Seattle police sought Tuesday to quickly address another videotaped incident, ordering a sweeping review into a jaywalking stop in which a white officer punched a 17-year-old African-American girl in the face after she shoved his shoulder.
Confronted by another incident caught on videotape, Seattle police have ordered a sweeping review into a jaywalking stop in which an officer punched a 17-year-old girl in the face after she shoved him.
Interim Police Chief John Diaz ordered the review of the department’s training procedures after a videotape of the incident was repeatedly broadcast on Seattle television stations and media websites.
On the video, Officer Ian P. Walsh is seen punching the girl in the face after she tries to intervene in the arrest of a 19-year-old friend near Franklin High School on Monday afternoon. Police arrested the girl, Angel L. Rosenthal, and her friend, Marilyn Ellen Levias, both of whom have criminal records.
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The department’s response to the incident in Rainier Valley came as Mayor Mike McGinn is nearing a decision on a new permanent chief: either Diaz or East Palo Alto, Calif., Police Chief Ron Davis.
It also comes as the department is conducting a criminal investigation into the actions of two other officers who were caught on videotape April 17 kicking a prone Latino man, with one using ethnically inflammatory language.
Acting Deputy Chief Nick Metz, speaking at a hastily called news conference Tuesday morning, expressed concerns about Walsh’s conduct, saying the department was “withholding judgment” pending a separate internal investigation into the officer’s action by the department’s civilian-led Office of Professional Accountability.
His comments represented a stark reversal of the department’s preliminary statement Monday night, when a spokesman said Walsh had acted appropriately.
Walsh, 39, who joined the department in November 2006, has been temporarily placed in the department’s training unit to allow him to review his tactics, Metz said.
Walsh’s handling of the incident was backed by the head of the Seattle police union, who said the department’s review is necessary but that the officer had been defending himself.
Metz said the review of training procedures is not meant as a criticism of the officer’s actions, but would examine department tactics to see if they could be improved.
He said the review would examine not only the punch, but the entire situation surrounding the jaywalking stop.
Rosenthal and Levias are African American; Walsh is white.
Metz said he contacted leaders of Seattle’s African-American community Monday night, telling them that an investigation would be conducted.
James Kelly, chief executive officer of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, said Seattle police called him Monday to alert him to the incident.
Kelly, during a news conference Tuesday with African-American community leaders, called Walsh’s punch an overreaction. “The provocation by this 17-year-old kid may have presented a confrontation situation, but the use of violence in the form of a full punch in the face was just plain wrong,” he said in a statement.
“This is another case where we are standing here, saying, ‘shame on you’ to the Seattle police,” he said, referring to the April 17 incident.
In that incident, also videotaped, two officers kicked and stomped a prone robbery suspect. One officer kicked the Latino man while he was lying on the sidewalk and shouted, “I’m going to beat the [expletive] Mexican piss out of you, homey. You feel me?” Officers later let the man go after realizing he was the wrong person.
Kelly said he wanted to be clear that what the 17-year-old girl had done Monday was wrong and that her actions “only helped escalate an already tense situation. … I am making no excuses for her. But two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Jennifer Shaw, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said in a written statement that Monday’s incident wasn’t an isolated one.
“The SPD has a long history of allowing jaywalking citations to escalate into use-of-force situations,” Shaw said. “The pattern is very predictable: The officer sees a jaywalker, orders the person to come to him, gets angry when the jaywalker either doesn’t respond or argues, and ends up either in a physical confrontation or an arrest for an obstruction charge or both.”
The incident occurred about 3 p.m. Monday near Franklin High, where staff and the school district’s central office had requested increased police monitoring because they were concerned about the number of students jaywalking.
According to police, Walsh, working in a patrol car, saw several people jaywalking on Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, just south of Rainier Avenue South, despite a nearby pedestrian overpass.
Walsh tried to stop a group of females when one woman, later identified as Levias, began walking away, according to an incident report.
Walsh told Levias she must identify herself so he could issue her a citation or she would face arrest for obstruction, the report said. Levias continued to walk away, prompting Walsh to grab her upper arm with his right hand, the report said.
At that point, Levias said something like “get the [expletive] off me,” tensed her body and began to resist, the report said.
Walsh placed her upper body on the hood of his patrol car in trying to handcuff her. Levias began twisting around and pulled away, ignoring Walsh’s command to stop resisting as she continued to struggle with him.
While Walsh tried to handcuff Levias, Rosenthal, the 17-year-old, approached Walsh, grabbing and pushing him. Walsh responded by punching Rosenthal.
Levias was arrested for allegedly obstructing an officer, a gross misdemeanor. Rosenthal was arrested on suspicion of third-degree assault on an officer, a felony.
During the incident, a hostile crowd of onlookers gathered and appeared to be cheering Levias and Rosenthal, the police report said.
Neither Levias nor Rosenthal is a student at Franklin. There is no record that Rosenthal ever attended Seattle Public Schools, a district spokeswoman said. Levias is a graduate of the district’s Interagency Academy, an alternative program, according to the district. She received her diploma in February.
Sgt. Rich O’Neill, president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, said on Tuesday that the officer acted properly in the face of resistance and the push.
“The officer had every right to defend himself and use force,” O’Neill said. “I didn’t see anything that was wrong.”
Nonetheless, O’Neill said the department’s command staff was correctly handling the situation. “They had to send it out for review,” O’Neill said. “These are the times we live in.”
Rosenthal appeared Tuesday in King County Juvenile Court, where supporters said that she lives at the Virginia Miller House, a residential facility with behavior-modification programs for teen girls, but was in contact with her family. It’s unclear why the girl is not living with her family.
King County Superior Court pro-tem Judge Ann Danieli found that Seattle police had probable cause to arrest Rosenthal for investigation of third-degree assault and obstruction. However, the judge agreed with the girl’s defense attorney that she should be released.
Marilyn Jamerson, Rosenthal’s aunt, spoke after the hearing in support of the girl.
“She’s perfect; that’s why we call her Angel,” Jamerson said. “She was named Angel for a reason.”
The teen was ordered back to court on Friday. Charges are expected to be filed by Thursday, according to prosecutors.
Levias was released on her personal recognizance Monday and is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday in Seattle Municipal Court.
Rosenthal was charged in November with second-degree robbery. According to prosecutors, she punched a 15-year-old boy in the face while she and a group of youths were on their way to a rave in South Seattle last Aug. 28. The boy told police that his cellphone and $20 were stolen in the incident. A 14-year-old boy told police that he was punched in the head and his hat was stolen.
Authorities say the case was dismissed when the boys refused to testify.
In April 2008, Rosenthal was charged with third-degree theft after she allegedly stole a minivan in Tukwila, prosecutors said. Kent police said she used a screwdriver to break the ignition and start the vehicle.
The charge was later amended to theft of a motor vehicle. Rosenthal was given a deferred disposition — charges would be dropped if she stayed out of trouble — because it was a first-time offense, said Ian Goodhew, deputy chief of staff for Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg.
Levias was charged in February 2009 with third-degree assault after she allegedly pushed a King County sheriff’s deputy down.
According to charging documents, on Feb. 3, 2009, deputies were called to the Ruth Dykeman Children’s Center, a Burien center for troubled girls, in response to a report that Levias was being abusive toward staff. When Levias was confronted by Deputy Amy Zarelli, she pushed the female deputy, causing her to fall, charging papers said.
Levias was given a deferred disposition because it was a first-time offense, Goodhew said.
Seattle Times reporters Janet Tu, Craig Welch and Linda Shaw and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org