Appeals court upholds firing of SPD officer who punched handcuffed suspect
An appeals court ruled Monday to uphold a 2019 King County Superior Court decision to fire Seattle Police Officer Adley Shepherd.
The saga with Shepherd dates back to 2014, when dash camera footage showed him punching a drunk, handcuffed woman in the back of his patrol car, after she had kicked him while she was being forced into the vehicle. He was then terminated by then-Chief Kathleen O’Toole for violating SPD’s use of force policy, before a three-member disciplinary review board (DRB) overturned his firing, instead giving him a 15-day suspension.
The DRB justified its decision at the time by noting that Shepherd had acted “perhaps reflexively” in punching the suspect, that his “patience was being tried,” and that he and several of his colleagues were “insistent that he did nothing wrong.”
“Our head [use of force] trainer went in there and said ‘he did it perfect and did what he was trained,’” Shepherd told KTTH’s Jason Rantz Show in 2019. “All of SPD’s witnesses that they used all agreed with me that my force was necessary and within policy.”
Then, a King County Superior Court vacated the arbitration board’s ruling, overruling the reinstatement and upholding Chief O’Toole’s original decision to fire Shepherd.
The case next went before a Washington state court of appeals, which affirmed the superior court’s decision on Monday. In the appeals court’s written ruling, it stated that the DRB’s decision to overturn Shepherd’s firing was “so lenient it violates the explicit, well-defined, and dominant public policy against the excessive use of force in policing.”
“Indeed, the DRB’s decision sends a message to officers that a violation of a clear and specific policy is not that serious if the officer is dealing with a difficult subject, losing patience, or passionate in believing that he or she did nothing wrong — however mistaken that belief may be,” it continued.
In the years since his initial termination, Shepherd has maintained that he did not violate department policy, alleging in 2019 that “this whole thing has been a cover-up, and it’s been orchestrated.”
The Seattle Police Officers Guild also told KIRO Radio’s Hanna Scott at the time of 2019’s ruling that it would appeal this case all the way to the Washington State Supreme Court if need be.
Both Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Attorney Pete Holmes responded to Monday’s ruling shortly after it was released, with Durkan calling it “the right decision, and the only decision consistent with our city’s values and use of force policies.”
“The arbitrator’s choice to reinstate former Officer Shepherd was wrong from the outset, and the City and the City Attorney’s Office rightfully pursued all legal options to uphold his termination,” she stated.
“Mr. Shepherd’s conduct was so blatantly excessive that I’ll defend this through to the Supreme Court if necessary,” Holmes added. “His conduct undermined public faith in the police department, and his reinstatement violated the clear public policy against excessive use of force in policing. I’m breathing a sigh of relief that SPD will not be forced to reinstate him.”
KIRO Radio’s Hanna Scott contributed to this report