Leaders of the NAACP in Seattle said Tuesday the justice system failed when the King County Prosecutor’s Office decided last week not to bring a felony assault charge against a Seattle police officer who punched a handcuffed woman after she kicked him in the back of a patrol car.
At an evening news conference, Gerald Hankerson, president of the Seattle King County NAACP, sharply criticized King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg over his finding that Officer Adley Shepherd acted within legal bounds when he punched the woman and fractured two bones in her right eye orbit.
“That punch was a retaliatory act, not a tactical act,” Hankerson said.
Hankerson likened the case to the deaths of two black men, Eric Garner in New York and Mike Brown in Missouri, and the decisions of grand juries not to indict white police officers for their killings.
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However, Shepherd, 38, is African American, as is the woman he punched, Miyekko Durden-Bosley, 23, who was initially arrested for investigation of domestic violence. She later was booked for assaulting a police officer but never charged.
Though lacking the racial component of the Missouri and New York cases, Hankerson said, Shepherd’s case is noteworthy because of what he called the failure of prosecutors to hold Shepherd accountable for his conduct during the June 22 domestic-violence call, which was captured on patrol-car video.
“This was an egregious act,” said Hankerson, who along with Sheley Secrest, an NAACP executive officer, called on Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole to fire Shepherd.
Shepherd is subject to an internal investigation by the Seattle Police Department, which could impose discipline up to termination if he is found to have violated department policies.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle is separately conducting an ongoing review of the matter to determine if Durden-Bosley’s civil rights were criminally violated.
Durden-Bosley, in an interview with KING TV on Tuesday, said of Shepherd, “I definitely do think he should have been charged with a crime. It just hurts. It devastates.”
She said she still suffers from the punch, including “really bad headaches on my right-hand side.”
Shortly before the NAACP news conference, Satterberg, in an interview, elaborated on his decision Friday not to charge Shepherd, a nine-year SPD patrol officer, with assault.
State law, he explained, clearly grants police the power to use “all necessary means,” up to and including deadly force, to make an arrest or overcome resistance to arrest.
While an officer’s use of force is subject to what he called a “reasonableness” test, Satterberg and his senior prosecutors concluded the circumstances Shepherd found himself in justified the force he used, at least in the eyes of the law.
“He informed the subject that she was going to be arrested,” Satterberg explained. “She many times stated that she wasn’t going to get into the car, and when he finally put her in the car, she kicked him, and he responded with a single punch.”
Satterberg said the punch had the effect the officer intended — Durden-Bosley stopped resisting.
“That could be different if there were multiple punches, or if there was a prolonged beating,” he said. “But a single, instinctive punch to subdue her so that he could overcome her resistance to be arrested … Clearly under state laws he has the right to use that force.”
Although prosecutors said Shepherd acted immediately, they wrote in a detailed legal analysis of their decision that Shepherd, after being kicked, recoiled, stated, “She kicked me” and then punched Durden-Bosley.
But Satterberg did not conclude that Shepherd was deliberately retaliating against Durden-Bosley without justification.
Shepherd opted not to push Durden-Boslely fully into the car and shut the door, or seek assistance from another officer at the scene to subdue her, patrol-car video shows.
Satterberg said his finding doesn’t mean Shepherd did everything right. He said he thinks Shepherd will “be held to account by his department’s disciplinary process about the other options he might have had.” He also noted she can file a civil suit.
“Our evaluation is not, ‘Did this officer do everything right,’ or whether there were other alternatives that would have been better for him to to take,” he said.
But the fact that a single punch was thrown in proximity to a kick aimed at the officer, and that Durden-Bosley stopped struggling immediately afterward was persuasive, he said.
“Those facts to me show you could not, and should not put this officer on trial before a jury on a felony assault case because you are not going to be able to overcome the legal grant of authority for him to use force,” he said.
After Satterberg announced his decision Friday, City Attorney Pete Holmes issued a news release stating that his prosecutors believed the injury suffered by the woman “undoubtedly” met the felony standard and that the filing decision was Satterberg’s.
Holmes, as city attorney, has jurisdiction over misdemeanor crimes in Seattle, and Satterberg said the city attorney could have filed a misdemeanor fourth-degree assault charge against Shepherd. At the same time, however, he said he told Holmes that he had concluded the punch was legal.
Before county prosecutors reached their decision, the head of the city attorney’s criminal division reviewed the case at the request of prosecutors, then returned it to the county without offering a formal opinion on what should be done, according to the city office.
“We respect the jurisdiction of the county,” Holmes’ spokeswoman, Kimberly Mills, said Tuesday, adding that her office was not seeking to undercut Satterberg’s decision.