Around midnight on Tuesday, April 12, Steven Gosline says he was standing on the sidewalk in front of the War Room, a new hiphop club on Capitol Hill, when several white police officers leaped from patrol cars and started beating his black friend Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes in the middle of the street.
Gosline, a white man in his mid-20s, says he used his cell phone to take photographs as officers beat Alley-Barnes with fists and nightsticks along the knees, torso, and face and bashed his head repeatedly into the asphalt. Then, Gosline says, another cop appeared, pepper-sprayed him in the face and hauled him and three friends up to the East Precinct on 12th Avenue. There, Gosline says, the officers confiscated his phone, which they returned when he was released early Wednesday morning. When he opened it again, he says, the photographs were gone.
Alley-Barnes, 27, was raised in the Mount Baker neighborhood. An artist who teaches art at St. Therese School, he maintains a private studio and curates his own shows.
On Tuesday night, Alley-Barnes walked out of the club with two friends. The friends say that as one of them, Thomas Gray, discarded a cigarette butt, someone said, "I know you didn't just litter in front of me." The friends turned to see Sgt. George Sackman standing on the sidewalk. Sackman, they say, asked Gray to walk with him to the driver's side of his car, where he requested Gray's identification.
At this point, according to Gosline, he and his party of friends arrived at the club. All four noticed the scene and remember that Sackman appeared calm and that Alley-Barnes was in no way threatening or hostile when he approached Sackman's car. "Why are you asking for his ID?" Alley-Barnes reportedly asked the officer. Gosline and his friends say Sackman replied, "For an investigation," and that Alley-Barnes responded, "What, for littering?" Sackman ordered Alley-Barnes to stand back. Alley-Barnes refused, the friends say, but they recall that he did so calmly and at a non-threatening distance.
And so they were surprised when, as Gosline puts it, Sackman "flew off the handle" and ordered Gray to move to the front of the car, closer to where Alley-Barnes stood, and put his hands on the hood. A moment later, they say, a second patrol car pulled up, and another officer, Brian Hunt, jumped out and ordered Alley-Barnes to put his hands on the hood. Then, they say, Hunt did something peculiar: He reached up under Alley-Barnes' crotch and violently hoisted him up onto the hood. They say Alley-Barnes flailed his limbs, yelling, "Please take your hands off my dick!" Within seconds, they say, a third, unidentified, officer arrived and ran over to join Officer Hunt. At that point, they say, the two men threw Alley-Barnes to the ground and began beating him. As other officers arrived, Gosline and his friends say they retreated to the entrance of the club. That's when Gosline says he started taking shots.
Given the number of people who corroborate Gosline's account, the story seems like a clear-cut case of police brutality. But the police see things a little differently. In fact, the report, written by both Hunt and Sackman, reads as though the officers were involved in a completely different event. One suspect, Sackman writes, gets "in [Sackman's] face" and laughs. Alley-Barnes "stands right next to" Sackman, impeding his duties. Gosline and his friends materialize and begin verbally harassing the officer, who notes that they say, as though in chorus: "This is the kind of thing that the Seattle Police do to black men in Seattle." Sackman, the police account continues, calls for backup and when Officer Hunt arrives, he grabs Alley-Barnes "in an escort technique" by the right arm. But Alley-Barnes spins his arms, "attempting to strike" the officer. Other officers arrive to assist, and they manage to subdue Alley-Barnes, but not before he hits one of them in the nose. During the officers' account of the struggle, Gosline jumps into the fray, grabbing officers and attempting to force Alley-Barnes free.
Because no photographs exist to corroborate Gosline's and his friends' account, what really happened the night of April 12 remains unclear. The SPD did not return our call. A single police document exists to contradict Gosline's recollection. Since he was charged with assault and resisting arrest, Alley-Barnes has hired a lawyer, and it's possible that his version of this event may prevail in court. What won't be resolved is the classic disparity between two very different perceptions of events--and, more important, which perception becomes part of the record.