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May 10, 2013 at 10:30 AM

SPD officer charged with assault seeks to block release of video of incident

A Seattle police officer charged with assault has filed court papers asking a judge to block the release of patrol-car video of the incident that led to the allegation.

In a complaint dated May 9, attorneys for the officer, Chris Hairston, argued that the release of the video to The Seattle Times under a public-disclosure request would violate Hairston’s right to privacy and a fair trial. Disclosure also would conflict with state law regarding the release of dashboard-camera video while criminal or civil litigation is pending, the attorneys wrote.

The complaint was filed in King County Superior Court against the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, which had planned to release the video to The Times next week.

Hairston pleaded not guilty April 19 to a misdemeanor assault charge stemming from a confrontation with a handcuffed man who had attacked the officer’s wife, also a police officer.

Katie Hairston and another officer responded Sept. 24 to a report that a person had passed out near Seattle Central Community College.

The officers spoke to several people who were drinking alcohol, including one who assaulted Katie Hairston, according to the City Attorney’s Office, which brought the assault charge against Chris Hairston. Katie Hairston was treated at a hospital for a head injury and scrapes to her hands and knees.

After her assailant had been placed in handcuffs, Chris Hairston, a K-9 officer who had been on duty elsewhere, arrived at the scene. He allegedly walked up to the suspect and intentionally assaulted him, the City Attorney’s Office said.

No detailed description was provided of Hairston’s specific actions.

The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, which has criticized the charging decision, said in an April 4 statement that Hairston was captured on video “grabbing” the suspect, who had “brutally assaulted” his wife.

“The suspect was not slapped, punched, kicked or assaulted in any other way,” the statement said.

The guild said the facts will “clearly demonstrate” that Hairston’s conduct “although not condoned, did not rise to the level of a criminal act.”

The proper venue to examine Hairston’s actions, the statement said, is the department’s Office of Professional Accountability, which handles internal investigations.

The statement questioned whether a citizen would be charged under the same circumstances and accused City Attorney Pete Holmes of having a “double standard” for police officers.

“This unnecessary filing decision is only being done for political reasons and is a waste of city resources and valuable court time,” the guild said.

In the current issue of the guild’s newspaper, The Guardian, Sgt. Rich O’Neill, the president of the union, suggested that the video should be released, writing, “Mr. Holmes has yet to release the video.” O’Neill, who couldn’t be reached for comment today, wrote that Chris Hairston grabbed the suspect “for about two seconds.”

Holmes’ office has declined to release the video, citing the same state law that Hairston lists in his complaint seeking to bar release of the video.

The Times sought the video from the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, which handled the prosecution of the man who assaulted Hairston’s wife. That office has taken a different legal position than city attorneys on disclosing the video, concluding it can be released.

Katie Hairston’s assailant, John M. Ross, who was originally charged with the felony of third-degree assault, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of fourth-degree assault, a gross misdemeanor.

Court papers say he violently pushed Katie Hairston and punched her in the face.

The incident occurred two months after the police department and U.S. Department of Justice signed a landmark settlement agreement in U.S. District Court intended to address a pattern of an unconstitutional use of force within the department.

Hairston, who joined the police department in 1999, faces up to 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine if convicted. He was placed on administrative reassignment after the incident and faces a police department internal investigation when the criminal matter is concluded.

Comments | Topics: assault, Seattle Police Department; King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office; City Attorney's Office


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