Expert takes issue with cops' reports
Seattle Times staff reporter
A forensic expert says arrest reports written by two Seattle police officers differ significantly from the details of a drug bust captured on a surveillance video.
Defense attorneys hope to use the testimony of video analyst Grant Fredericks to force the Seattle Police Department to turn over internal disciplinary documents for the officers, Greg Neubert and Michael Tietjen.
Last month, the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office alerted defense lawyers that the officers were under scrutiny by the Police Department's Internal Investigations Section. Since then, the credibility of the officers has become an issue in at least 17 pending felony drug and gun prosecutions in state and federal court.
The attorney who commissioned the review of the video, Lisa Daugaard of The Defender Association, said it shows the officers lied about how and where they found drugs and bolsters a convicted drug dealer's claims that they roughed him up.
Seattle Police Assistant Chief Linda Pierce said the department conducted an "exhaustive investigation" before exonerating the officers concerning the use of force and allegations that they planted drugs.
The Police Department has been fighting efforts by defense attorneys in nine pending cases to obtain documents gathered in the department's internal investigation. The department has released the video of the arrest and the officers' reports. A hearing on whether the department must turn over all documents it gathered will resume Friday in King County Superior Court.
The department announced Wednesday that it would release additional portions of the internal file.
The investigation involved the Jan. 2 arrest of George "Troy" Patterson, 26, a convicted small-time drug dealer whom Neubert and Tietjen nabbed for possession of crack cocaine on the corner of Third Avenue and Pike Street. The nighttime arrest was recorded by a drugstore surveillance camera.
The next day, Patterson, who is in a wheelchair, complained that the officers used excessive force; later, he accused them of planting drugs on him. The officers were disciplined for one violation: failing to report that they had detained another man at the scene and then let him go.
In the meantime, prosecutors dropped the felony drug-possession charge against Patterson, who has a long drug and criminal history.
A court filing included a sworn statement by Sgt. Randy Woolery, the internal-affairs investigator, who said one of the witnesses cooperated only after the department arranged her release from jail on another drug charge, although criminal charges were not dropped. Woolery said the testimony of the witnesses helped the department exonerate Neubert and Tietjen on some of the allegations.
Fredericks, a former Vancouver, B.C., police officer and a lecturer on video surveillance at the FBI Academy, reviewed the 24-minute video of the arrest. He found numerous inconsistencies and omissions between the officers' accounts and the video, he wrote, specifically questioning their version of how they found the drugs.
Both officers reported that they saw "in plain view" crumbs of rock cocaine on Patterson's lap when they stopped him, and later found a 1-gram rock of crack cocaine in his front waistband. They said they had seen him selling drugs through binoculars from the top of a nearby parking garage.
Fredericks challenges virtually every assertion the officers made:
• Neubert wrote that he spotted Patterson on Pike Street one minute after he arrived at the corner from his observation point. Fredericks pointed out that when the video begins, both officers are off their bikes and have already handcuffed one man when Patterson comes into view.
"The images are inconsistent with the statement that they left their 'observation point' to pursue Patterson, locating him one minute after they arrived," Fredericks said in a sworn statement.
• Neubert wrote that he recovered small crumbs of cocaine from Patterson's lap. But five minutes into the arrest, Fredericks said, there's no evidence that either officer paid any attention to Patterson's lap.
• Fredericks notes that the video shows a strong wind blowing -- so strong it shakes the camera, and the clothes of passers-by can be seen flapping. "Given the strength of the wind, it is unlikely that 'numerous chips and pieces of cocaine' ... could adhere to Patterson's lap," Fredericks said. Other than taking his wallet and ID, he said, "The video does not show any other objects being removed from Patterson's lap area."
• Neither officer mentions any use of force in their reports. The video shows Neubert grabbing Patterson's neck in what Fredericks called a "clamp hold" on his throat while Tietjen twists Patterson's left arm into a "wrist-lock." Patterson is twisted forward so his head is almost on his knees. They stay in that position for nearly four minutes.
According to court documents filed by the department, Patterson complained that he was choked and his arm was twisted.
Pierce, the assistant police chief, initially said yesterday the officers had disclosed the use of force in their reports. Then, after she learned the officers had not done so, Pierce said the officers are "not necessarily required" to detail the so-called pain-compliance holds.
• The reports say Tietjen handcuffed Patterson. The video shows Neubert putting the cuffs on.
Attorney Daugaard said the report raises "extraordinarily troubling questions ... about the provenance of that evidence."
In a news conference Wednesday, the Seattle chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People used the release of Fredericks' report to call for the resignations of Neubert, Tietjen and Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske.
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Reporter Jennifer Sullivan contributed to this report.
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