A federal jury has acquitted a King County sheriff's deputy of violating the civil rights of a woman who was roughed up during a 2005 arrest, but he didn't escape being chastised by the judge who presided over the case.
A federal jury has acquitted a King County sheriff’s deputy of violating the civil rights of a woman who was roughed up during a 2005 arrest, but he didn’t escape being chastised by the judge who presided over the case.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly told Brian Bonnar that while the evidence presented in the seven-day trial was “conflicting” and did not support a conviction, “in my opinion this was not the type of activity and conduct that we expect from the deputy sheriffs that work in this county.”
Zilly’s remarks outraged Bonnar’s defense attorney, David Allen, who stood up and told the judge that his comments were “an insult” to the jury and unfair to his client, who was acquitted Tuesday on all charges. Allen complained that he’d never had a judge remark on a verdict in that fashion, or scold an acquitted client.
Zilly, however, stood in his robes and countered that there had been “substantial evidence by a number of deputy sheriffs that this conduct was not appropriate.”
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Bonnar was acquitted of a single count of depriving 41-year-old Irene Damon of her civil rights during a violent arrest following a car chase in October 2005. He was also acquitted of four counts of lying to the grand jury that had indicted him. Bonnar, who has spend most of the past year on paid administrative leave, pounded the table when the jury’s verdict was read.
“This has been a three-year nightmare,” the 42-year-old deputy said afterward. “I’ll be glad to get this behind me and get on with my life and career.”
Bonnar said he would remain with the Sheriff’s Office, where he now plans to appeal a 20-day suspension he received after an internal investigation into the Damon incident found he had used excessive force. Some in the department felt he should have been fired.
Meantime, the Sheriff’s Office lashed out at the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for bringing the case in the first place, alleging it was “politically motivated” by adverse media coverage of the Sheriff’s Office.
“They wanted a case, any case, and this was the wrong case and I think the jury’s verdict bears that out,” said sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. John Urquhart. He said Sheriff Sue Rahr was out of town an unavailable for comment.
Urquhart wasn’t complaining that Bonnar was wrongly accused, but rather that the case was weak and that the acquittals have sent conflicting and confusing messages.
“Is the jury telling us they didn’t believe the five deputies who came forward voluntarily and testified [against Bonnar] under oath?” Urquhart asked. “Or maybe they’re just telling us that this sort of conduct is OK in King County.”
Urquhart complained that the deputies who testified against Bonnar were treated “atrociously” by federal prosecutors, particularly by the trial lawyer from the Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C.
“They were treated as suspects. Some of them had to get lawyers,” he said. “I can’t tell you how difficult it is to come forward in a case like this. What sort of message do you think their treatment sends to law-enforcement officers who want to do the right thing?”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Harris disputed Urquhart’s assertion and said the deputies who testified “are heroes in my mind.”
“They came forward because it was the right thing to do,” he said.
He said each deputy was told at the outset that they were not suspects or targets of the investigation. They chose to be represented by lawyers, Harris said, at the behest of the department and the deputies’ union.
Harris dismissed as “absolutely untrue” the allegations that the investigation sprang from a series of critical media reports. Rather, the investigation began after the Sheriff’s Office released the results of its internal investigation into the incident.
According to court documents, Bonnar was one of several deputies who pursued Damon after officers attempted to pull her over because her passenger was wanted on warrants. During a 6-minute chase, Damon, 41, hit several cars, including a patrol car, before stopping. The passenger ran away.
Several deputies approached the car, guns drawn, and one broke out the passenger window as Damon said she was struggling to get out of her seat belt. The charges alleged Bonnar used his Taser on the woman as she was pulled out of the car and several deputies struggled to subdue her.
The woman fought and was wrestled to the ground. The defense claimed that she had been using crack cocaine and drinking, and was violent.
Eventually, Damon stopped resisting and was handcuffed and searched, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors allege she was lying “passively” on the ground when Bonnar, a 185-pound martial-arts expert, “looked around, kneed Ms. Damon in the head, then looked around again, and kneed Ms. Damon in the head again.”
Several other deputies intervened and Bonnar and one of them exchanged shoves, according to testimony.
Allen, the defense attorney, argued that Damon has a long criminal history and was under the influence of drugs and alcohol when the incident occurred. Damon admitted she had been using drugs and drinking, but not for hours before the incident.
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This report includes information from Seattle Times archives.