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Seattle police officers file civil rights lawsuit against city, feds

U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan says a lawsuit filed Wednesday by more than 100 Seattle police officers over new use-of-force policies is “without merit.”

The officers argued that federally imposed use-of-force policies are violating their Constitutional rights.

The complaint names four officers and references 122 others. It says the new use-of-force policies “unreasonably restrict and burden Plaintiff’s right to use force reasonably required, to protect themselves and others, from apparent harm and danger, in violation of the Second, Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution.”

The set of rules were agreed to by the Seattle Police Department and Department of Justice following a finding by the DOJ that Seattle police officers had resorted to force far too quickly and routinely used excessive force.

The policies took effect January 1 as part of a settlement that included other reforms and training. The agreement is being overseen by Merrick Bobb, a federally-appointed monitor.

Along with Bobb, the lawsuit names Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, City Attorney Pete Holmes, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and others.

“We will not be distracted by those who want to slow or stop reform,” Durkan says.

The complaint claims the policies and practices require officers to “under-react to threats of harm until we have no choice but to overreact. This makes it inevitable – although unnecessary and unreasonable – that officers and citizens will get killed or seriously injured.”

The officers brought the complaint on their own without an attorney. Ron Smith, president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, told KIRO Radio the union has nothing to do with the lawsuit.

“The policy is overly vague, overly long and poorly written. However, I don’t believe that filing a lawsuit in federal court is the way to get the ambiguous policy changed,” he said.

Smith said working with the Community Police Commission formed under the settlement agreement would have been a better way to address the concerns.

Mayor Murray issued the following statement about the complaint:

“I have not yet had the chance to review the lawsuit and it would be inappropriate for me to comment at this time.

“But I will say: the Seattle Police Department is under a federally-mandated court order, in part because of a disturbing pattern of unnecessary use of force and other forms of unconstitutional policing.

“The police department will comply with that court order. The City of Seattle will not fight the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. This is not the 1960s.

“I have nominated a new police chief to start work in a few short weeks, and her top priority will be to meet the requirements of the federal court order and make Seattle’s police force a national model for urban policing.”

In an interview late Thursday, Murray said Kathleen O’Toole, the city’s new police chief nominee, would be briefed on the lawsuit immediately.

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