Adley Shepherd, the former Seattle police officer who was fired for punching a handcuffed woman in 2014 — setting in motion events that would undermine the city’s police reform efforts and prolong federal oversight by years — has filed a lawsuit alleging the Seattle Police Department was negligent in his training and supervision and unfair in his punishment because he is Black.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, is the latest twist in a saga that has wound its way through Seattle’s courtrooms for eight years. Shepherd was fired in 2016 by former Chief Kathleen O’Toole for throwing that punch. However, he was ordered reinstated by an arbitrator two years later, a decision that ultimately derailed the city’s efforts to resolve a decade of federal oversight, which continues today.
The victim of the punch, Miyekko Durden-Bosley, suffered fractured bones in her face. She sued, and the city eventually settled that lawsuit for $195,000.
The lawsuit alleges Shepherd reacted after Durden-Bosley kicked him in the face and claims he did everything he could to de-escalate a tense domestic dispute between the woman and her partner.
The lawsuit alleges that O’Toole’s decision was motivated by politics and public opinion. Video of the incident sparked public outrage, which Shepherd claims led O’Toole to impose discipline that went beyond that leveled in similar instances where questionable force was used.
“Shepherd brings this case to shed light on his wrongful termination and to prove that he has been damaged as a result of the defendant’s vendetta against him and his unfair and unequal treatment by defendants, as well as their egregious breach of the contracts they have with the Seattle Police [Officers] Guild, of which Shepherd was a member at the time of their wrongful actions against him,” the lawsuit said.
Shepherd, reached by telephone, declined to comment. A telephone message left with his lawyer, Lisa Royball Elliott, was not returned.
The Seattle city attorney’s office, which represents the Police Department, did not respond to an email seeking comment.
The lawsuit goes into specific detail surrounding the incident presented by Shepherd to the Disciplinary Review Board, the civil service review body that overturned O’Toole’s decision to fire Shepherd and recommended he be given 15 days off without pay.
A judge later overturned that decision and the state Court of Appeals upheld the firing.
That inability of the chief of police to fire an officer led U.S. District Judge James Robart — who was overseeing a 2012 consent decree between the city and the Department of Justice — to find that Seattle had failed to comply with a portion of that document dealing with officer accountability. Robart played the video of Shepherd’s punch in court when he announced in 2019 that the city had fallen partially out of compliance with that agreement,
The issue of officer accountability continues to be the major stumbling block to the city’s efforts to comply with the consent decree, which remains in effect today.
Aside from a single 10-day suspension — imposed after Shepherd released a domestic violence suspect, who returned home to murder his roommate — the lawsuit said Shepherd had a clean disciplinary record and that O’Toole’s decision amounted to an unfair “one-strike” termination policy in a use-of-force case.
“There were no prior or subsequent disciplinary actions exactly comparable to Shepherd’s by the SPD or the City of Seattle,” the lawsuit alleges. “While discipline has been handed down at times for public incidents, no one has been discharged or terminated for similar actions — even those that became public,”
The lawsuit alleges the city was negligent through improper training of Shepherd and by allowing police officials to pursue a “vendetta against Shepherd for some unknown reason in order to discharge and terminate him in violation of their own rules and procedures.”
It claims the Police Department failed to supervise Shepherd and the officers who trained him “so they would not allow the use of force they encouraged Shepherd to use in this instance.
“Shepherd was trained to use this level of force and then subsequently discharged and terminated when he did so,” the lawsuit claims.
It claims Shepherd was subjected to both negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress and alleges that he was the target of “adverse employment decisions and disparate treatment” because he is Black.
The lawsuit concludes that “other officers who are not African-American have been accused of similar questionable use of force incidents and were never terminated either before or since Shepherd’s incident.”