The verdict represents a setback for Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and a victory for the Seattle police union.
A Municipal Court jury took less than 1 ½ hours Wednesday to find Seattle police Officer Garth Haynes not guilty of fourth-degree assault, repudiating prosecutors who built their case on a video that showed Haynes pushing his foot into the head of a prone, handcuffed man during an off-duty incident.
The verdict, returned by a six-member jury, represented a major setback for Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, whose office aggressively pursued the case, and a victory for the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, which castigated Holmes and raised money to pay for Haynes’ legal defense.
A jubilant Haynes hugged his attorney, Oscar Desper III, after the verdict was read by Judge Karen Donohue, then exchanged hugs with a group of Seattle police officers who had gathered in the courtroom.
“I feel like justice was served here today,” Haynes said. “It’s unfair it had to go to this.”
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Haynes, 36, had faced up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine if convicted of the gross misdemeanor.
Haynes now faces an internal investigation by the Police Department.
Desper, who delivered an emotional closing argument Wednesday morning, maintained throughout the trial that it was his client who was the victim of a brutal attack by three men outside the BalMar nightclub in Ballard on Dec. 12, 2010.
He also argued that, in any case, his client had suffered a concussion during the early-morning brawl that made it questionable that Haynes could form the required intent to commit a crime.
Although a medical report did not document a concussion, Haynes testified during the trial that he had no memory of striking the handcuffed man, and only learned what had occurred when he viewed a patrol-car video of the incident the following day.
Holmes, in a written statement after the verdict, said, “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, who left the courthouse without comment, heard conflicting versions of the fight, which began after Haynes pursued a young woman who he believed had stolen two jackets belonging to him and a friend from inside the bar.
Prosecutors portrayed Haynes as the aggressor in a confrontation that occurred outside, when three young men came to the defense of the woman.
The defense maintained that Haynes, who is African American, was brutally attacked by the three men, all white, after identifying himself as a police officer and calling 911 to report what he believed to be a theft.
Desper told jurors that one of the men — not the one who was struck — referred to Haynes as a “frickin’ spook” after he and the other two men were arrested.
In his comments after the verdict, Haynes said the jury “saw that I was the victim.”
The case cast a wider spotlight than the assault accusation alone, raising issues about race, the role of the Seattle police guild in defending Haynes and the decision of Holmes to bring the charge.
In addition, Haynes was charged in July 2011 as the Police Department was under scrutiny by the U.S. Justice Department, which in December found a pattern of excessive force by officers.
The president of the police guild, Sgt. Rich O’Neill, testified on Haynes’ behalf, labeling the case a “politically motivated prosecution.”
In a statement after the verdict, O’Neill said, “It was obvious from the start that the city attorney filed these charges simply because Garth Haynes was a police officer. It is refreshing that the jury recognized the injustice involved and now Officer Haynes can return to the job he loves.”
The Rev. Harriet Walden, an African American who founded Mothers for Police Accountability in Seattle and who supported Haynes and called the prosecution unfair, said after the verdict that Haynes should be reprimanded and retrained.
The three men arrested in the incident were charged with assaulting a police officer, but the felony case was dismissed after prosectors said Haynes asserted his Fifth Amendment right to not testify.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org