Two months ago, I wrote a cover story about what happened after I photographed a crowd of cops downtown surrounding a man. At the time, I recounted most of my story from memory and a few handwritten notes.
As I reported then, King County sergeant Patrick "K.C." Saulet threatened to arrest me if I didn't leave the city sidewalk and nearby county transit plaza (even though standing on that public property and taking photos of officers is legal). Afterward, I approached three officers leaving the scene to ask which officer was in charge (also legal). In response, Seattle Police Department officer John Marion exploded in a threatening tirade.
What I didn't know at the time was that a nearby police van's video system captured Officer Marion's tantrum (unfortunately, there is no video of my exchange with Sergeant Saulet).
The video, which I obtained through a public records request, shows that Officer Marion repeatedly claimed that the King County Metro transit plaza and adjoining sidewalk were private property, even though that is demonstrably false, and that he insisted numerous times that he planned to visit The Stranger's offices for the sole purpose of harassing me.
A microphone attached to Officer Marion also reveals that, before I even approached him, cops were talking about the incident. In particular, it sounds like Officer Marion was concerned with me taking photos. "He is trying to take a picture of you..." it sounds like he tells Sergeant Saulet. Marion then adds that Saulet shouldn't worry because the photo would be poor quality. "Don't worry, the picture of your badge is going to be blurred." The recording also reveals Officer Marion mocking me (saying I was "pouting" after I'd been threatened with arrest), officers laughing at me, and one of them ridiculing my statement that the sidewalk was public property.
Then the video shows me approaching Officer Marion and other officers to ask who the commanding officer was, which is when Officer Marion demanded to know where I worked and then barked this screed:
"I'm going to come to The Stranger and bother you at work and see how you like it, how about that?" he began. "I'm going to come there on my time and come bother you at work. Okay, give me a business card, and I'll come bother you while you are trying to do your job and see how you like that. M'kay? Oh, he's going to write about it some more." I'd taken my notepad out to jot down his comments. "I'll just come to The Stranger and find out—and come bother you at work. I'm sure your boss will love it when I just come in there and bother you while you're trying to write your newspaper."
This was a direct, unambiguous, and repeated threat from an armed man to track me down expressly to harass me on private property.
Officer Marion also demonstrated a skewed perception of what was happening. He said that taking pictures of the cops was "getting involved" and "confront[ing]" officers (in fact, Sergeant Saulet had approached me). Officer Marion indicated that asking who was in charge amounted to "harassing" officers. Finally, he claimed taking photos of cops and writing about the incident amounted to "threatening" them.
I did not harass or threaten cops. But the recording proves Marion has little credibility; he claimed twice that the sidewalk near the transit station is private property—it's absolutely public property.
"You're on private property here," he claimed. "It's private property," which he then called "the truth."
Admittedly, my incident wasn't physical like recent incidents that involved Seattle cops kicking, punching, and shooting people. But cops escalating normal incidents like this one is still serious—it erodes a years-long effort to build trust between citizens and the officers who are supposed to protect (and respect) them, and it undermines the good work that most cops do on a daily basis. The Feds warned that escalation was part of SPD's problem with excessive force, which resulted in a court decree last year that puts SPD under control of a federal judge. That's why I've filed a complaint against Officer Marion. The initial investigation is complete and is currently under review by SPD brass. (The county is conducting a separate investigation of Sergeant Saulet.)
I doubt Officer Marion will be fired. But if I lied at my job repeatedly, particularly if I lied about the law, I would be fired. And cops shouldn't be held to a lower standard than regular people—they should be held to a higher standard. If the SPD deems this to be a matter of "rudeness," as the chief suggested, then they have failed to protect the public from problem cops, failed to build bridges with their community, and failed in their duty to reform the police department.