The lawsuit alleges the King County detective used excessive force in dealing with the motorcyclist during a traffic stop, and that the county failed to train and supervise its officers adequately. It seeks unspecified monetary damages.

Share story

A motorcyclist who had a King County Sheriff’s Office detective point a gun at him during a traffic stop last year has sued the officer and the county.

Alex Randall, of Shoreline, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court this week, claiming detective Richard Rowe’s actions lacked legal justifications. A video of the encounter taken with Randall’s helmet camera showed Rowe pointing a gun at Randall, cursing and threatening to “dump” him if he moved his motorcycle.

Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht in April suspended Rowe for five days without pay, citing his “excessive use of profanity” and lack of courtesy. She didn’t punish Rowe for pulling his gun, saying she believed the officer when he claimed he thought Randall may have had a weapon in his waistband.

“The Constitution defines pointing a gun at a citizen as a use of force, and it is very disturbing that the King County Sheriff’s Office fails to recognize this and adequately train its officers that they must have a lawful justification to point a gun at a citizen,” Randall’s attorney, Christopher Carney, said in an emailed statement.

Rowe couldn’t be reached for comment.

The lawsuit alleges Rowe used excessive force in dealing with Randall and that King County failed to train and supervise its officers adequately. It seeks unspecified monetary damages.

“Unfortunately, citizens wronged by a police officer have few meaningful options when public officials fail to properly respond to the officer’s misconduct,” Carney said. “A lawsuit is an imperfect way to hold officers accountable, but it’s the only one available to Mr. Randall at this point, and we hope that it will bring about positive changes in training and supervision.”

Randall shared video of the incident on YouTube:

The incident took place last Aug. 16, when Randall pulled to a stop behind other vehicles at the intersection of North 145th Street and Fifth Avenue Northeast in Shoreline. In the video, which was taken with a helmet-mounted camera, Rowe approached Randall’s left side on foot, holding a handgun tucked in tight to his chest and pointed at Randall.

Rowe didn’t immediately identify himself as an officer. He told Randall that he’d been driving recklessly and demanded to see his driver’s license, threatening to “knock” him off the bike if he didn’t comply. Row then threatened to “dump” Randall if he moved his bike, before reaching into Randall’s pocket and extracting his wallet.

Randall told Rowe he was not armed and was “panicked” because of the gun that was drawn on him. Rowe then identified himself as “the police” and put his gun away after looking at Randall’s identification. Rowe alleged that Randall “put people at risk” because he was riding his bike at 100 mph.

Randall was not cited. A few days later, he posted the video on YouTube and the Sheriff’s Office started an internal investigation. Then-Sheriff John Urquhart sympathized with Randall and wrote on Facebook that he would use the video Randall took to train officers on what not to do.

In announcing her decision, Johanknecht disagreed with Urquhart taking sides before the investigation was concluded, and found that Rowe had not erred in drawing his gun, though she did say it should have been pointed downward and not at Randall.

Johanknecht explained that originally it had been recommended Rowe be suspended for 10 days without pay, but she said she was giving him five because he had undergone additional training and was apologetic.

She also said the detective and his family had suffered from “extra stress” due to the scrutiny of the event by news media and the public.