From 20-25 feet away, I couldn’t discern exactly what was happening, but the man eventually stood up to leave. That’s when one of the officers eyed me and yelled something like, “He’s got a camera!”
King County Sheriff’s OfficeSergeant Patrick “K.C.” Sauletrushed over and told me toleave or be arrested. He claimed I was standing on transit station property; the plaza belongs to King County Metro’s International District Station and I could not stand there, he said. I backed up about two feet over the line that he pointed out (two parts of the same walkway) until I was unambiguously on the City of Seattle’s sidewalk, near a utility pole by the curb. But Officer Saulet then insisted that I would be arrested unless I left the entire block.
Now, let me pause for a second to say this: When the US Department of Justice alleged that the Seattle Police Department was routinely using excessive force, federal prosecutors stressed in theirreportthat officers wereescalating ordinary interactionsinto volatile, sometimes violent, situations. Now a federal court controls the SPD under a reform plan, and the King County Sheriff’s Department has faced extensive scrutiny forofficer misconduct, so the two agencies should be showing more civility on the beat. Or so you’d think.
After snapping Saulet’s picture, I rode my bike across the street because I didn’t want to get arrested, even though standing on the sidewalk and taking photos of police from a reasonable distance seemed legal. I was jotting down a few notes so I’d remember what happened when I saw three officers leaving the scene. I asked them who at the scene was the commanding officer. They explained that they were Seattle cops and they didn’t know which county officer was in charge. Then Seattle police officer John Marionasked why I was asking.
I explained to him that I’d just been threatened with arrest for standing on the sidewalk (even though he’d just watched the whole thing), so I wanted to know who was in charge and if he thought it was illegal to stand on the sidewalk.
Instead of answering, Officer Marionasked why I was asking him questions.
I explained that I’m a reporter and I didn’t think I’d broken any laws. He asked what news outlet I worked for. The Stranger, I told him.
Then Officer Marion said this: ”I’m going to come into The Stranger and bother you while you’re at work.”He asked for my business card so he could get the address to come to my office, and, twice more, he threatened to come harass me at work. His point, he said, was that I was “harassing” him.
In other words, I stopped and asked matter-of-fact questions in a normal tone, and this SPD officer—with two colleagues at his side—escalated the situation without prompt or segue by threatening to “bother” me at my job.
Officer Marion became physically agitated when I took his photo (that’s him giving the Come at me, bro gesture), and left the scene.
Let me be the first say it: This is not a big case. Seattle police have punched, kicked, and killed people in recent years. What happened to me was minor. But I’m writing about it because it’s minor. Officers went out of their way to threaten a civilian with arrest and workplace harassment for essentially no reason. Because they could. Because they didn’t like being watched.
I’ll bet this sort of harassmenthappens every day. Cops treat normal, law-abiding people like garbage—and it works. Most people don’t complain; they get intimidated. They get bullied, they back down, and the cops never face any scrutiny.
As the the DOJ pointed out in its2011 report on police practices: “In a number of incidents, failure to use tactics designed to de-escalate a situation, led to increased and unnecessary force.”
This is part of the pattern that led to the SPD’s consent decree and still some cops haven’t gotten the message. They are part of a stubborn, toxic culture of disrespect and intimidation, and until that culture is exposed and discarded—and until bad apples are fired or retired—the local police will be reviled by people who should appreciate and trust them. So I’m making this an issue because even minor incidents like this shouldn’t be happening in the first place—and some minor incidents turn into major incidents.
The vast majority of law enforcement professionals are just that — professional — but those who behave like the officers in this column create a toxic relationship between the public they serve and the entire police department. These officers should be fired immediately.