2 officers' reports on arrest questioned
Seattle Times staff reporter
A King County judge Friday questioned the accuracy of arrest reports written by a pair of Seattle police officers in a ruling that throws into question the prosecution of more than 17 felony cases.
Defense attorneys in nine of those cases tried to prove to Judge Catherine Shaffer that officers Greg Neubert and Michael Tietjen acted deliberately and conspired to file false reports when they detailed the arrest of George "Troy" Patterson, 26, a convicted small-time drug dealer, on Jan. 2. The attorneys fell short in that effort, but they did raise significant questions about whether the officers accurately reported what happened, Shaffer said.
Shaffer said she thinks other judges presiding over criminal cases where the officers were key witnesses are going to have the same problem with the officers' inability to "accurately report."
Her ruling came a month after Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske announced the officers had been cleared in an internal investigation after Patterson complained that the officers used excessive force. The investigation expanded to include allegations of lying, failing to cooperate with an internal investigation and mishandling evidence. They were cleared of all charges except a relatively minor determination that they failed to properly document the detention of another man at the scene.
In an interview two weeks ago, Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer said Kerlikowske personally reviewed a store-surveillance videotape of the arrest, went to the scene at Third Avenue and Pike Street and spent "hours and hours on this."
"I don't think it ever emerged for him that there was a sort of problematic disparity between what the tape showed and what the officers said," Kimerer said. "He's satisfied with the performance of the officers concerning their integrity and how they report this."
On Friday, Shaffer said she closely reviewed the tape, read the officers' arrest reports and statements to the department's Office of Professional Conduct, "and they really don't square in any significant way."
The judge said she found a scathing report by a defense-hired forensic analyst who reviewed the videotape to be credible. The expert, Grant Fredericks, a former police officer and FBI lecturer, challenged the officers' version of the arrest from start to finish.
"I don't see trivial discrepancies," Shaffer said. "I think that there are a lot of discrepancies. I find it concerning."
Fredericks found the officers used significant force on Patterson, in an apparent attempt to get him to spit something out of his mouth, but didn't report it.
And he challenged their assertion that they noticed crumbs of crack cocaine on Patterson's lap immediately.
"There is nothing in the videotape that shows they recovered anything from his lap," the judge said.
Seattle Police Department attorney Leo Poort declined to comment on the judge's ruling Friday. Attempts to contact the chief through the department's media office were not successful.
Documents released by the department Thursday through a public-disclosure request show that Internal Investigation Section detective Sgt. Randy Woolery had concerns as well. At one point, he wrote that Neubert appeared "intentionally" vague in one portion of his statement.
And while the chief exonerated the officers of an allegation challenging their honesty, Woolery wrote that "both officers' recollection of events is questionable."
"The details in their original reports and officer supplemental felony statements are lacking important facts and details one would expect from such experienced street officers," Woolery wrote.
The felony drug charges filed against Patterson were dismissed after the videotape surfaced. Legal requirements that prosecutors alert defense attorneys about evidence that may help their clients prompted King County earlier this year to alert defense lawyers in 17 drug and gun cases that the officers were under investigation.
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Karissa Taylor told the court Friday that there are "other cases in the pipeline" that will be affected as well.
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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