In opening statements, attorneys sparred over what happened outside a Ballard bar in a case marked by racial overtones.
Seattle police Officer Garth Haynes suffered a concussion when he was attacked outside a Ballard bar in 2010, making it questionable whether he could form criminal intent when he stepped on the head of a handcuffed man arrested in the incident, Haynes’ attorney told a Municipal Court jury Tuesday.
But a Seattle assistant city attorney, Megan Starks, described Haynes as an angry off-duty officer who, during a bar fight “gone terribly wrong,” deliberately kicked the man’s head in what constituted a criminal assault.
The differing accounts stem from a highly charged case punctuated by racial overtones, as well as protests by the Seattle police union about prosecutorial abuse. In addition, the trial comes at a time when the city is negotiating a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, which in December found that Seattle police officers had engaged in a pattern of excessive force.
Haynes, 36, who is charged with fourth-degree misdemeanor assault, is African American. Three young men involved in the incident are white; they were charged with assaulting Haynes, but the felony case was dismissed after prosecutors said Haynes asserted his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
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“This is going to be an emotional trial,” Judge Karen Donohue said before prospective jurors were brought into the courtroom and chosen to hear the case. Six jurors and two alternates — five women and three men — were selected after questioning that elicited mixed views of police.
The incident was captured on video, recorded on the dashboard camera of a patrol car that responded to the Dec. 12, 2010, incident outside the BalMar nightclub. Jurors will be shown the video during the trial, but did not view it Tuesday as opening statements took center stage.
Starks told jurors that the three men — two from Bellingham and one from Bainbridge Island — came to Seattle to celebrate the 21st birthday of one of the Bellingham men, Jake Baijot-Clary.
Baijot-Clary had stepped out of the crowded and loud BalMar and bought a hot dog from a vendor when his attention was drawn to an argument among several people, including Haynes, who was yelling and accusing a young woman of stealing a jacket, Starks said.
As the bickering escalated, a bystander told Haynes to not touch the woman, but Haynes grabbed her and insisted on calling 911, Starks said.
Baijot-Clary decided he was not going to let Haynes proceed and told him to let go of the woman, prompting a friend of Haynes’ to use an expletive and tell Baijot-Clary to get away, Starks said.
Haynes then yelled, “Everybody get back, I’m a Seattle police officer,” Starks told jurors.
Haynes called 911 and dragged the woman, Starks said.
Baijot-Clary and his friends followed, concerned about what was happening, Starks said, noting the woman slipped away.
At that point, “a brawl broke out,” including punching and swinging, Starks said.
Officers arrived and handcuffed the three men, while Haynes remained free to move, she said.
With Baijot-Clary lying face down on the sidewalk in the cold and rain, “that’s when it happened,” Starks said, telling jurors that Haynes “kicked” Baijot-Clary in the head.
Haynes’ attorney, Oscar Desper III, who spoke to the jury after Starks, immediately challenged her account, saying, “This was not a bar fight.”
Haynes had to retrieve the coat and did not drag the woman, Desper said.
Desper said Haynes was surrounded by a group and attacked from behind. Baijot-Clary and his friends were intoxicated, with one reaching for Haynes’ gun, Desper said.
Haynes was kicked in the head during the confrontation and sustained a concussion, Desper said.
One of Baijot-Clary’s friends, after being arrested, asked in a patrol car why a black man had put his hands on a white woman and referred to the “frickin’ spook pretending to be a frickin’ cop,” Desper said.
An expert witness for the defense will testify the concussion made it questionable whether Haynes had time to form criminal intent when he “stepped” on Baijot-Clary, Desper said, disputing that the move was a kick meant to cause injury.
Among Haynes’ supporters is the Rev. Harriet Walden, an African American who founded Mothers For Police Accountability in Seattle 22 years ago. She believes that in this case Haynes is being treated differently than if the officer had been white and the three men black.
“It’s an issue of black and white here,” she said. “It’s an issue of fairness.”
Walden, who attended part of Tuesday’s court proceedings, said she does not condone what Haynes did, but believes he shouldn’t have been criminally charged and instead ordered by the Police Department to undergo retraining.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or email@example.com