Tuesday’s sentence caps a tumultuous career that saw Officer Nick Hogan fired over the hospital incident and then terminated by Snoqualmie police last year for having an affair with the wife of a fellow officer.
A former Tukwila police officer who pepper-sprayed a suspect who was restrained on a gurney at Harborview Medical Center was sentenced Tuesday to nine months in jail in U.S. District Court in Seattle.
Nick Hogan is the first Western Washington police officer in recent memory to be sentenced to jail for using excessive force on the job, a criminal civil-rights violation. The sentence also caps a tumultuous career that saw him fired by Tukwila police for the Harborview incident and then terminated by Snoqualmie police last year for having an affair with the wife of a fellow officer.
In imposing a jail term, U.S. District Judge John Coughenour said the sentence was demanded because of Hogan’s “unacceptable” behavior while wearing a badge.
“The trust of the community in our law enforcement officers is very fragile and it is damaged almost irrevocably by this kind of behavior,” the judge said.
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Hogan, in a soft voice, asked the court for leniency, saying that losing his temper that day “has already cost me about everything.”
His attorney, Wayne Fricke, argued that a jail term at this point, six years after the incident, on top of Hogan losing two jobs in law enforcement would amount to judicial piling on.
Hogan pleaded guilty in November to a misdemeanor charge of deprivation of rights under color of law, which carries a penalty of up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $100,000 and a year of supervised release. Federal prosecutors recommended that Hogan be sentenced to a year behind bars, saying he “abused his position of authority and committed a violent crime against a person in his custody.”
Hogan originally had been charged with a felony in the Harborview incident and faced up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, with sentencing guidelines pointing to up to two years in prison.
In a deal with prosecutors, Hogan pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge and in exchange he signed a restrictive plea agreement that effectively prevents him from ever working in law enforcement again.
Rose Gibson, a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C., urged the judge to impose the maximum sentence. She said Hogan had already been shown leniency by being allowed to plead to a less serious offense.
”We simply ask the court to account for what he did,” she said.
Hogan was indicted by a federal grand jury in May over the 2011 Harborview incident, which led to his dismissal a year later from the Tukwila Police Department, the final straw in a string of questionable use-of-force incidents, usually against people of color. Two such incidents resulted in civil-rights lawsuits that cost the city more than $425,000 in out-of-court settlements and fees.
While at Tukwila, Hogan was one of the department’s most productive officers. At the same time, he was involved in incident after incident where his judgment was questioned, particularly when it came to resorting to force.
After he was suspended, police commanders found what some described as a trophy book in his locker, filled with copies of reports in which he had used significant force against a suspect.
They also found song lyrics glorifying police violence on a video-game home page Hogan used. Finally, Hogan bore several large tattoos, some apparently linked to the post-punk “Straight Edge” movement, whose followers don’t drink or use drugs, and sometimes advocate violence against those who do.
A review of Hogan’s record by lawyers in one of the lawsuits showed that of 20 incidents where Hogan used force capable of causing serious injuries, 19 of the victims were ethnic minorities and most were intoxicated.
Concerns over his possible affiliations with Straight Edge led several other police departments, including Seattle and Bellevue, to decide not to hire Hogan.
The incident at Harborview occurred May 20, 2011, while Hogan was transporting a verbally abusive and uncooperative African-American man wanted on a warrant to the hospital to be treated for a split lip suffered in a fight.
At the hospital, Hogan said he delivered three “knee strikes” to the handcuffed man’s head after he was slow to get out of the police cruiser, and then — once inside the emergency room — shoved and tackled him, sparking protests from hospital security officials.
The man was handcuffed to a gurney, where he taunted Hogan, who responded by spraying him in the face with pepper spray.
Hogan told his commander he never considered just moving away from the suspect, and acknowledged “he triggered my threat response.”
The city of Snoqualmie hired Hogan in 2012, after he was fired by Tukwila.
After Hogan’s issues in Tukwila first came to light, Snoqualmie said Hogan was an exemplary officer and that the city was aware of his previous problems.
Then, in January 2016, Hogan was suspended for 20 days for having an affair with another Snoqualmie officer’s wife.
That investigation prompted a letter, signed by 19 of the department’s 21 officers, disputing the city’s defense of Hogan and saying he was heavy-handed and abrasive with his fellow officers and citizens.
Snoqualmie fired Hogan in August.
The agreement that Hogan signed under his plea agreement requires that he resign his law-enforcement commission for at least 15 years, meaning he can no longer be a police officer, and he is barred from seeking work in the private-security field, where Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Miyake said he might “have control or authority over someone else.” He also cannot hold a job where he has to carry a firearm.
The agreement also orders that he pay an as-yet undetermined amount of restitution to the Harborview victim, identified in court documents only by the initials M.S.