Men sue Seattle police after officer threatens to 'make stuff up'

SEATTLE -- The city of Seattle is once again on the wrong end of a lawsuit that accuses officers of excessive force.

At issue this time is a case the Problem Solvers first exposed last winter when an officer arrested two young black men then said he would "make stuff up."

It's been almost two years to the day since Joshua Lawson and Christopher Franklin were arrested by Seattle police. Though they were released without charges, the night still haunts both men.

"We need justice to be served," said Lawson.

"I was terrified," said Franklin. "It was a big traumatic experience."

In November 2010, police stopped Lawson and Franklin blocks away from a reported assault. The 911 witness call identified the assailants.

"It was two tall skinny African Americans," said the 911 caller. "I could tell they were both wearing jeans."

There was no mention of the white sweatpants Lawson was wearing that night. But police officers stopped the two at gunpoint.

"An innocent man staring down the barrel of a loaded gun, ready to aim and fire at you? It's a life-or-death situation," said Lawson.

In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday, both men say they complied with police orders to get on the ground, but one officer kicked Lawson in the face and another forced Franklin's face into the pavement.

Though one police report at the time indicated someone identified the men, no charges were ever filed.

At the jail that night, the audio from one police camera caught an exchange between Franklin and one of the officers.

Officer: "Well, you're going to jail for robbery, that's all."

Franklin: "For robbery?"

Officer: "Yeah, I'm going to make stuff up."

An internal investigation by SPD determined the officers had done nothing wrong. But an attorney representing the men says this case represents exactly what the Department of Justice investigation found was wrong with SPD.

"There's nothing that links these boys to the crime that started all of this. They don't fit the description," said attorney Lizanne Padula. "I've said this before and I'll say it again -- their crime was being black in Seattle."

Both men hope their lawsuit helps bring change to the department.

"Because I'm pretty sure there's very nice officers that work in Seattle Police Department, and you have these -- probably 3 percent -- that I ran into that make everybody look bad," said Lawson.

SPD says it is not admitting any wrongdoing. The department adds that with the DOJ settlement agreement, citizens should be even more confident of getting fair treatment from police.