A UW student says he was taken to the ground and beaten with fists, batons and flashlights by Seattle police after videotaping the arrest of his friend during a party.
Seattle will pay $100,000 to settle a civil-rights lawsuit filed by a University of Washington geography student who was left battered and bruised by police after he was told to stop videotaping as officers were arresting a friend at a loud party in 2012.
David Pontecorvo suffered a broken cheekbone, a broken nose, bruises and lacerations after he was pulled off his front porch by officers and beaten with fists and a flashlight, according to his attorney and the lawsuit.
He underwent surgery this past June to repair his damaged sinuses, said his attorney, Daniel Fjelstad.
Pontecorvo was 19 years old and on the eve of starting at the UW when, in the early morning of Sept. 22, 2012, several Seattle police officers responded to a report of loud music at his West Seattle home. According to Fjelstad, it took officers two hours to respond to the complaint, and when they arrived, the occupants turned down the music.
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Police were leaving when, as Fjelstad put it, “one of the geniuses” in the house turned the music back on.
The officers returned and arrested one of the people in the house. Pontecorvo and another of the partygoers began recording the arrest on their cellphones, complaining the officers were being overly aggressive and telling them they were being recorded.
Video from one of the cellphones shows an officer, identified as Christine Nichols in the lawsuit, telling them to stop. Pontecorvo, who is inside the house filming the action on his front porch, is ordered outside and told by Nichols he is going to be arrested for “obstructing.”
The shaky video shows Nichols placing her hand on Pontecorvo’s chest and pushing him toward the stairs, and then the pair move out of the picture frame. Another officer is heard yelling, “I’m coming, Christine!” and Pontecorvo is then heard asking, “Why are you using force?!”
“I’m not doing anything wrong! I’m not resisting! Why are you doing this?!” he can be heard yelling.
According to the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, Pontecorvo said that once he was at the bottom of the stairs he was grabbed by Officer Michael Renner, who took him to the ground. Renner, Nichols, Sgt. Joseph Maccarrone and others “commenced beating” him with fists and a flashlight, the suit alleged.
One officer dragged him to the curb, where he said another kneed him in the back of the head. He was handcuffed, put in the back of a patrol car and taken to the West Precinct.
Medics who responded to look at his injuries said he needed to be taken to the hospital, where he was treated in the emergency room and then transported to jail where he spent the weekend, Fjelstad said.
Pontecorvo was never charged, according to the lawsuit.
Court records show Renner and Maccarrone were defendants in a 2008 lawsuit filed by Eric Garcia-Arcos, who claimed he was beaten, shocked with a Taser and illegally arrested after a noise complaint in 2006. Garcia-Arcos suffered fractures to two vertebrae, two ribs and lacerations that required stitches, according to court documents.
The city paid $85,000 to settle that lawsuit, according to court records and the City Attorney’s Office.
In another incident, Renner was ordered to undergo additional training after he got into an altercation with a bicyclist on Alki Beach. The man complained to the police department’s Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) that Renner “chest bumped” him down the sidewalk.
Renner’s patrol car dash camera recorded him telling the man, “usually most people who do get up in my face and yell, they end up on the ground, bloody.”
Renner told OPA investigators he was angry and lost his temper.
Pierce Murphy, the civilian director of OPA, said there was no complaint and therefore no investigation into the Pontecorvo incident. None of the officers were disciplined.
Murphy said that under recently initiated protocols between OPA and the City Attorney’s Office he is notified when officers are named in civil complaints or lawsuits, and he can decide unilaterally whether to open an investigation. In the past, the OPA was not notified when an officer was sued.
And he said the department’s new protocols for investigating the use of force — the result of a Department of Justice investigation finding Seattle police routinely used excessive force — would require the SPD’s Force Review Board to look at any instance when a suspect is injured.
The department’s Force Investigation Team would respond to any incident with serious injuries or when so-called “impact weapons” like batons or flashlights were used, he said.
Pontecorvo, a UW senior who is studying in Europe, declined via social media to comment.
The Pontecorvo settlement is the second six-figure civil-rights settlement reached by the Seattle City Attorney’s Office this month. This year, the city has paid more than $2.35 million to settle lawsuits against the city, including a record $1.975 million paid in July to a man who was shot in the face by an officer.