Here's the Kicker
A Head-Kicking Cop Gets Off the Hook and the Cop Union Scores a Political Victory
After a week of testimony, the six-member jury reached its verdict in a swift 90 minutes: Seattle Police Department officer Garth Haynes—who was caught on video kicking the head of a facedown, handcuffed suspect in 2010—was found not guilty of assault.
The March 21 verdict came as a letdown for police accountability advocates. Haynes was the first SPD officer the city has tried for assault since 2005, despite numerous high-profile police altercations over the past two years and a recent Department of Justice investigation that found SPD officers routinely use excessive force against suspects. But the verdict was a bigger defeat for City Attorney Pete Holmes, who aggressively pursued the case, pitting his office against the Seattle Police Officers' Guild (SPOG), the union that represents more than 1,250 officers (including Haynes).
"I can't force juries to bring proper verdicts," Holmes said when reached by phone. "[Pressing charges] was the right thing to do. If nothing else, officers now know that if they assault citizens, they will be charged."
As much as The Stranger hates to admit it, the real winner in this case is Sergeant Rich O'Neill, the antagonistic head of SPOG.
Before the trial, O'Neill solicited funds for Haynes's legal defense in The Guardian, the cop union's extreme-right-wing newspaper. He launched a two-year publicity campaign to present Haynes as the victim of a racially motivated brawl outside a Ballard bar, which started after Haynes chased down and confronted a woman he believed stole his jacket. O'Neill and the defense attorneys maintained that Haynes, who is black, was attacked by three white men after identifying himself as an off-duty cop. (City prosecutors argued that Haynes was the aggressor and that the three men simply came to the defense of the woman, who had mistakenly taken the coat.) Holmes had claimed that O'Neill courted Seattle's black religious clergy to support Haynes and reportedly attempted to cut a deal with Holmes to keep the case from going to trial—an accusation that O'Neill denied on the stand as "an outright lie."
O'Neill even testified that Haynes would have been within his rights to shoot the suspect he was accused of kicking. "With all the racial overtones, I say absolutely it would've been justified," O'Neill said.
"That's pure race-baiting," Holmes countered. "Race had nothing to do with this case, unless you believe that black officers should have a free out when they assault civilians."
But in the end, the tactic worked. Haynes was acquitted.