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January 28, 2014 at 9:31 AM

Deal reached to dismiss assault charge against SPD officer

Seattle police Officer Chris Hairston, left, with his attorney, Peter Offenbecher talking to the judge who approved a deal that allows a charge accusing him of assaulting a handcuffed man to be dropped after two years if Hairston meets court conditions. (Photo by Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

A criminal charge against a Seattle police officer accused of assaulting a handcuffed man will be dismissed in two years if the officer meets conditions approved today by a Seattle Municipal Court judge.

The agreement allows Officer Chris Hairston, 47, to avoid the risk of a misdemeanor assault conviction while sparing prosecutors the possibility of an acquittal. It also enhances Hairston’s chances of keeping his job when the Police Department now conducts its own internal investigation.

Hairston must perform 120 hours of community service work, have no new criminal violations and have no contact with the man identified as the victim under the terms of a “dispositional continuance” reached this morning between the City Attorney’s Office and Hairston’s attorney, Peter Offenbecher. The deal was approved by Judge Steve Rosen, who watched patrol-car video of the brief encounter.

The Sept. 24, 2012, incident occurred two months after the city and the Department of Justice signed a landmark settlement that required the Police Department to adopt reforms to curtail unconstitutional use of force. The Justice Department had found in 2011 that Seattle police had routinely used excessive force.

Hairston’s wife, Katie, and another officer had responded to a report that a person had passed out near Seattle Central Community College. The two officers spoke to several people who were drinking alcohol, including one who attacked Katie Hairston. She was treated at hospital for a head injury and scrapes to her hands and knees.

Chris Hairston, a K-9 officer who joined the Police Department in 1999, became angry when he learned his wife had been assaulted, according a police report based on the patrol-car video.

At the time, Hairston and his wife had been struggling to have a child and she had undergone an in-vitro fertilization procedure a day before the incident, The Seattle Times previously reported, quoting a source. After learning his wife had been assaulted, he became concerned she might be pregnant, which she ultimately was found to be, the source said.

As the suspect stood by a patrol car, Hairston, who was not involved in the man’s arrest, can be seen on the video bending down to face the man and saying something to him, according to the police report.

Hairston then swung his “open right hand hard against the back” of the suspect’s neck and then tightly held the back of the man’s neck, the report said.

Hairston pushed his left hand, palm open, into the suspect’s face, pushing him up and causing the man’s head to bend backward, according to the report. As Hairston was doing that, he shook the suspect’s face and it appeared his fingers might have come into contact with the man’s eyes, according to the report.

Officers pulled Hairston away, and one of them along with Hairston himself quickly reported what had occurred, the report said. The suspect complained that his face hurt from being pushed into the patrol car.

In a statement released after the hearing, Offenbecher said Hairston saw that his wife had been “viciously assaulted” and “momentarily lost his emotional composure.”

Although Hairston’s response was “understandable” for a husband, Hairston “regrets it,” is sorry it happened and will never let it happen again, the statement said.

Offenbecher praised City Attorney Pete Holmes and the chief of the criminal division, Craig Sims, for their “good judgment and courage” in reaching the agreement.

The police report sharply contrasted with a milder version of the events described by the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, which criticized Holmes over his decision to charge Hairston.

With the resolution of the criminal case, an internal investigation will be conducted by the Police Department’s Office of Professional Accountability.

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

Comments | More in Government, The Blotter | Topics: City Attorney's Office, Seattle Municipal Court, Seattle Police Department


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