Aiesha Steward-Baker was 15 when she was attacked in the downtown Seattle transit tunnel on Jan. 28, 2010, while two private security guards stood by and did not physically intervene. The beating was caught on surveillance camera and garnered national media attention.
A U.S. District Court judge last week dismissed all remaining claims filed against the city of Seattle and two Seattle police officers by a young woman who was 15 in January 2010 when she was beaten and robbed by a group of young people in the downtown transit tunnel.
Therese Lavallee, the attorney for Aiesha Steward-Baker, agreed in a court filing in February “that there is a lack of evidence to sustain her claims” against the city of Seattle, the Seattle Police Department, former Police Chief John Diaz, and two Seattle police officers, according to court records.
But Steward-Baker maintained that two other officers — Jeremy Pinkerton and Matthew Chase — violated her 14th Amendment rights to due process and engaged in conduct that placed her in or exposed her to danger, says a response filed by her attorney in February. Lavallee argued Pinkerton and Chase were deliberately indifferent when they refused to escort Steward-Baker into the tunnel to catch a bus, thereby creating or increasing the risk that she would be assaulted and robbed, the response says.
Federal judge Barbara Rothstein, however, ruled nothing the officers did either created or exposed Steward-Baker to a danger she would not otherwise have faced:
“If she had done everything else she did that day, but never encountered these officers during the course of events, she would have faced exactly the same threat that eventually became an unfortunate reality for her,” Rothstein wrote in her March 9 order granting summary judgment to the officers and the rest of the city of Seattle defendants.
The lawsuit — which alleged the officers and others “acted with deliberate indifference” toward Steward-Baker’s constitutional rights because of her age and race — was filed in April 2015, more than five years after the transit tunnel incident. At the time, Lavallee declined to comment on the timing of the lawsuit, but it appeared the case was filed to coincide with Steward-Baker’s 21st birthday in order to meet statute-of-limitations requirements.
Steward-Baker, who was a student at Ingraham High School in 2010, is African American.
Previously, Steward-Baker’s claims against King County and several county employees were dismissed since the county was indemnified through its contract with Olympic Security Services, the company that formerly provided security to Metro Transit, explained Jessica Kozma, a senior deputy prosecutor in the civil division of the King County Prosecutor’s Office.
“King County didn’t pay any money to Ms. Steward-Baker,” Kozma said.
Olympic Security Services, which was covered by an insurance policy, entered into a confidential settlement with Steward-Baker, Kozma said. Jeremy Rogers, a Seattle attorney who represented Olympic Security Services, did not immediately return a phone call Thursday.
According to the lawsuit and news reports, three of Olympic’s security guards stood by and did not intervene as Steward-Baker was attacked, but the company said at the time its officers were only to observe and not intervene. The assault was captured by video-surveillance cameras and garnered national media attention.
Olympic Security later changed its policy to allow guards to intervene to break up fights.
Lavallee could not be reached by phone and her voice mailbox was full so messages could not be left for her at her Vancouver, Washington, law office. She also did not respond to an email request for comment.
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According to Judge Rothstein’s order granting summary judgment:
Steward-Baker and a friend took a bus to Westlake Center on Jan. 28, 2010, where they met up with other friends. Soon after, Steward-Baker’s group of friends got into a fight with another group of young people in a park atop the Washington State Convention Center.
During the fight, she ended up spraying a 17-year-old boy in the face with mace. She and her friends then took a bus to the Central District and spent the next hour or two at the Garfield Teen Life Center.
The group returned by bus to Westlake Center and went into Macy’s just as the 17-year-old boy and his group of friends were leaving. The boy’s group went back inside to confront Steward-Baker.
SPD Officers Pinkerton and Chase, having seen a large group of juveniles run into the store, also entered Macy’s and told everyone to leave.
The boy’s group gathered outside a nearby McDonald’s restaurant, across the street from the entrance to the transit tunnel. Steward-Baker asked the two officers to escort her into the tunnel, but they declined.
According to Steward-Baker’s recollection, the officers told her they “don’t have time to do that for kids starting trouble.” The officers said in interviews they were the only foot-patrol officers in the area at the time and were dealing with “a high level of gang activity that night,” the judge’s order says.
Steward-Baker went into the tunnel to catch a bus and was followed and assaulted by a 15-year-old girl, then had her belongings stolen, according to the judge’s order. The video shows the security officers standing nearby.
Ultimately six young people, ages 15 to 20, were charged in connection with the incident: The 15-year-old girl pleaded guilty to second-degree assault; a 17-year-old boy pleaded guilty to fourth-degree assault and harassment; and a second 15-year-old girl pleaded guilty to fourth-degree assault.
Three men were initially charged with first-degree robbery but in a plea deal, each pleaded guilty to first-degree theft, court records show. One defendant was sentenced to 25 days in jail; the two others were each sentenced to six months in jail, according to the records.
Though Steward-Baker’s federal lawsuit named five of her six attackers as defendants, they “have never been served but also have never been formally dismissed,” Rothstein wrote in her March 9 order.
“The Court is uncertain of where this ruling leaves the ultimate disposition of this case,” she wrote, asking the parties “to respond on this issue.”
After the attack, it was revealed that Steward-Baker had been accused of two assaults herself, including one that resulted in a conviction.