Suit: Seattle police say use-of-force policies unconstitutional

SEATTLE -- More than 100 officers from the Seattle Police Department are suing the city and the Justice Department, claiming their department's new use-of-force policies put them in danger and violate their constitutional rights.

In 2012 Seattle officials agreed to an independent monitor and court oversight of the city's police department as part of a deal with the Justice Department following a report that found officers routinely used excessive force.

The civil suit, which was filed Wednesday, names Attorney General Eric Holder, the City of Seattle, Mayor Ed Murray, City Attorney Pete Holmes, and federal monitor Merrick Bob.

In the suit, the officers claim the new use-of-force policies "unreasonably restrict and burden the plaintiffs' right to use force reasonably required, to protect themselves and others, from apparent harm and danger, in violation of the Second, Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution."

The officers go on to say the new rules are impractical and burdensome.

"in some places it is overly complicated and contradictory, in other places overly precise and mechanical, but throughout, requires plaintiff to engage in mental gymnastics wholly unreasonable in light of the dangerous and fast evolving circumstances we face every day," the suit reads.

The officers are asking for an immediate injunction against the implementation of the use-of-force policies and a judgement that the polices are unconstitutional. They also want to be awarded damages for lost time and wages and punitive damages for the "ungrounded maligning of the good work of SPD's patrol officers."

The Justice Department launched a civil rights investigation of the Seattle department in 2011 after the fatal shooting of a homeless Native American woodcarver and other incidents involving force used against minority suspects. A Justice Department report later found officers were too quick to reach for weapons, such as flashlights and batons, even when arresting people for minor offenses.

The findings upset some of the department's top officials, but several have since left, and the department has been working to change under a settlement with federal authorities. It has adopted new policies on virtually everything officers do, including stops and detentions, using force, data collection and crisis intervention.

Ron Smith, president of the Seattle Police Officer's Guild, said the union does not support the lawsuit.

"We're not going to accomplish anything suing the federal government, suing the mayor of Seattle, suing the police chief -- that's not the way to handle it. The way to handle is a collaborative process," he said.

Last week Murray nominated Kathleen O'Toole, a one-time Boston police commissioner and former inspector general for Ireland's national police force, to be the city's next police chief.

If approved by the City Council, O'Toole would take over a department of about 1,300 officers.