SPD officer cleared of misconduct in head-stomping case

SEATTLE -- Seattle police officer Garth Haynes has been cleared of misconduct stemming from a head-stomping incident during a brawl outside a Ballard bar in December 2010.

The move comes after the Seattle City Attorney's office was provided new medical evidence that Haynes had suffered a concussion during the fight and lacked ability to control or understand his actions.

Haynes' trouble began after police dash-cam video showed him putting his foot on the head of a man he had just been in a fight with.

Following the brawl, the man who was stomped on told police he saw Haynes, who was off duty and out of uniform, restraining a woman outside of the bar. He said he and his friends stepped in and a fight broke out.

Haynes was charged with assault, but during his trial Haynes told jurors he was jumped when he tried to stop a woman he thought had stolen his coat. Haynes said he felt dazed after the scuffle and could have suffered a concussion and didn't intentionally put his foot on anyone.

He was later acquitted of assault but was given a 10-day suspension.

The Seattle Police Officers Guild appealed the suspension on Haynes' behalf and in preparing for that appeal, city attorneys retained a neurophysiologist to review the medical evidence and testify at the appeal. The doctor concluded Haynes had received a low-level concussion that could cause him to become confused and lack ability to understand his actions.

"It is possible that the concussion could account for Officer Haynes' behavior in the immediate aftermath of the incident," Dr. Phyllis Sanchez wrote in her report.

Given this new evidence, the city then recommended to Interim Police Chief Harry Bailey that the department remove the use-of-force violation from Haynes' record and reverse the discipline.

"I'm glad to see that the city attorney's office had an ah-ha moment and realized, and in fact agreed with, what we've said all along, that Officer Haynes was the victim of a racially motivated beatdown," said Seattle Police Officers Guild President Ron Smith.

Tim Leary, a Seattle lawyer who formerly represented the man Haynes stopped on, says blaming the attack on a concussion is a flimsy excuse.

"I think there are significant questions where an officer is claiming a concussion caused him to be confused and lack the ability to control his actions when he's stomping on the head of a hand-cuffed suspect he's upset with," Leary said.

Mayor Ed Murray says he won't challenge this case but promises changes.

"We have a complaint process, an appeals process, and a punishment process that is broken," Murray said.

The mayor adds that he is committed to reforming the disciplinary process, but still believes the police chief should be able to clear officers based on the circumstances of the case.