The Seattle Police Department is facing another use-of-force lawsuit accompanied by video footage. Friday the department defended its conduct at a press conference.
In 2010, Seattle police officers came across Isaac Ocak’s car left running outside a West Seattle mall. Officers suspected the owner might be shoplifting, so when Ocak came to claim it they told him to put his hands on the hood of the patrol car. In a dashboard camera video Ocak seems agitated and asks officers why they’re so rude to him. Suddenly the encounter escalates. Four officers wrestle Ocak into handcuffs. As Officer Larry Longley tries to push Ocak’s face back onto the patrol car, Ocak bites Longley’s gloved finger. Longley then punches Ocak repeatedly in the face.
The City Attorney’s office charged Ocak with assault but later dropped the charge. SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb said that officers did nothing wrong during the encounter. “We believe that the force during that contact, once the officer’s finger was bitten, was also reasonable and necessary to get him into handcuffs."
However, after the U.S. Justice Department accused SPD of using force too readily in its 2011 report, SPD implemented a new curriculum called “Listen and Explain with Equity and Dignity." Whitcomb praised the officers as diligent and proactive for spotting the car and stopping Ocak. But he acknowledged that the resulting confrontation was not what the department is striving for. “I think it’s fair to say that if the LEED training was in place," he said, "then this would not be an example we would use for training."
The officers involved were not investigated or reprimanded. Even after the Seattle City Attorney’s office flagged the encounter for SPD’s Office of Professional Accountability, SPD officials found the use of force justifiable. Now OPA will examine the incident because Ocak’s attorney, James Egan, has filed a complaint with the office. He’s also preparing to sue the city. Egan said his client committed no crime that day, and police officers had no right to get aggressive. “We live under the U.S. Constitution where you have a right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures," Egan said. "What they should have done is say, ‘don’t park there, you got our attention, get out of here.’”
At the press conference SPD also gave journalists copies of a police report from Ocak’s past when he was a juvenile. His name was blacked out since juvenile records are normally sealed, but Whitcomb confirmed that the report pertained to Ocak. Egan called his client’s record irrelevant in this case and said this incident happened because officers view any disrespect as a violation of law.