King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht has agreed to update her department's use of force policies and pay a man $65,000 in damages after one of her department’s detectives drew his gun on an unsuspecting motorcyclist in a video that went viral last year.
The settlement, which was shared with me by the motorcyclist, states that the sheriff has agreed to implement an order classifying aiming a gun as a “use of force” and requiring that the department to track every single time an officer points their gun at a person. This is already standard practice for many law enforcement agencies across the country, including the Seattle Police Department.
Alex Randall was waiting on his motorcycle for a light to turn green in August of last year when King County Sheriff's Office (KCSO) Detective Richard Rowe approached him from behind with his gun drawn. Randall had his helmet camera running at the time and captured the tense exchange.
In the widely-viewed video, Rowe can be seen quickly approaching the man from behind with his firearm drawn and without clearly identifying himself as an officer. Randall, surprised by suddenly seeing a gun pointed at him, responds by saying “Oh shit, what are you doing to me?” to which the detective responds “You’re fucking driving reckless. Give me your driver’s license or I’m going to knock you off this bike.”
Rowe has received three road rage or driving complaints against him in the last five years and was placed on administrative leave after Randall posted the video to the Internet, according to reporting by former Stranger writer Sydney Brownstone. In April of this year, Johanknecht suspended Rowe for five days without pay for a lack of courtesy in his conduct.
An internal investigation unit determined last December that the detective had violated some internal policies during the incident but he had not used excessive force because “no actual force was used.” These types of cases may be decided differently if Johanknecht updates the KCSO’s policy as outlined in the settlement. In the updated policy, Rowe’s actions would be considered a technical use of force, although that doesn’t mean an investigator would find that pointing a gun at Randall was an excessive use of force. The settlement states that the sheriff will use her “best, good faith efforts to obtain a permanent change by the first quarter of 2019.”
Randall's attorney, Christopher Carney, said in a press release that keeping track of when and how often cops draw their guns is in the public's interest.
"This significant flaw in the Sheriff’s policies is highly problematic because it fails to inform officers that they must have a lawful basis to point a gun at a citizen, and also because it fails to create supervisory review of pointing a gun as is required for all other uses of force," Carney said.
This was not the first time Rowe had drawn his gun without telling his superiors, according to Carney.
"During the internal investigation, investigators quoted Detective Rowe saying that he had pointed his gun at citizens 'multiple times' without ever reporting it for review by a supervisor," Carney said in the press release.
Randall said that he hopes the updated policy will make frightening incidents like his less common.
“This was a terrifying incident for me, and I hope that this settlement will prevent this from happening to anyone else. I’m glad that something good has come from what happened to me, and I look forward to continuing to volunteer my efforts to improve community relations with our police," Randall said in the press release.