City responds to cops' lawsuit challenging SPD reforms

The officers, who are representing themselves in the case, brought the suit against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and others

By Steve Miletich
The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — In their first response to a federal lawsuit in which more than 120 Seattle police officers are challenging new use-of-force policies, city attorneys Wednesday filed a short document with the judge handling the case, informing her that another federal judge overseeing police reforms had previously found the policies to be constitutional.

The two-page document, a "Notice of Related Case," does not request any specific action and is generally considered a formality when related issues may arise in different cases.

But in alerting U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman to the prior finding, the notice gave Pechman an option to keep the case, transfer it to the other judge, U.S. District Judge James Robart, or consult with him on what course to take.

Robart is overseeing the 2012 consent decree between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice, which requires the Seattle Police Department to adopt reforms to curtail excessive force and biased policing. In a Dec. 17 written order, Robart approved the new use-of-force policies.

In its notice to Pechman, the Seattle City Attorney's Office noted Robart concluded the policies "conform(ed) to the requirements of ... the United States Constitution, and judicial decisions interpreting the City's constitutional obligations."

In highlighting Robart's finding, city attorneys provided specific information to Pechman that might be persuasive although not controlling if she considers whether to dismiss the suit. Both judges sit in Seattle.

The city's filing stemmed from a federal court rule in the Western District of Washington, which says a party in a lawsuit "must file a Notice of Related Case alerting the court as soon as it knows or learns that another action that was or is pending in this district may be related to the party's case."

As defined in the rule, one action is related to another when they: "(A) concern substantially the same parties, property, transaction, or event; and (B) it appears likely that there will be an unduly burdensome duplication of labor and expense or the potential for conflicting results if the cases are conducted before different judges."

A spokeswoman for the City Attorney's Office, Kimberly Mills, said the notice was filed to fulfill a "formal requirement" of the court.

In the lawsuit filed May 28 by 123 officers, detectives and sergeants, they maintain the new use-of-force policies, which became effective Jan.1, are "mechanical" and unrealistic, violate their civil rights and put them and the public in danger.

The officers, who are representing themselves in the case, brought the suit against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and others.

The suit seeks an injunction to block implementation of the policies and a declaratory judgment that they are unconstitutional, as well as unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

The lawsuit stirred an angry reaction from some in the community, who saw it as blatant resistance to reforms, and Murray has pledged to abide by the consent decree.

The Seattle Police Officers' Guild, which did not approve or support the suit, reached a memorandum of understanding in March with the city over terms of the use-of-force policy, in which the union agreed not to oppose or contest adoption or implementation of the policy.

Even when brought by a union, a similar suit filed in California failed.

In that case, the Los Angeles police union sought in November 2000 to block a consent decree between the Justice Department, the city and the Los Angeles Police Department.

In the suit, the Los Angeles Police Protective League alleged the consent decree, crafted to remedy excessive force, false arrests and improper searches, was unconstitutional.

A federal judge dismissed the suit three weeks later, even before the defendants responded, according to court papers. In a one-line order, the judge found the suit failed to state a proper claim or controversy, a decision a federal appeals court later upheld.

Copyright 2014 The Seattle Times

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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