Eyewitnesses Shocked at Police Conduct
On November 23, two men lay handcuffed on the ground near the intersection of Northeast 45th Street and University Way. A crowd gathered in front of the nearby Sureshot Cafe and, according to witnesses, watched as two officers held one of the men down while another officer bashed the man's head into the pavement "10 or 15 times." As if the scene weren't dramatic enough, "Someone in the crowd pointed to the... newspaper dispenser we were all standing around," says Alan Gibson, who witnessed the incident. "[It] read 'City settles suit with man beaten by police.'"
Teaching artist Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes—who was arrested and beaten by police in front of Capitol Hill nightclub the War Room in 2005 after he chided an officer who was attempting to cite his friend for littering ["Face Off," Darrin Burgess, April 21, 2005]—recently settled a civil suit against the Seattle Police Department (SPD). The city paid out $185,000 to quiet Alley-Barnes's claims that officers had used excessive force during his arrest. SPD's Office of Professional Accountability (OPA)—which handles citizen complaints against the department—looked into the Alley-Barnes case, but officers escaped punishment because they were not disciplined during the 180-day investigation window. However, the OPA criticized the sergeant who made initial contact with Alley-Barnes for his "decision to bump [a] social contact into an arrest situation."
Just as Alley-Barnes's arrest stemmed from a passing contact with an officer over a minor offense, the November 23 incident in the University District began when the two men jaywalked across 45th Street.
According to the police report, Michael Lujan, 26, and Mark Hays, 36, crossed out into traffic on 45th Street, right in front of an unmarked police SUV. When Lujan approached the vehicle, the driver—Sergeant Shane Anderson—instructed the men that they were "committing the crime of pedestrian interference." According to the report, Lujan and Hays walked away making "disparaging remarks" about the police. Officers—all members of one of the SPD's elite Anti-Crime Teams—ordered the men to halt. Lujan and Hays ran, but one officer was able to grab Lujan. Moments later, the officer was tackled by Hays and all three men tumbled to the ground. While the report notes Hays's alleged assault on the officer, no mention is made of the force used to subdue Hays—the "head bashing" described by several witnesses—and only states that officers repeatedly ordered Hays to "stop resisting." However, a number of witnesses at the scene say the cops used excessive force.
One witness, who asked not to be named, says he was standing across the street from Hays and Lujan as the police SUV pulled in front of them. The witness says he saw the police hop out and chase the men, but he doesn't recall hearing anyone order the men to stop. "They just started chasing the guys and tackled them," the witness says. When officers tackled Hays to the ground, the witness says he saw one cop sitting on Hays's head, another straddling his legs, and a third officer repeatedly punching the man. "There was one guy [in the crowd] I heard yelling 'stop hitting him, stop hitting him.' Everybody was basically in shock."
Gibson, a 28-year-old Amazon employee, witnessed the incident from inside the Sureshot Cafe. "We saw [an officer] on top of another guy, just ramming his head into the ground. The guy being beaten wasn't putting up any resistance."
Indeed, an employee of the cafe says he saw an officer tell Hays, bloodied and in handcuffs, to "stop resisting."
While witnesses' accounts of the incident seem to indicate the men were the victims of overzealous policing, Hays and Lujan do have pretty hefty rap sheets.
In 2002, Lujan was charged with obstructing an officer three times, while Hays—who, after his arrest, was taken to Harborview Medical Center before he was admitted into King County Jail—has, since August 2007, received citations for urinating in public, unlawful bus conduct, theft, trespassing, harassment, and assault. He is now facing charges for assaulting an officer. Lujan faces charges of obstruction and pedestrian interference.
It's clear that neither witness accounts nor the police report tell the whole story, but it would seem after paying out a hefty sum to Alley-Barnes, officers would use a little more restraint when dealing with a minor offense like jaywalking. SPD claims that the men were intoxicated, which led to the escalation, but did not address complaints about excessive force by press time. The Stranger was not able to contact Hays or Lujan.
Another witness, Lindsey Parker, says she ran into Lujan on University Way a few days after the incident, and he told her he was going to be contacting a lawyer to file suit against the SPD. "You want to believe the cops are the good guys," she says. "I don't know if I believe that anymore."