Seattle officer fired over use of force
By Scott Gutierrez
SEATTLE, Wash. — A veteran Seattle police officer has been fired for using excessive force after he was accused of smashing a handcuffed juvenile's face against a partition in the backseat of a patrol car, according to police officials.
Officer Donald W. George, 51, was the focus of an internal investigation that began last April, when he and another patrol officer stopped three teens from breaking into a car in North Seattle.
Chief Gil Kerlikowske ordered the 29-year officer's termination Thursday, for reasons that also included failing to "answer truthfully" during the investigation and for trying to influence another officer's statement about the arrest, according to an internal disciplinary summary report.
"All ... of those are serious charges, especially when there is a previous (charge) of interfering," said Mark McCarty, the department's human resources director and legal adviser to the police chief.
In 2004, George was disciplined for interfering with a misconduct report after he instructed another officer not to answer any questions and to refer any inquiries to him after George failed to document a domestic violence incident in which the suspect was armed with a knife, according to department records.
"We could not find a legitimate reason for him to put his hands on the (juvenile) complainant," McCarty said. "But it was an not easy action to take, especially with someone that close to retirement. But the chief thought it was necessary."
George is eligible for his full pension at age 53.
Of 161 unnecessary-force complaints filed during the past 18 months with the Office of Professional Accountability, he is the only officer found to have violated policy. The Seattle P-I reported last week that the department takes disciplinary action in about 1 percent of unnecessary force cases, compared with about 10 percent in other allegations of misconduct.
The most recent case against George was difficult because the person who complained, a suspected car thief, was not injured, department and police union officials said.
"You don't need to wait for someone to be seriously injured before the conduct becomes misconduct," McCarty said.
The complainant changed his story several times, and his lack of injuries was inconsistent with the described use of force, said Sgt. Rich O'Neill, the Seattle Police Officers' Guild president.
"If someone is claiming they were smashed against a partition and yet have not one injury -- no redness, no bloody nose, no headache -- there are great number of discrepancies in this individual's account of what happened," he said.
In a statement released through a union representative, George said he is "confident the discipline will be overturned."
The guild could vote to appeal George's case to three-member internal Disciplinary Review Board. The officer also could appeal without guild assistance to the city's Public Safety Civil Service Commission and has 10 days to make that decision, O'Neill said.
Early in the morning of April 10, 2007, George and two other officers were called to stop a car break-in in the 3200 block of Northeast 123rd Street.
Another officer was transporting one suspect, a 17-year-old boy.
George peeked in that officer's patrol car to see if he recognized the suspect, according to his report.
According to the disciplinary records, George was demeaning to the suspect. When the boy asked for an attorney, George reached through the window and shoved him around before "pushing" his head into the partition, according to police records.
The officer in the front seat reported that he heard the sounds of "objects" striking the lower metal half of the partition and the suspect yell, "No." The officer saw George reach again through the back window and heard something hit the Plexiglas window, according to his report.
The suspect later told the other officer that George "hit my head into the glass," according to the officer's report. The suspect complained of some pain, but Fire Department medics found no injuries.
In George's report, he said he caught the teen trying to slip his handcuffs around his legs, and as he grabbed the suspect's hair to stop him, the suspect turned to spit on him. He said he pushed the suspect's face down to avoid being hit, according to his report.
More than 20 years ago, George was nearly fired after being accused of pocketing a dead man's ring during a suicide investigation. A disciplinary panel voted 3-2 to sustain allegations of theft. But then-Chief Patrick Fitzsimmons sided with the minority and instead suspended him for 30 days.
George avoided charges and termination, but was nicknamed by some in the department as "Diamond Don," according to two department sources.
He was suspended three times between 2004 and 2006, most recently for not securing a suspect's property, which resulted in $110 disappearing from the suspect's bag.
About 85 percent of officers never get a misconduct complaint in a year.
In 2005, he was docked a day's vacation for disobeying police regulations on gratuities. While working security at the Bite of Seattle, George hauled off numerous surplus cases of soda, water and frozen meat given to him by vendors at the Seattle Center festival. It was off-duty work, but George was in his uniform, according to department records.
He drove his patrol car onto the grounds so he could load the goods into the trunk. Otherwise, as he later told OPA investigators, he would have been forced to make several trips hauling the items, which he acknowledged would have embarrassed him and the department, according to records.
Copyright 2008 The Seattle Post-Intelligence
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