SEATTLE - The Black Law Enforcement Association of Washington is criticizing prosecutors for filing an assault charge against an black Seattle police officer involved in an off-duty brawl while not charging two white Seattle officers who stomped on a prone Latino suspect in another incident.
The decision by the City Attorney's Office to charge Officer Garth Haynes "is demonstrative of the disparate treatment" that African Americans routinely encounter in the criminal justice system, the advocacy group said in a statement.
While not condoning the actions of Haynes, who was charged last week with fourth-degree misdemeanor assault for stomping on the head of a handcuffed man outside a Ballard bar in December, the association accused the City Attorney's Office of not "approaching these type of cases in a fair and consistent manner," according to a report in the Seattle Times.
Kimberly Mills, spokeswoman for City Attorney Pete Holmes, said that her office was ethically bound under professional rules of conduct from "trying this case" in the media.
"That said, race is not a factor in our charging decisions," Mills said in a written statement.
Carlos Bratcher, the association's president and a King County sheriff's deputy, said assault charges also should have been brought against Seattle police officers Shandy Cobane and Mary Woollum over their use of force against the Latino suspect while conducting a robbery investigation in South Lake Union in April 2010.
Cobane sparked public outcry when he was captured on video threatening to beat the "Mexican piss" out of the suspect, who was released when officers determined he was not involved in a crime.
But neither Cobane nor Woollum, who both stomped on the man, were criminally charged after the City Attorney's Office determined they used reasonable force under state law to gain compliance from a suspect who wasn't handcuffed and ignored police commands.
A Los Angeles police detective who advised city attorneys reached the same conclusion about the officers' actions, although he faulted the department for what he deemed tactical and investigative lapses during the incident.
In May, Cobane was suspended for 30 days without pay for the remark following an internal investigation by the Police Department, along with other discipline that included being demoted from gang detective to patrol officer. Woollum also was to be disciplined for failing to report what she observed although details have yet to be released.
Bratcher, whose association represents more than 100 law enforcement and corrections officers in Washington and is a chapter of the National Black Police Association, said the "totality of everything" that occurred in the South Lake Union incident should have been considered by prosecutors.
As in the case involving Haynes, officers had "control and custody" when force was used, Bratcher said.
Haynes was captured on the dashboard video of a patrol car stomping on the head of the handcuffed man, one of three young men said to have attacked Haynes during a brawl over the alleged theft of coats belonging to Haynes and a friend while they were in the bar.
"Yeah, he should be charged, but don't charge the black guy and not charge the white guy who did the exact same thing," Bratcher said.
In their statement, Bratcher's organization called the South Lake Union incident "far more egregious due to the racial overtones" and also criticized the King County Prosecutor's Office for not bringing a hate-crime charge against Cobane.
In reply, the Prosecutor's Office reiterated Tuesday its previous statement that while Cobane's remark was "offensive and unprofessional," it did not rise to the level of felony malicious harassment because he did not intentionally target the suspect because of race or national origin.
Bratcher also cited the decision by the City Attorney's Office to file an assault charge in April against an Asian-American Seattle police officer, James J. Lee, over his repeated kicking of a robbery suspect last year during an incident captured on video inside a convenience store.
Lee also should be held accountable, Bratcher said, emphasizing he wasn't saying the City Attorney had acted in a "racially discriminatory" fashion by charging two minority officers.
"But it gives the appearance," Bratcher said.
The Seattle Police Officers' Guild also has raised race issues in Haynes' case, saying he shouldn't have been charged because he was the victim of a racially motivated assault by three white men. It also has denounced the City Attorney's Office for charging Lee, saying he was using accepted control tactics.
Mills, the city attorney spokeswoman, responded last week by saying her office has conducted a case-by-case review of each incident involving officers.