Feds launch civil rights investigation of Seattle Police

Mar 31, 2011

Update 2:55 p.m.

The federal Department of Justice is launching a full-scale investigation into possible discrimination and excessive use of force in the Seattle Police Department. The probe will review the department’s policies, practices and behavior.

The investigation will look for what’s called a “pattern or practice” of civil rights violations in how the Seattle police use force, especially against minorities.

In a briefing this morning, U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said that this was not a “gotcha” investigation.

I think this gives us a great opportunity to have experts with a new set of eyes to come in, look at SPD and its procedures, to help us see what we’re doing right and what can be improved.

Several dozen community groups had asked the feds to look into a series of incidents in which Seattle police officers have used force against minority members, including the fatal shooting of native woodcarver John T. Williams. A police board ruled that shooting unjustified.

Other incidents captured on surveillance video include officers stomping on a man and threatening to beat the "Mexican piss" out of him, and an officer kicking a non-resisting black youth in a convenience store

The Department of Justice took a preliminary look at alleged excessive use of force earlier this year. Durkan says those findings led her to believe a full investigation is needed.

Since 1994, investigations of this type have occurred in nearly 60 cities across the country. The Justice Department currently has 15 similar investigations underway.