A veteran Seattle police officer pleaded not guilty Friday to an assault charge stemming from a confrontation with a handcuffed man who had attacked the officer’s wife, also a police officer, during an incident in September.
Officer Christopher M. Hairston, 46, appeared in Seattle Municipal Court, after being charged with misdemeanor assault in a complaint filed April 3 by the City Attorney’s Office.
“Officer Hairston is innocent. We intend to pursue a vigorous defense in court,” said the officer’s attorney, Peter Offenbecher, who entered the plea on behalf of his client.
Hairston, who appeared to be upset, left the courthouse holding hands with his wife, Officer Katie Hairston.
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As the plea was entered, a group of Seattle police officers, including Sgt. Rich O’Neill, president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, stood in the courtroom to show support for Hairston.
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, the City Attorney’s Office said in a news release issued at the time the charged was filed. She was treated at a hospital for a head injury and scrapes to her hands and knees.
After her assailant had been placed in handcuffs, Christopher 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 release said.
No description was provided of Hairston’s specific actions. A police dashboard-camera video that captured the incident has not been released because of pending legal matters, including a potential civil suit.
The police guild, which has criticized the charging decision, said in an April 4 statement that Hairston was “captured on video basically ‘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.
Holmes, who took office in 2010, has previously come under criticism by the guild for filing assault charges against officers. One officer was found not guilty in an off-duty incident; another case arising from an on-duty confrontation was dismissed after an outside expert retained by the city changed his opinion.
Holmes has said he will hold police officers responsible for their actions that violate the law.
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.
His wife’s assailant, John M. Ross, 23, was charged with the felony of third-degree assault by the King County Prosecutor’s Office. He 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.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org