police officers did there at the time,” he says.

Weber does point out spitting is considered an assault and an officer has the right to do whatever necessary to prevent further assault.

Etherly’s lawyer, James Egan, insists the man wasn’t spitting at police and was merely clearing his throat.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said it was too soon to cast judgement on the situation. “Let’s let the Office of Professional Accountability to their review before we jump to any conclusion. Our goal is to reduce the use of force and eliminate the use of unnecessary force, but also recognize: Our officers are human beings.”

The Oct. 6 incident remains under investigation. Seattle Police Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said Tuesday the matter has been referred to the Office of Professional Accountability.

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