Frustrated police honor man slain on Fat Tuesday
Seattle Times staff reporters
Seattle police officers asked for and received permission to wear their uniforms at the memorial of 20-year-old Kristopher Kime as a way to quietly honor the man who died helping an injured woman in Pioneer Square on Fat Tuesday.
It was a symbolic gesture to convey the officers' respect for Kime. But as the memorial service at Evergreen High School near Burien drew to a close, one officer spoke up.
"I would like to personally apologize to Kris and his family and friends for my failed actions that night," Lt. William Edwards told an audience of more than 500 people.
"I was in there in the days preceding and on the day he lost his life. It shouldn't have happened. By being up here right now, I can try to extend my deepest and sincerest apologies."
Edwards received a standing ovation as he hugged Kime's parents. Many officers contacted yesterday said they believe Kime is dead because they weren't permitted to do their jobs.
That sentiment was most profoundly expressed in a letter sent by a Seattle police sergeant to the Kime family this week.
Sgt. Dan Beste, a 31-year patrol veteran, blasted the decision by Chief Gil Kerlikowske to remove horse, foot and bicycle officers from Pioneer Square at 10:30 Fat Tuesday night when bottles began to be thrown at police.
"The decision not to take action was obviously not based in sound crowd-control techniques or regard to public safety," wrote Beste.
"When the excuse is used that we could not act because it is too dangerous for the police, what message are we sending to the citizens that pay our wages to protect them?"
Beste included a check of $200, which was the approximate amount of overtime he earned from taxpayers "while they were beaten and your son killed," he wrote.
Sarah Beste, the sergeant's 21-year-old daughter, gave the letter to the media, outraged over remarks by police officials that officers were pulled from Pioneer Square for their own safety.
"I found these remarks insulting. My dad chose to be a police officer, and our family accepted that. When I was a little girl I knew that every time I said goodbye to him there was a risk that I wouldn't see him again," she said yesterday. "We lived with that every day."
News of the letter spread quickly through the department, heartening officers who also questioned tactics that night.
"I'd say Sergeant Beste is being carried around on people's shoulders today," said Stuart Colman, a bike-patrolman and a vice president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild. "It really reflects the feelings of the police officers, although not all of us can afford to give up the overtime pay."
Mike Edwards, president of the guild, said the sentiments expressed by Beste have resonated within the rank and file, which has taken Kime's death personally.
"They are looking at his actions as heroic," Edwards said. "They look at him and say, `That's what we do. That's what we were supposed to do. And we weren't allowed to do it.' It is absolutely the same sense of loss and duty as officers feel when we lose one of our own."
Earlier in the day, the union sought and received permission from the chief for officers to wear their uniforms to Kime's service.
Kerlikowske said yesterday that he disagreed with Beste's assertion that "political correctness, fear of political consequences or self-ambition" guided his decision-making that night.
But the chief approved of Beste's outspokenness and commitment to public safety.
"I have to applaud him," said Kerlikowske. "The Police Department is often seen as faceless and nameless. It (the letter) shows the compassion people have."
The chief said he has fielded questions about his tactics on Mardi Gras when he visited precinct roll calls in the past week. He said some officers questioned why the commanders didn't order police into the fray, but the discussions were positive.
Kerlikowske received a standing ovation after he was introduced by Mayor Paul Schell at a Seattle Rotary Club luncheon yesterday.
Schell had asked to speak to the Rotary Club to deliver what has practically become a stump speech: a message of praise for the city's response to the earthquake followed by a defense of the police response to the Fat Tuesday violence.
"I have full confidence in Gil Kerlikowske, our chief of police, and I know when you hear all the facts, you will too," Schell said. "This is a man who knows what he's doing."
Schell also lashed out at the public and the media for second-guessing the police, calling the criticism "the moral equivalent of throwing rocks and bottles."
On the police force, the mayor said he understands how officers must have felt, being asked to use restraint. "I appreciate how frustrated they must be."
But, Schell said, "it doesn't change my view" that the chief made the right decision.
Schell called Kime's mother, Kimberly Kime-Parks, earlier this week to extend his condolences, she said. He said he would have liked to come to the memorial last night at Evergreen High School, but both agreed he would have been a distraction.
Kerlikowske said he had previous commitments and could not attend.
Kime-Parks said she remains upset at the leadership of the Police Department for its handling of the event.
"People who are powers that be get wonderful awards for what they do," she said. "I feel they should have my son's death certificate on their wall, too."
Seattle Times staff reporters Jim Brunner and Keiko Morris contributed to this report.
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