DUI attorney and self-appointed police watchdog James Egan>"/>
Update: Assistant Police Chief Jim Pugel says he didn't watch the video before justifying the officers' actions.
DUI attorney and self-appointed police watchdog James Egan has another video to share. It's a disturbing one. Yet again, police are shown needlessly escalating an encounter. Yet again, an officer can be seen punching a man in the face.
*See Also: Watching the Detectives
This encounter took place on Dec. 29, 2010 at the Westwood Village mall in West Seattle. Officers came across a man who had left his car running in front of Marshall's while, according to the account he told police, he ducked into the store to return some Christmas gifts he had gotten his nephew. Not a brilliant move.
But also not a crime, Egan says. Still, officers seemed to treat Isaac Ocak with enormous suspicion, even as the then 18-year-old answered the questions put to him and added "sir" for good measure. The main officer doing the questioning, identified by Egan as Larry Longley, developed a bizarre fascination with Ocak's key ring. Why were there so many keys on it, Longley demanded.
"What the hell is that about?" Egan quips. "Too many keys in the first degree?"
Then Longley suggests that a call be placed to Ocak's girlfriend, whose car he was driving. The implication is that the car is stolen, although Longley's police report says he had already determined that it was not. "Give me the phone, I'll call her," Ocak replies. As he does so, he gestures with his hands as if ready to do just that.
Longley and at least two other officers on the scene go ballistic. They have told him to keep his hands on the patrol car and he has disobeyed. So they grab him by the face, neck and arm, twisting him every which way. Then Langley punches him-- twice-- and clamps down on his neck again.
The above picture shows what he looked like afterwards. You can see the video for yourself below. The action starts shortly before the 3 1/2-minute mark (things really begin to escalate around the 5:30 mark).
Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said this afternoon the force depicted in the video released by Egan was "reasonable and necessary," but added that the behavior probably doesn't serve as a good example for other officers.
"I think it's fair to say that if the LEED training was in place [at the time], this would not be an example we would use for training," Whitcomb told reporters, referring to a training program adopted in 2011 that emphasizes verbal, rather that physical, tactics for de-escalating situations.
Whitcomb justified the officers' actions by saying that the officers were being "proactive" in trying to reduce property crimes, and that "having a key ring with a bunch of keys on it, in our experience, is consistent with property crimes."
Whitcomb also said that the officers looked up Ocak's record and found a "caution" by his name. As a juvenile, according to a police report distributed at the press conference, Ocak was questioned for suspected shoplifting of a water bottle and became combative with a security guard.
In police reports on the most recent incident,officers claim that Ocak bit Longley's "left pinky finger." But that is not alleged to have happened until after the officers bore down on Ocak. The reports also describe the 18-year-old as non-compliant and aggressive--an account that does not square with the video, except for Ocak's lament, as the manhandling is starting, that his hands "are on the fucking car."
At some point, the officers found some pot on Ocak. Longley claims in his report that he caught a whiff of dope from Ocak's car at the very beginning. But Longley can't be heard questioning Ocak about that, and he was was never charged with possession. He did face an assault charger for the alleged pinky bite. The charge was dropped after prosecutors watched the video, according to Egan.
Ocak's public defender suggested he contact Egan, who has made exposing police misconduct videos something of a personal crusade. Egan says he has filed a notice of claim with the city, indicating his intent to sue and asking for $100,000 in damages.
UPDATE: This past December, assistant Chief Jim Pugel wrote a two-page memo to Office of Professional Accountability Director Kathryn Olson after the case was flagged by the City Attorney's office. The memo justified the officers' actions, saying that Ocak was "physically and verbally defiant and aggressive," became "enraged" and "refused" to put his hands on the patrol car as instructed.
Given how far this description is from what is portrayed on the video, SW e-mailed Pugel to ask whether he watched the footage before writing his memo. "Did not watch the video," he responded, adding that he relied on unnamed detectives who did and reported back that it backed up the officers' statements. Pugel did not return a follow-up e-mail asking if he has watched the video now.
Click through to read the police report and Pugel's memo.
See Pugel's memo on the next page.
See Pugel's memo on the next page.