Attorneys for commercial truck driver Donald Fuller contend their client was retaliated against for filing a complaint with the city's Office of Professional Accountability, the civilian-led organization that's supposed to combat police misconduct.
Speaking Thursday, Fuller attorney Cleveland Stockmeyer said his client's civil rights were violated following a racially motivated arrest by two organizations - the Seattle Police Department and the OPA - meant to protect them.
Rather than investigate complaints against officers, the city office has whitewashed police misconduct and use of excessive force, Stockmeyer said.
"They never find excessive force and worse, in this case, they retaliate against you for complaining," said Stockmeyer, who is representing Fuller alongside attorney James Egan. "When you prosecute someone for petitioning your government that's against the Constitution and against the Civil Rights Act."
In addition to the city, Fuller has sued then-OPA head Kathryn Olson and employee Caryn Lee individually, an unusual move in lawsuits targeting government agencies. A spokeswoman for the City Attorney's Office declined to respond to the allegations.
Fuller went to the OPA after he was shocked with a Taser and arrested in downtown Seattle in March 2009.
According to Fuller's account, the officers claimed he was jaywalking in order to make a racially motivated arrest. He demanded to speak with the officers' supervisor and a struggle ensued that ultimately saw Fuller stunned and handcuffed.
Injured during his violent arrest, Fuller was initially denied medical care and later released from jail. The King County Prosecutor's Office and Seattle City Attorney's Office each initially declined police requests that Fuller be charged.
According to the lawsuit, it wasn't until after Fuller went to the OPA to report what he viewed as a racist and illegal use of force that the City Attorney's Office charged him with a crime.
The document trail left behind by OPA investigators shows Lee contacted city prosecutors on several occasions and pressured them to charge Fuller, Stockmeyer said Thursday. According to the lawsuit, Lee went so far as to visit a city attorney personally and argue the case should be filed.
Such activity would presumably violate pledges made by the OPA that complaints will not provoke retaliation. It is not clear what legitimate purpose would be served by an OPA investigator contacting a city prosecutor after the city declined to file charges.
Nonetheless, according to the lawsuit, the pressure ultimately paid off - Fuller was charged in June 2009 with misdemeanor assault and obstructing a public servant. He was ultimately convicted on the obstruction charge.
That conviction was tossed out after the questionable contacts between Lee, the OPA investigator, and city prosecutors were discovered.
According to the lawsuit, documents recovered following a state Supreme Court order show Olson, the resigned OPA director, was aware her subordinate had contacted prosecutors about Fuller's case and at least one other. The office's auditor questioned Lee's advocacy, which Olson supported in part.
"Though contact is sometimes necessary to gather information relevant to an investigation, care must be taken to avoid even the appearance that OPA is attempting to influence a prosecution involving an OPA complainant," Olson wrote in a 2009 memo. "After discussion it was agreed that at a minimum, where there is a filing recommendation regarding the complainant, the recommendation should be reduced to writing and approved through the OPA chain of command."
Put another way, Olson argued OPA investigators could suggest that charges be filed against a complainant - they just needed to be made in writing.
Fuller is now seeking a court injunction against such activities by the OPA, as well as compensation for his injuries and punitive damages against the city.
Stockmeyer said such an injunction is needed in part because a much-publicized Department of Justice investigation into excessive force by Seattle police officers has failed to prompt needed changes.
Department of Justice investigators returning their findings in December 2011 described a "pattern of excessive force" by Seattle police. One in five of the violent encounters officers were involved in were unconstitutional uses of force, federal investigators found, and supervisors at every level have failed to correct the problems.
"The systems of accountability are broken," Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil rights division, said at the time.
Leveling sweeping allegations, the Justice Department has refused to name offending officers or civilians who were illegally beaten by police. No officers were prosecuted or publicly disciplined for misconduct discovered during the investigation.
City leaders and the Justice Department struck a deal in July meant to address the federal concerns. A monitor agreed to by both is now supposed to oversee compliance with the settlement.
Stockmeyer faulted the Justice Department for keeping the bulk of its investigation secret, and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn for, in his view, failing to even acknowledge that a problem exists.
"This is not justice, and it's not accountability," Stockmeyer said.
"Are you going to own up to this problem or deny it? Cause you can't fix a problem when you deny it exists."
The city has not yet responded to Fuller's claims, which have been filed in King County Superior Court.