A Seattle police officer captured on video rolling his bicycle over a protester’s head last year has been ordered to serve a seven-day suspension without pay after the city’s police watchdog found he used prohibited force and broke department rules around reasonable discretion and professionalism.
The officer, identified through city pay and police administrative leave records as Eric D. Walter, 45, is appealing the findings by the city’s Office of Police Accountability.
Efforts to reach Walter were unsuccessful.
In an email Wednesday, Seattle Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Randy Huserik said he did not immediately know whether the suspension had been served, adding: “I can report that the officer is assigned back in patrol.”
Andrew Myerberg, director of the city’s Office of Police Accountability, said during an interview Wednesday the officer’s recommended suspension was “on the higher end of discipline” compared to similar cases.
“It was not just that he intentionally rolled a bike over a protester’s head, but also the significant public attention that negatively impacted SPD that we considered here,” Myerberg said.
The September 2020 incident, captured on video by several people, drew national attention from news accounts and social media posts showing protests in Seattle and cities nationwide that ignited after a grand jury’s decision to not indict police officers in Louisville, Kentucky, for the killing of Breonna Taylor.
Videos from the protest in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood showed a protester, later identified as Camillo Massagli, on the ground, just before an officer dressed in black riot gear walked a bike over the protester’s head. Other officers later arrested Massagli on investigation of failure to disperse and obstruction, police have said.
Massagli, then 26 and known for playing the trumpet during street protests, later said in an Instagram video that he wasn’t seriously injured, but he believed the incident showed the officers’ “disregard for human life.”
He later told The Seattle Times in a text: “I cannot use a penal system I reject just for revenge, not in good conscience,” when explaining why he didn’t want to pursue charges against the officer.
King County Sheriff’s Detective Mike Mellis later investigated Walter for assault, but ultimately did not find probable cause and reasoned that he and other officers had a right to forcefully remove protesters from the street that night. The detective opined Walter “purposefully … rolled his bike over” Massagli’s head, but also noted such an action “would not necessarily be expected to cause someone pain,” according to OPA’s summary, which does not identify Walter by name.
After the Seattle City Attorney’s Office subsequently reviewed the case, it declined to file charges, writing in a memo that Massagli “does not wish to participate in the prosecutor’s case.” OPA launched its investigation after the city attorney declined to file charges.
Walter told OPA investigators that when a captain ordered officers to disperse an unruly crowd that night, both tires on his department-issued bicycle were flat. So, he said, he was wheeling the bike along when the protester got down in the street in front of him, the summary of the investigation, released this week, says.
Walter stated “he needed to stay on his line and could not move as it might confuse the officers following behind him,” and contended that he stepped and lifted his bicycle over the protester, denying that he intentionally rolled it over Massagli.
But OPA’s review of videos found “no indication that he ever lifted the bicycle while walking over” the protester. The videos also showed there was plenty of room to simply go around the protester, and that right after rolling the tires over the man’s head, Walter lifted the bike to push another protester back, the summary states.
“Moreover, OPA does not see any credible assertion that rolling over a prone person lying on the ground with the wheels of a bicycle — flat or not — is appropriate force under SPD policy,” the investigation summary says. “There is no legitimate law enforcement need to use such force.”
OPA ultimately sustained violations of department standards against Walter for using force when prohibited and failing to use reasonable discretion and striving to be professional. The probe determined as “unfounded” an allegation that Walter failed to adhere to laws, based on the outcome of the criminal investigation.
A disciplinary committee that included Myerberg, an assistant police chief, the officer’s captain and a department lawyer ultimately recommended a seven-day suspension for Walter. Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz agreed with the recommendation and formally notified Walter of the suspension on Nov. 5.
Myerberg, who noted Wednesday that the union is appealing the case, said he also didn’t know if the officer has served the suspension yet.
Mike Solan, president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, said in an email Wednesday the police union had no comment about the case at this time.
Hired in 2007, Walter earned a base salary of $130,471 in 2020 plus another $20,544 in overtime pay, according to city pay records. One week of his base pay amounts to about $2,509.