Last weekend, Seattle Police Department hopeful Trey Lamont was scheduled to take the Seattle Police Department's written exam. Lamont is a twentysomething martial arts instructor and a doorman at the Triple Door downtown. He'd been thinking about becoming a police officer for the past year and a half, after growing up in Seattle and seeing his peers--Lamont is black--run into problems with the police. "I wanted to help the community," says Lamont, a tall, athletic guy who looks every bit the Washington State tae kwon do champ (an accolade he's earned several times). He hoped to help kids on his beat stay out of trouble. Eventually, Lamont planned to work his way up to the internal investigations unit.

"He wanted to change how the police treated his people," says Dustin Washington, a social justice activist known for his police-accountability work, who met Lamont at the martial arts studio where they both train, and where Lamont teaches Washington's son.

His friends and family knew Lamont would make a good officer. "He has street sense about him, a certain style about him--he's very respectful of others," says Lionel Lee, Lamont's coach for nearly three years. "He's just a really good kid." But those closest to him, including Lee, tried to talk him out of it. His coach was worried they'd "lose" Trey if he became an officer, that he might become jaded and "look at those in the community as not human," Lee says. Washington had the same fears: "I felt he could contribute to the community in a different way," he says. "He could go to school and be a lawyer, or he could be a teacher."

But Lamont's mind was made up. He went downtown earlier this year, paid his $25 exam-application fee, and secured a seat for the May 1 written test. He ran into Washington that day, near City Hall. "I was like, you're really gonna do it?" Washington recalls.

In mid-April, Washington and Lamont were at City Hall again--this time to visit the cops' Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), where people file complaints against the police. In the early morning hours of Monday, April 11, Lamont was pepper-sprayed in the face while sitting in the driver's seat of his car. He'd been parked near the scene of a late-night brawl outside a club, which he says he'd had nothing to do with. The incident rattled Lamont, prompting him to file a complaint, secure an attorney, and ditch his dream of becoming a Seattle police officer.

"I don't have faith in the police system anymore," says Lamont a little more than a week after that night, his voice still scratchy from the pepper spray. He didn't attend the May 1 exam.

The incident that squashed Lamont's dream started early in the morning on Monday, April 11. Lamont got off work around 2:00 a.m. and headed to Element--a club across Fifth Avenue from Seattle Center--to pick up a friend at the 18-and-over R&B night. Lamont pulled into the public parking lot across the street from the club, found a space to park and wait, and noticed a crowd of people standing about halfway between his silver Hyundai Sonata and the club's front door. Apparently, a fight broke out in that crowd. "I didn't see it start, because I was reading [the schedule for the Triple Door]," he says. He stepped out of his car for a closer look at the agitated crowd, then decided he didn't want to risk sticking around.

Lamont, standing in the same parking lot on a sunny afternoon, retells the story meticulously, as if, ironically enough, he's writing the police report. "I was parked facing north," and "the crowd was about 30 feet away," he says, carefully retracing his movements. As he was getting back into his car, several police cars zoomed into the lot--news reports about the melee later indicated that 41 officers and sergeants responded to the scene that night--and inadvertently blocked Lamont in. "I didn't get a chance to move," he says. He asked an officer--Lamont remembers him as the only black cop he saw on the scene--if the patrol cars could scoot, so he could leave the lot and head home.

But the cops were busy with the brawl. Officers were using Tasers and pepper spray, according to witnesses; a guy tried to grab an officer's gun and bit the cop's arm; and a man was eventually arrested. "It looked like a mini-riot. They were [pepper-]spraying girls in their club clothes," Lamont says. "I was telling myself I would never do that as a police officer." Lamont wanted to go. The officer told him to stay put until it was over.

Lamont waited in his car. After half an hour, the crowd evaporated, and cops began to leave. Lamont asked to leave again, and he says another officer gave him the okay. He backed out his car, circled it around a landscaped island, and headed for the exit. There, he saw two officers, including the black cop. Lamont rolled down his passenger side window to thank that officer.

But the other cop leaned in through Lamont's window with a fire-extinguisher-sized can of pepper spray. "He said, 'I guess you don't listen too well,'" Lamont recalls. Then the cop allegedly pepper-sprayed Lamont, and walked away. "It felt like I got sprayed with a super-soaker," Lamont says. The liquid drenched his shirt and splattered his face. His window still open, Lamont shouted to the black cop, incredulously, asking if he'd just witnessed the pepper-spraying. That officer denied seeing anything, and walked away, Lamont says. The SPD rejected The Stranger's request for the evening's incident report, and any use of force reports, citing an ongoing investigation.

Lamont raced home to his apartment in Greenwood. By the time he got to the door, the chemicals had run into his eyes, and he couldn't see. The rest of the evening is a blur--he called his father, dialed 911 for medical advice, left an initial message on the cop-complaint hotline, and finally fell asleep. In the morning, he could see, but his skin still burned. (More indicators of his police aptitude: He put his pepper-spray soaked shirt in a plastic bag, as evidence. And he wants to scrape samples of the dried spray out of his car, and send them to a lab.)

Now, Lamont is navigating the police complaint system instead of the hiring process. "I'm not blaming the Seattle Police Department," Lamont says. "I'm blaming that individual. But they [the department] have to take responsibility. It's like basketball. If one person drops the ball, the team loses. They're only as strong as their weakest link." He and Washington followed up his phone complaint with a visit to the investigation office. The OPA does not release records of open complaints, but the SPD acknowledges receiving one on April 11. "And we will be investigating," says spokesperson Sean Whitcomb.

They also stopped by Seattle City Council Member Richard McIver's office, as he'd had a similar experience with the cops during the WTO in 1999. "McIver was like, it's too bad you had this experience, because we need young men like you serving the community," Washington says. Lamont is waiting for the OPA investigation to wrap up, and focusing, in the meantime, on training for regional and national tae kwon do competitions. He's also figuring out what he wants to do, now that being a cop is off his list. "I think eventually he'll find his path," says Lee, his coach. "It's the police department's loss, but the community's gain."

amy@thestranger.com

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