Once again, in Seattle Washington, the Seattle Police Department is scrambling after video was released through the media showing a police officer in a very questionable act. Not only was the release a problem for the department, so say police commanders, but it was that the video came to their attention via the media instead of their own department, which allegedly had the video all along.
This time it’s a video showing an undercover officer repeatedly kicking a 17-year-old boy who was obviously trying to comply with the officer’s orders and who appears to be completely innocent of what he’s being charged with, again, thanks to video which appears to contradict what the police had claimed.
Following on the heals of that video was another released just today showing the very same undercover officer punching a man who was trying to film what was happening outside the same convenience store right after the beating. The department again claimed ignorance and officials refused to even watch it, telling the media to forward a copy to their “Office of Professional Accountability” which had apparently botched the chance to investigate the first video…
Of course, this follows another videotape debacle in June involving a gang task force officer who was shown on video taken from a freelance “stringer” who caught the officer kicking an innocent man in the face shortly after telling him he would “kick the Mexican piss” out of him while several other officers stood around and did nothing. The problem with that video was that the TV station for whom the stringer worked for refused to air it due to, as the stringer claimed, it’s close working relationship with the Seattle Police Department which it relied on for story scoops and it’s top-rated Most Wanted show. Those allegations are also still under investigation to determine if officers have been applying pressure to keep such videos out of the media.
But, the Seattle Police Department’s problems with videos didn’t start there, unfortunately. Even before that case there was the story of a local computer security expert, Eric Rachner, who was told that video of his arrest, which he claimed was a false arrest which happened when he legally refused to show ID, didn’t exist because it had been deleted when he tried to get it to help his case. The police claims were later proven false thanks to the man’s computer expertise when he found that the video in question couldn’t have been erased.
In fact, going back even further we come to other instances where the department demonstrated it’s dislike for being filmed in the Bogdan Mohora case, in the department’s persistent resistance to the idea of surveillance cameras installed inside precincts in areas where officers interact with detainees, and forthe union’s resistance to personnel-mounted cameras which are now being deployed in agencies across the nation. That resistance forced the department to box up their cameras and send them back instead of deploying them.
Even further back still there was the Post Alley case where video from several surveillance cameras which should have captured an incident where an officer shot an unarmed defense attorney mysteriously went missing and the Funhouse case where police allegedly sat on video that would have exonerated an innocent man who was arrested and wrongly jailed for over a month after being beaten outside of a club.
Given this long sordid history the Seattle PD has with videotapes it seems strange that the department’s command staff, or anyone else for that matter, was surprised that they hadn’t heard about the latest videos for nearly a month since they came into the department’s possession. Hardly surprising given the history here. But strangely it’s still being viewed as a one-time anomaly instead of just one more in a long string of events.
While a large debate has been raging in a number of states in which police departments have been pushing to make it a crime to record the police… but what we should not forget is that, in some places, that fight against public accountability via video takes on a more subtle tone as it does in Seattle where police don’t make it a crime… they just make it go away.