Kellie Burlingham and her husband, Marc Ramsey, were yanked out of sleep one night in 2017 by a commotion in the living room. Kellie’s 23-year-old son, Quentin, was yelling. She heard other, strange voices in her home as well, raised and commanding.
The couple emerged from their bedroom to find three Bellevue police officers in their living room, struggling to restrain the pajama-clad Quentin, who is autistic. The officers were pushing him down into a chair and pulling out their handcuffs.
“I asked them what they thought they were doing,” Burlingham recalled of the night of Oct. 25, 2017. “I yelled at them to stop, that they were hurting him and that he was autistic and they were making matters worse.”
When she and Ramsey tried to retreat back into the bedroom to retrieve their phones to record the encounter, they were followed by officers, according to reports and court filings in a federal civil-rights lawsuit she filed last year. Ramsey was handcuffed in the bedroom. Kellie was jumped and taken to the ground hard enough to give her a concussion. She, too, was cuffed and later would be prosecuted for obstruction — until the charges were dropped, according to court documents.
Despite repeatedly telling the officers he was fine, Quentin was handcuffed and taken to Overlake Hospital for a mental health evaluation. He was released promptly and was home within about 90 minutes, according to court documents and his mother.
In an agreement finalized on Wednesday, Bellevue will pay Burlingham $125,000 to settle the lawsuit, which accused the officers of excessive force and challenged the constitutionality of a Bellevue policy that allows police to take someone into “protective custody” without investigation, a warrant or consultation with a mental health expert if the officer believes that person might pose a threat to themselves.
In a statement, the city does not address the specifics of the Burlingham case, but rather assured that the Bellevue Police Department is “dedicated to responding safely and effectively to incidents where someone may be experiencing a crisis.
“These situations are often complex and present a number of challenges,” the statement said, adding that BPD officers are “trained to use de-escalation techniques and will continue efforts to de-escalate situations as long as there is no immediate threat to the officer or innocent civilians.”
The evening of Oct. 25, 2017, several hours before officers arrived at Burlingham’s home, Bellevue police had received a 911 call from a young woman who reported that she had received a text from her ex-boyfriend — Quentin — stating that he wanted to kill himself. The woman gave the dispatcher the family’s address and Quentin’s cellphone number.
According to the lawsuit, two officers went to the home and spoke with Ramsey at the front door, asking to speak to Quentin. Ramsey said Quentin was at work in Seattle but that his mother was on her way to pick him up after his shift as a “budtender” at Uncle Ike’s cannabis shop. When Ramsey asked what the officers wanted, one responded, “We want to talk to Quentin about suicide,” and they left.
Ramsey immediately called Kellie, who explained that Quentin had had an “anxiety event” earlier but that he had calmed down and was recovering. Shortly after 10 p.m., Bellevue officer Matthew Garner called Quentin on his cellphone while he was on his way home with his mom. In his report, Garner wrote that Quentin “stated that he was with his mother and that he was fine” and that he didn’t need the police.
Despite these assurances by Quentin and the fact that he was home with his parents, Garner and two other officers went to the Burlingham home just before midnight. Quentin, who was on the phone with his current girlfriend, answered the door. Again, he told the officers he “had had a bad day but did not mean what he sent in the text message.” The officers responded by insisting they needed to take him to the hospital, according to the lawsuit.
“Quentin said he needed to speak to his mother. He said, ‘I’ll be right back,’ and attempted to close the front door,” according to the lawsuit, which states that Garner stuck his foot in the door and that the three officers forced their way into the home. Quentin “panicked” and began struggling as the officers attempted to subdue him.
When Kellie and Ramsey came out of their bedroom, they were “corralled” to an area away from where the officers were struggling with Quentin. In the meantime, three additional officers arrived, all entering the home, according to the lawsuit.
In an interview with The Seattle Times on behalf of her family, Burlingham said she repeatedly told the officers that her son was on the autism spectrum and that hurting him was making matters worse. Finally, she said she announced she was going to get her cellphone to record what happened.
When she returned with the phone, Burlingham said Officer Aaron Scott leapt over furniture, grabbed her arm and tried to take the phone away. He was joined by a second officer, Christopher Wyche, and together they twisted Burlingham’s arms behind her back and threw her to the kitchen floor, where she struck her head hard enough to give her a concussion, before handcuffing her, said her Seattle lawyer, Joseph Shaeffer.
“At no point did Kellie pose a threat to the safety” of the officers, Shaeffer said. “She did not make verbal threats and she was not violent.”
Two months later, Scott filed obstruction of justice charges against Burlingham, alleging she interfered with officers trying to subdue her son. The criminal case against her was dismissed six months later, according to court documents.
“Officer Scott displayed absolute recklessness and no ability at all to listen or de-escalate,” Burlingham wrote in a prepared statement. “He was aggressive, violent, rude and condescending. His use of excessive force gave me a concussion.”
However, she blamed Garner for the overall incident, accusing him of “using excessive force instead of words.”
“Our police are supposed to be the good guys,” said Burlingham, who has worked as an office manager for a Bellevue company for 30 years. “Their actions that night loudly said otherwise.”
Shaeffer said that, as part of the settlement, Burlingham insisted that the police department provide additional crisis-intervention and de-escalation training.
“The mother has a greater interest in seeing an effort made toward helping develop new crisis-development programs,” Shaeffer said.
The city’s statement says more than half of the city’s patrol officers have completed a 40-hour crisis intervention course required by the settlement, which he said the “responding officers in this case will be attending.” The training is in addition to the training required by the state to qualify as a police officer.
“The Bellevue Police Department is dedicated to providing officers with the knowledge and skills to better understand the complex challenges of interacting with those in crisis and in turn to help with broader engagement with the community,” city of Bellevue spokesperson Brad Harwood said.
The incident has had a lasting impact on her family, Burlingham said in the interview last week.
“My son is now afraid of the police,” she said. “The sound of a police siren no longer means the heroes are coming to help. It means danger.”