ONE SMALL CHEER for video violence? Bleary-eyed Mardi Gras Task Force detectives say that without the extensive donations of media news clips and the public's home videos taken during the violent February 28 Fat Tuesday rioting in Pioneer Square, they might still be trying to make their first arrests. Instead, scores of suspects have been identified, and Jerell Alderson Thomas last week became the 12th, and most sought, felony suspect to be charged.
Thomas, 17, is accused of second-degree murder for delivering the mortal blow to Kris Kime, 20, of Burien, attacking him from behind during the early morning rioting on Yesler Way. Police and prosecutors say Thomas starred in many of the dozens of donated videos as well as film shot by undercover officers. In several similar clips, he's seen wearing a puffy blue coat, red hooded shirt, and two strands of Mardi Gras pearls as he raises a skateboard over his head, waiting patiently for others to stop punching a victim, then leveling a clean shot. Another video of Thomas shows him, according to King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng, "coming up from behind Kime and punching him with the bare fist twice, and then moving on."
Officials say Thomas was identified from the tapes by witnesses, including one of his companions that night.
Getting caught on tape is hardly rare in today's video-happy society. But police reviewers give four stars to the Fat Tuesday clips for leading to so many quick arrests. Upon being shown replays, several felony suspects quickly confessed, the cops say.
"We had a lot of videos to review from WTO," recalls SPD spokesperson Clem Benton, referring to the anarchistic World Trade Organization disturbances two years ago. "But we didn't have the support from the public as we did in these cases. Thanks to the public and the media, we have identified more than 100 suspects from these tapes."
More than two-thirds of those suspects, police say, are black. Fifteen of the 17 charged with felonies are black (the others are white and Asian). What really unites them, say police, is that they are all young or teen-aged males with criminal records (from trespassing to gunplay).
"I think," says the SPD's Benton, "the offering of all these videos just shows how much the citizens of Seattle and the media are concerned about what happened in their city. It's a positive thing."