A motorcyclist was recording the incident when a plainclothes detective pointed a gun at him at a red light. The motorcyclist is now settling his suit for both money and a change of rules on when officers can pull guns on members of the public.
A Shoreline motorcyclist who sued the King County Sheriff’s Office after a plainclothes detective brandished a gun at him during a traffic stop last year has settled the case for $65,000 and the promise of changes to the department’s use-of-force policies.
Alex Randall was stopped at a red light at the intersection of Northeast 145th Street and Fifth Avenue Northeast on Aug. 16, 2017, when he was approached by sheriff’s Detective Richard Rowe, who had a gun pointed at Randall.
Rowe, who did not immediately identify himself as a law-enforcement officer, told Randall he had committed an “arrestable offense” by speeding and “driving reckless.” Rowe cussed at Randall and threatened to “dump” him but did not ultimately issue Randall a traffic citation.
A few days later, Randall — who said he was terrified and troubled by having a gun pointed at him — learned that Rowe had not filled out a use-of-force report after the incident. Outraged, he published on his YouTube channel a video of the encounter from a GoPro camera mounted on his helmet and called on the sheriff’s office for a remedy.
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After an internal investigation, Rowe was given a five-day suspension without pay for being discourteous and displaying conduct unbecoming to an officer. However, he was exonerated of using excessive force, in part, because King County Sheriff’s Office policies did not define pointing a gun at a citizen as a use of force.
Randall’s attorney, Christopher Carney, said the policy lapse was based on the department’s misunderstanding of the law.
“In fact, federal courts have repeatedly held that pointing a gun at a citizen does constitute a use of force, and that the U.S. Constitution requires that pointing a gun must be objectively reasonable and done for a lawful purpose,” Carney wrote in a news statement released this week.
Carney said Rowe told internal investigators that he had pointed his gun multiples times at citizens throughout the years without ever reporting his actions to supervisors.
“This significant flaw in the Sheriff’s policies is highly problematic because it fails to inform officers that they must have a lawful basis to point a gun at a citizen, and also because it fails to create supervisory review of pointing a gun as is required for all other uses of force,” Carney said.
According to the settlement, the sheriff’s office had agreed to alter its training and its policies by the end of this week to acknowledge that displaying a gun is a use-of-force incident that “should be reported within the Sheriff’s office subject to further consideration and evaluation by persons higher up in the chain of command.”
A permanent policy will follow that, at a minimum, recognizes that aiming a weapon constitutes a use of force which must be lawfully justified and reviewed, according to the settlement.
“Pointing a gun at a person without a good reason needlessly escalates the danger of any interaction with police, and increases the risks that citizens and officers will be hurt or killed,” said Carney. “This policy change brings the King County Sheriff in line with modern policing, and will hopefully improve officer training to deescalate dangerous situations.”
Randall said the settlement feels like vindication because, after a year and a half of his trying for change, the sheriff “basically agreed” with all his suggested changes to the use-of-force policy.
“If a deputy does to someone else what Rowe did to me, they will need to justify the lawful reasons they drew their weapon, and report them up their chain of command,” said Randall. “Allowing that information to be recorded and scrutinized will prevent officers from flippantly using their firearms in such a way that creates these types of dangerous situation.”