Rantz: Seattle bike cops sue city after brutal, preventable injuries
Two Seattle police officers are suing the city for brutal injuries that they argue were preventable, had the department properly maintained their bicycles.
One sergeant tore his left labrum from the front of his shoulder to the back. The second officer shattered his right arm, resulting in lengthy orthopedic surgery. As a consequence of the injuries, both officers were sidelined for months.
The lawsuit alleges improperly maintained bicycles caused the injuries to the two Seattle police officers. As a result, attorney Cheryl Snow, for Friedman and Rubin, alleges negligence, seeking general and special damages determined at trial and reasonable attorneys’ fees.
More troubling is a third plaintiff, the wife of one of the injured officers, who attempted to use a public disclosure request for data on bicycle parts ordered by the Seattle Police Department. This data would presumably be used to show the city didn’t properly care for the bicycles. The lawsuit alleges the department withheld records in violation of the Public Records Act.
Seattle police lawsuit alleges remarkable negligence
Despite the bicycle officers’ tremendous dedication in service to the city, particularly in crime-heavy downtown Seattle and Belltown, the lawsuit alleges the city pays them little respect in return, at least when it comes to maintaining their bikes. The lawsuit alleges:
SPD operates its bicycle patrol units without timely inspection and maintenance schedules, conducts inadequate inspection and maintenance, fails to create and/or keep adequate records of repairs and maintenance to its bikes, lacks adequate numbers of adequately trained mechanics, and routinely fails to timely repair and replace its bikes. When it issues and provides equipment to its officers, SPD has a duty to ensure that the equipment is properly maintained. Similar to a department-issued patrol car or firearm, an SPD-issued bike has to be properly maintained and in good-working order. Any failure of this duty directly impacts the safety and well-being of patrol officers.
According to the officers, the lack of maintenance caused them severe bodily damage.
A torn labrum
Sergeant Travis Hill joined the Seattle Police Department in 2008 and has had a stellar record, per the complaint. He joined the Bike Unit in late 2017. Less than a year later, on August 18, 2018, he’d become a victim of the alleged negligence.
He was patrolling Seattle’s waterfront on a 2014 Volcanic Hard Tail Mountain Bike when, toward the end of his shift, his bike chain cassette slipped and locked up. The lawsuit says Hill was tossed “over the handlebars, slamming him onto the concrete, and dislodging his bike’s rear wheel.”
Consequently, Hill’s “left labrum was torn from the front of his shoulder to his back.” He underwent surgery to “reattach the labrum to the shoulder bone by placing anchors in the bone.” It’s as painful and gruesome a surgery as it sounds.
For nearly seven months, Hill was unable to work, only being cleared for light duty on March 4, 2019. He still complains of “constant pain and limited mobility” in his shoulder, and has endured hours of physical therapy.
A shattered arm
Officer Mike Gore is, in many ways, Seattle Police’s golden boy. He’s a two-time recipient of the Chief’s award and earned himself an Officer of the Month award back in 2018. In 2019, he received more praise with two excellence awards for work routinely lauded by the city.
Most recently, the Department lauded his efforts supporting the International District. Just last month, Chief Carmen Best gave him a Twitter shoutout for his work.
Unfortunately, the lawsuit contends the love does not extend to protecting him from faulty bikes.
On June 17, 2019, Gore was patrolling downtown Seattle on a 2014 Volcanic bike the city gave him. On his way back to the precinct, the bike chain snapped, sending Gore careening over the handlebars. The lawsuit said he slammed into the back of a car.
The resulting injury was severe. His right arm was shattered, and the diagnosis was a “compound and comminuted fracture” requiring a long surgery to repair. He wasn’t able to return to light duty until September 6, 2019. It took until January of 2020 before he could return to patrol.
Like Hill, Gore is still dealing with constant pain. He also has limited use of his right arm.
So what happened with the bikes?
The lawsuit says both officers performed an A-B-C Quick Check, per standard protocol, before each use. This is a basic review of everything you’d need to safely operate a bicycle. But there’s only so much you can do when the city doesn’t properly maintain the fleet, per the lawsuit.
Hill previously “complained about the fact that the chain on his bike was slipping, which caused him to jolt forward and lose his balance.” After several trips to SPD mechanics, he was told his bike was repaired. But after more use, Hill realized it wasn’t fixed and he needed to constantly return the bike for more repair.
For Gore, the lawsuit contends if the city had a better system of inspecting, maintaining, and repairing the fleet of bikes, he would not have been injured. Since officers like Gore are prohibited from ordering their own parts to fix a bike, the lawsuit says the onus is on the city to offer this necessary review and repair on their own.
The city and union respond
The city of Seattle generally doesn’t respond to litigation and this was no exception. I asked, however, for a statement from the SPD on what they do to inspect and repair bicycles in their fleet. They declined two opportunities to provide details. So did the mayor’s office, forwarding me to the city attorney.
A Seattle City Attorney spokesperson told me that “our attorneys intend to investigate the claims.” They did not provide a timeline for the investigation, citing both the pandemic and the fact that “timing already varies with the facts and circumstances of each case …”
The police union, the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild, has a bit more to say than the city. Officer Mike Solan, president of SPOG, released this statement:
One of SPOG’s responsibilities as a labor union is to make sure our members’ working conditions are safe and those working conditions are in line with the collective bargaining agreement with the city. Anytime department issued equipment as it pertains to those contractual working conditions is not provided nor maintained properly, that becomes a significant safety issue that we must address. This is especially important when our members become injured by either not having the proper equipment necessary to safely conduct their job or by them using poorly maintained or neglected city equipment. This is not only important for our membership’s general welfare and safety but it can have a profound negative impact on recruiting and retention.
Proud cops who just want to be safe on the job
As the city investigates, the two officers are still proudly serving their community as officers. They’d just like to see the department adopt policies that could prevent brutal injuries like the ones they suffered.
“I have two clients who are proud members of the Bike Patrol Unit and one of their primary goals is they want to make sure that they’re safe,” their lawyer Cheryl Snow told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “One of them’s a sergeant. He wants to make sure that the officers in his unit are safe. And I think one of our goals is to see the city of Seattle adopt a way more detailed, way more thorough plan of maintenance, of inspection, to replace bikes that need replacing. … If it takes this lawsuit to force the Seattle Police Department to adopt some of the changes that they need to, that’s one of the things we hope to accomplish.”