A King County Metro transit operator who in 2015 complained of harassment by King County sheriff’s deputies, producing a secretly recorded video that cost two deputies their jobs, has filed a federal lawsuit alleging he is now the target of retaliation.
Kelvin Kirkpatrick claims that he was roughed up and handcuffed by a deputy in April for failing to pay transit fare after boarding a train, despite being in uniform and on-duty. That deputy, Steven Azevedo, is now under internal investigation, a sheriff’s spokesman confirmed. Azevedo declined to comment because of the investigation, said Sgt. Ryan Abbott, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office.
The lawsuit is the third federal civil-rights case filed against the King County Sheriff’s Office in the past month, and a fourth lawsuit filed last year was settled last month for $80,000, an apology, and a change in the department’s use-of-force policies. All were filed by African Americans, alleging mistreatment by deputies.
Kirkpatrick says in his lawsuit that Azevedo demanded to see his driver’s license after Kirkpatrick, wearing a Metro uniform, already had shown him his Metro photo ID. Kirkpatrick, according to the lawsuit, had just finished an assigned route and was returning to Metro Transit base via light rail to start his next assigned route of the day when Azevedo confronted him.
Azevedo and another deputy had responded to Stadium Station, near the Metro base, when a pair of Metro Fare Enforcement Officers (FEOs) called for backup after they confronted Kirkpatrick as he boarded the train at Westlake Station, the lawsuit alleges. The FEOs, who are not defendants in the lawsuit, alleged Kirkpatrick had failed to pay fare for the train. Kirkpatrick, the lawsuit alleges, explained that he had been having problem with the ORCA payment chip in his Metro ID and had asked for a replacement.
Azevedo and another deputy, identified as Jonathan Gemmet, were waiting for Kirkpatrick at Stadium Station, and Azevedo demanded to see Kirkpatrick’s driver’s license, the lawsuit alleges.
“As Mr. Kirkpatrick attempted to explain that his employee ID badge provided sufficient identification, Deputy Azevedo suddenly grabbed Mr. Kirkpatrick by the right arm and forcibly twisted both arms behind his back into handcuffs,” the lawsuit alleges. The lawsuit said Kirkpatrick said he felt a “pop” in his shoulder, which later required surgery.
The lawsuit alleges Azevedo searched through Kirkpatrick’s pockets and jacket and took his wallet and removed his driver’s license to issue him a citation for failure to pay transit fare.
The lawsuit alleges that Gemmet asked “What are we doing?” when Azevedo handcuffed Kirkpatrick and called a supervisor to the scene. Sgt. Eric White spoke with the deputies, told Kirkpatrick he would not be jailed and offered to take a complaint about Azevedo’s behavior, the lawsuit alleges. Kirkpatrick, according to the lawsuit, declined, telling White and deputies that he didn’t trust them.
“Unprompted, Sgt. White then asked whether Mr. Kirkpatrick’s reluctance was due to the incident in 2015, more than four years prior, in which two King County sheriff’s officers made false complaints in an effort to get him fired from King County Metro Transit,” the lawsuit says. “Mr. Kirkpatrick confirmed and exited Stadium Station.”
It’s not clear from the lawsuit whether Kirkpatrick was video recording the incident. However, the lawsuit contains numerous specific details and notes that one of the FEOs believed they saw a video pen in Kirkpatrick’s pocket. Attempts to contact Kirkpatrick and his Seattle attorney, Joseph Shaeffer, were not immediately successful.
The lawsuit alleges that in addition to a shoulder injury, the incident caused Kirkpatrick “emotional trauma and embarrassment” because Azevedo handcuffed and yelled at him in public, and that some of Kirkpatrick’s colleagues witnessed the incident.
In 2015, Kirkpatrick was involved in a series of escalating confrontations with two sheriff’s deputies, Sgt. Lou Caballero and Deputy Amy Shoblom, after Kirkpatrick complained that deputies weren’t doing their job on the overnight shift, according to sheriff’s records. As part of its duties, the Sheriff’s Office provides law-enforcement services for Metro Transit.
Shortly after the argument, Caballero filed a complaint against Kirkpatrick, accusing him of using profanity during a confrontation behind Kirkpatrick’s bus in downtown Seattle. At Caballero’s request, Shoblom also wrote a report stating that Kirkpatrick yelled and used the profanity.
Caballero and Shoblom were unaware that Kirkpatrick was wearing glasses with a built-in video camera, which showed Kirkpatrick did not use profanity. The deputies were fired for dishonesty by then-Sheriff John Urquhart.
The two deputies, along with a colleague, later filed a retaliation lawsuit against Urquhart, which was settled for $1.35 million.
Kirkpatrick’s lawsuit is one of three federal civil-rights actions filed against the Sheriff’s Office in the past month. On Sept. 3, Rodney Wheeler, an African American man, sued after being acquitted by a jury for a homicide investigated by the sheriff’s office. Wheeler claims in his lawsuit the detectives cherry-picked evidence and used false statements to charge him with a killing he did not commit.
Last week, the parents of 17-year-old Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens, who was also African American, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit alleging detectives lured their son into a misguided fatal sting operation, aimed at arresting another boy they believed was involved in the hit-and-run death of another police officer’s son in 2017. Officers, who claimed Dunlap-Gittens pulled a gun, shot and killed him as he ran from the scene. It turned out that neither boy had anything to do with that crime.
Also last month, the sheriff’s office settled a lawsuit filed by two African American teenagers who were held at gunpoint by a deputy who claimed they were driving a stolen Jeep. It turned out that the Jeep belonged to the sister of one of the boys and that no vehicle had actually been stolen. The Sheriff’s Office, as part of the settlement and in keeping with a nine-month-old ruling out of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, agreed to require deputies to now report when they point a firearm at someone as a use-of-force incident.