The city of Seattle has agreed to pay $75,000 to a Bellingham man who alleged his civil rights were violated when an off-duty Seattle police officer stepped on his head as he lay prone and handcuffed.
The settlement resolved a federal lawsuit brought by Jake Baijot-Clary, stemming from a December 2010 fight outside the BalMar nightclub in Ballard.
The confrontation came to light at a time the Police Department was already under intense scrutiny over several high-profile incidents involving use of force, which ultimately led to a federal Department of Justice investigation that found Seattle police officers had regularly used excessive force.
As part of the settlement with Baijot-Clary, who is now 23, the city made no admission of wrongdoing on its part or by the officer, Garth Haynes. The settlement was finalized Wednesday, ending the suit without a trial.
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“We want to commend the city for doing the right thing and giving some measure of justice to our client,” said Seattle attorney Christopher Carney, who represented Baijot-Clary along with Maria Lorena Gonzalez and Shaun Van Eyk.
Haynes, whose action was captured on patrol-car video, was charged with misdemeanor assault as a result of the incident but was acquitted by a Seattle Municipal Court jury in March 2012.
Later, the Police Department determined Haynes had used excessive force on a detained and unresisting suspect. However, then-Police Chief John Diaz withheld a 10-day suspension if Haynes stayed out of trouble.
At the time of the incident, Baijot-Clary and two male friends came to the defense of a woman Haynes had accused of taking his jacket from inside the nightclub.
Haynes wound up in a fight with the three men, despite showing his badge and calling 911 for backup.
Officers arrived and placed Baijot-Clary and his companions in custody. Haynes then put his foot to Baijot-Clary’s head as he lay face down on the sidewalk and pushed down.
During the criminal trial, Haynes’ attorney argued that before stepping on Baijot-Clary, Haynes had been the victim of a brutal attack. The attorney also argued Haynes had suffered a concussion during the brawl that made it questionable whether the officer could form the required intent to commit a crime.
Although a medical report did not document a concussion, Haynes testified he had no memory of striking Baijot-Clary, and only learned what had occurred when he viewed the video the following day.
Felony charges of assaulting a police officer were dismissed against Baijot-Clary and his companions after prosecutors said Haynes asserted his Fifth Amendment right not to testify against the men.
In his suit, Baijot-Clary alleged violations of his civil rights, unreasonable use of force and complicity on the part of the Police Department.
According to the suit, Baijot-Clary remained silent and did not engage Haynes before Haynes walked up and “kicked Baijot-Clary in the head.”
Baijot-Clary was unaware that Haynes, who was dressed in civilian clothes, was a police officer, according to the suit.
In its defense, the city argued the officer’s “off-duty, heat of the moment reaction” just moments after being assaulted wasn’t the result of any “custom or policy” of the city.
Nor was there evidence tying the incident to the alleged “pattern or practice” of excessive force detailed in the Justice Department finding made public in December 2011, city attorneys maintained in court documents.
The Justice Department’s finding led to a landmark settlement agreement with the city in July 2012, producing sweeping reforms overseen by a federal judge.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org