Another Violent Arrest, Another Damning Report, Another Slap on the Wrist. Business as Usual for Gil Kerlikowske's SPD.
A large, gray Dodge truck pulled up alongside two young African-American men—Carl Sandidge and his friend Derrick Frazier—as they walked to a bus stop on Third Avenue and Pine Street on August 21, 2005. According to police records and court documents, the men in the truck yelled, "Pull your flag out." Sandidge and Frazier stopped in their tracks. Moments later, Frazier was face down on the hood of the truck and Sandidge—a soft-spoken young man with no criminal history—was lying on the ground in handcuffs, unable to move.
At this point, he had been Tasered four times by an undercover Seattle police officer. The "flag" the officer had been referring to was a black bandanna, covered in dollar signs, which hung out of Frazier's back pocket. Officers from the West Precinct's elite, highly trained Anti-Crime Team—a small undercover squad of five to six officers at each precinct who handle street crimes—had mistakenly identified Frazier as a gang member. Frazier and Sandidge were both arrested, but Sandidge was charged with resisting arrest, obstruction, and assaulting an officer. Frazier was never charged. Six months later, when Sandidge's case went to trial in Seattle Municipal Court, details surfaced that, Sandidge's lawyers say, showed the officers had filed misleading reports. Indeed, Sandidge was found not guilty of resisting and assault, and the obstruction charge was dismissed with prejudice. A complaint about Sandidge's case went to the Seattle Police Department's internal investigations unit, the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA). OPA recommended supervisory intervention for use of unnecessary force.
Just as in the case of Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, a young black man who was brutally beaten by officers following a dispute outside a Capitol Hill nightclub ["Face Off," Darrin Burgess, April 21, 2005], Sandidge had paid the price for intervening on his friend's behalf. Just as in the Alley-Barnes case, OPA found evidence of misconduct. Just like Alley-Barnes, Sandidge walked away from his arrest with scars and bruises, while the officers walked away with what appears to be a slap on the wrist (two are still on the elite Anti-Crime Team), another example of Seattle Police Chief R. Gil Kerlikowske's soft stance on officer misconduct. It is ultimately Kerlikowske who has the power to discipline officers.
As Seattle buzzes with questions about the accountability of its police force, cases like Sandidge's—which came to The Stranger's attention this week—have troubling implications. After George Patterson, the suspect in a controversial downtown drug arrest last January, filed a complaint with the OPA—stating Officers Gregory Neubert and Michael Tietjen planted drugs on him and beat him during and after his arrest ["Raw Deal," Jonah Spangenthal-Lee, June 6]—Kerlikowske has come under fire for his role in the ensuing investigation. This week, the Office of Professional Accountability Review Board (OPARB)—the three-member panel tasked with evaluating the performance of SPD's internal investigation unit—released the final version of a report highlighting the chief's interference in the Patterson case. OPARB's report asserts Kerlikowske directed investigators to obtain testimony supporting Neubert and Tietjen from an unreliable witness and exonerated the officers before OPA's investigation was complete.
The report also details 11 other cases where the chief overturned or ignored OPA's recommendations for discipline. Kerlikowske did not provide any written explanation for his final decision to override OPA, despite earlier recommendations from former Mayor Paul Schell and former Police Chief Norm Stamper that the police chief be required to do so.
Despite the public outcry and repeated calls from the NAACP for Kerlikowske's resignation, Mayor Greg Nickels came out in support of the chief. Then it seemed the tide had turned and the mounting evidence against the chief had swayed Nickels. The mayor sent a letter to OPA director Kathryn Olson asking her to take another look at OPARB's findings. However, Nickels's office quietly made phone calls to minority leaders, asking them to publicly support the chief, even after he had supposedly requested a fair investigation. The plan backfired. On July 2, the Minority Executive Director's Coalition (MEDC) held a press conference and called for Kerlikowske's resignation. This week, Seattle City Council President Nick Licata and Mayor Nickels announced plans to form their own police-oversight committees.
While city hall scraps over who gets to lead the charge against police misconduct, Sandidge—another victim of officers who were let off the hook without harsh punishment, even after being condemned by OPA—slipped through the cracks.
According to one of Sandidge's attorneys, James Bible—now the president of the Seattle chapter of the NAACP and a vocal critic of what he calls a "crisis of character" in the Seattle Police Department—OPA had reason to condemn these officers. "The officers' reports were inconsistent with what came out at trial," he says.
According to the report filed by Officer Martin Harris, the officers "politely asked Frazier to stop flying his gang colors." The report claims Frazier belligerently attacked the officers' truck and Sandidge—who's about 5-feet 9-inches tall and very slight—got into a shoving match with Officer David Blackmer on the sidewalk. Blackmer Tasered Sandidge because, he claimed, Sandidge was resisting arrest. It's worth noting that Blackmer was the same officer who Tasered DV One, a local DJ, for 11 seconds straight during his controversial arrest in September 2006 ["Spinning Out of Control," Charles Mudede and Sarah Mirk, Sept 27, 2006]. As Sandidge was dragged to a police van in handcuffs, Officer Marcos Ortiz walked up to him and struck him in the stomach. Ortiz claimed he used a regulation "open palm" technique and that Sandidge was resisting arrest. Additionally, in a use of force report, officers claimed that Sandidge had admitted to being drunk.
Sandidge and his lawyers disagreed with the officers' accounts. In court, Sandidge's attorneys argued that there was no way he could have been drunk. What officers didn't know, they said, was that Sandidge has sickle-cell anemia. Sandidge later told me he can't drink. "I'd end up going to the hospital. [We were] definitely not intoxicated," Sandidge chuckles. "It makes me laugh now. It made me laugh then, too."
Perched on a leather chair at his home in Kent, Sandidge recounts his 2005 arrest. Sandidge recalls Officer Blackmer repeatedly ordering him to "quit resisting," as he was lying on the ground. Sandidge says he wasn't resisting, but was incapacitated from the repeated 50,000-volt jolts administered by Blackmer's Taser. "Your muscles tense up. I'd never felt any pain like that before," he said.
He says the officers did not identify themselves. "They never pulled out a badge, they never said 'Seattle Police' or anything." In the van, Sandidge says Blackmer pulled his hair and told him, "When we get back to the station, I'm going to kick your little ass." These were the arguments they made in court, which cleared Sandidge of all charges.
Although Sandidge never filed a complaint with the city, a young woman who witnessed the arrest did. OPA found that officers had used unnecessary force in the arrest. The fall out? "Supervisory intervention." The Stranger could not confirm the specifics of the intervention, but we did confirm that all three officers are still assigned to the West Precinct. Blackmer and Harris continue to work on the elite Anti-Crime Team that made the initial arrest, and Ortiz works in narcotics. SPD would not comment on the case or why the officers remain on the Anti-Crime Team.