During a press conference at Seattle Police Headquarters Tuesday, the department screened a highly-publicized video that has been called one of the worst cases of police misconduct ever caught on tape.
The video depicts an Oct. 6 incident in the Central District where SPD officers were investigating the hit and run of a female bicyclist at 29th Avenue and East Jefferson Streets. A suspect, Leo Etherly, was stopped by officers in the 2300 block of East Union Street.
Patrol car video from the stop shows Etherly approached by officers, who spoke to him briefly before attempting to place him under arrest. According to SPD, Etherly was seen driving a van with a license plate that matched the vehicle believed to have struck the bicyclist.
“They had the license plate. They knew the car they were looking for. They saw [Etherly] walk away from the car,” said Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, who took reporters through the video frame-by-frame.
Within seconds of officers attempting to place Etherly in handcuffs, an altercation ensues. One of the officers pushes his hand against Etherly’s throat as two others pin him to the hood of the patrol car.
“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.
“We wanted to give the public an opportunity to see the video,” Sgt. Whitcomb said.
An attorney for Mr. Etherly, James Egan, showed up at the press conference Tuesday after being notified by a member of the media.
Egan, who had a copy of the video prior to Tuesday, held a press conference Monday to demand that SPD allow him to release it publicly. He received a copy of the video through discovery while representing Etherly and such records are often confidential.
“This is a circumstance where the police have an awful public record and I want it and I want to give it to you,” Egan said.
After his remarks Monday, SPD implied on their blotter that Egan was not being patient and that they planned to give him a copy of the video that could be made public.
“The SPD Public Disclosure Unit handles on average 4,000 requests for records per year … Since 2008, Mr. Egan alone has made 316 requests of the Seattle Police Department. He has 10 requests that are currently pending.
His current request, like all others, will be handled in the order in which it was received.”
KIRO Radio and other media outlets have filed public disclosure requests for the video, which have not been fulfilled.
Whitcomb said Tuesday that the video is part of an open and active investigation. He said SPD has asked the City Attorney’s Office to reconsider charges of hit and run and assault on an officer.
When asked if detectives believe Etherly is responsible for the hit and run, Sgt. Whitcomb said “absolutely.”
“We believe he is responsible for two crimes, and we believe that is going to be looked at fairly by the City Attorney’s Office,” he said.
In the meantime, the Office of Professional Accountability is investigating the force used during the arrest after it was referred to them by the command staff.
Egan was granted another copy of the video during the press conference Tuesday. He posted it on YouTube a short time later.