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March 21, 2012 at 11:47 AM

Seattle police officer acquitted of off-duty assault

Seattle police Officer Garth Haynes hugs supporter Harriett Walden outside the courtroom. (Photo by Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)

Seattle police Officer Garth Haynes was found not guilty Wednesday of a fourth-degree assault charge stemming from an off-duty incident in which he was seen on video striking the head of a prone, handcuffed man with his foot moments after a fight outside a Ballard bar in 2010.

A six-member jury returned its verdict in Seattle Municipal Court following an emotionally tinged trial that began last week. Jurors deliberated for about an hour and a half before reaching the verdict.

Haynes hugged his attorney, Oscar Desper III,  after the verdict was read. “I feel like justice was served here today,” Haynes said. “It’s unfair it had to go to this.”

Haynes said he was looking forward to returning to his job and “protecting the citizens in Seattle.”

City Attorney Pete Holmes, whose office prosecuted Haynes, issued the following statement after the verdict was announced:

“Officer Haynes kicked a man in the head while the man was handcuffed and face down on the sidewalk. I am disappointed that the jury chose not to convict in these circumstances, but I respect the jury process. Today’s verdict will not deter us from doing what we can to hold all people, including police officers, accountable under the law.”

Jurors heard conflicting versions of the fight, which began when Haynes pursued a young woman who he believed had stolen two jackets belonging to him and a friend from inside the BalMar nightclub.

Prosecutors portrayed Haynes as the aggressor when three young men came to the defense of the woman and a brawl erupted.

The defense maintained that Haynes was brutally attacked after identifying himself as a police officer, and that he suffered a concussion that made it questionable whether he could form the intent to commit a crime.

The case cast a wider spotlight than the assault accusation alone, raising issues about race, the role of the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild in defending Haynes and the decision of Holmes to bring the charge.

In closing arguments Wednesday, Craig Sims, chief of the criminal divison of the City Attorney’s Office, told jurors that Haynes must be held accountable for violating his responsibilities as a police officer.

“He crossed the line and abused his power,” Sims said of the Dec. 12, 2010, incident in which Haynes was charged with the gross misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

Desper, Haynes’ attorney, urged the jury to acquit his client, saying Haynes had shown great restraint by not using his gun.

“You can believe Garth Haynes. He is honorable to the core,” Desper said.

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Comments | More in The Blotter | Topics: assault, Seattle Municipal Court, Seattle Police Department

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