The city of Seattle will pay $250,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a 74-year-old Seattle man who was held at gunpoint and painfully handcuffed by police in his own home during a routine “welfare check.”
Howard McCay, a retired computer programmer, longshore worker and longtime homeowner, will also meet with interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz, the director of the Office of Police Accountability — which sanctioned the officers’ actions — and Seattle Police Inspector General Lisa Judge as part of the settlement agreement, according to Joseph Shaeffer, McCay’s Seattle attorney who filed the lawsuit last year.
McCay was napping in an upstairs bedroom of his Cherry Hill neighborhood home the evening of Feb. 23, 2019, when a passing neighbor noticed his front door was open and believed the cluttered interior of the home appeared suspicious. The man called 911, and Seattle police sent three officers, who then waited until a fourth — armed with a patrol rifle — arrived and then, after knocking and receiving no response, entered the home, guns drawn. Other officers were called as backup and within minutes there would be 10 police officers at the scene.
Shaeffer, in his lawsuit, alleged the department has a “policy, practice and custom” of using so-called “welfare checks” to enter people’s homes without warrants.
To illustrate the allegations, McCay’s attorneys posted a YouTube video that meshes Seattle police dispatch tapes, computer-assisted dispatch entries and body camera video to highlight the ordeal.
When the lawsuit was filed last year, the Police Department said it could not comment on pending litigation. With the lawsuit settled, SPD referred comment to the city attorney’s office, where spokesperson Dan Nolte said the comment was, “We wish Mr. McCay well.”
McCay was jerked from his sleep by voices downstairs ordering him out of the room. Panicked, McCay called the 911 dispatch himself to report intruders. He exited his room with his hands up, holding the cellphone, illuminated by the flashlight attached to the barrel of a police rifle. He was ordered to drop the phone, turn around and lift his shirt to show he wasn’t hiding a weapon, then kneel with his hands on his head.
The video shows McCay cooperating as officers point handguns at him. “What did I do?” he asked at one point.
“The officers did not explain why they were in the house, nor did they seek to verify Mr. McCay’s name, residence or purpose in the home,” the lawsuit said. McCay, in an earlier interview, said a simple records and identification check would have showed he had lived there for 48 years.
The city’s lawyers didn’t dispute many of the factual allegations in the lawsuit, which were caught on body camera, but challenged the phrasing and conclusions reached by McCay’s lawyers — that officers used unnecessary force in securing McCay and illegally entered his home to do so.
The incident was reviewed by the OPA, which concluded in August 2019 that McCay’s allegation that he was “slammed” to the ground was unfounded and determined the officers’ cautious, armed approach to the situation was warranted.
McCay said in an earlier interview the arrest had aggravated a shoulder injury he had suffered as a long shore worker in 1999, and that having his arm forced behind his back to be handcuffed was “excruciating.” He was not immediately available for comment Friday.
Body camera video from several officers at the scene shows McCay writhing on the ground.
“Please! I’m an old man! I have shoulder problems!” McCay yelped as two officers held him down and attempted to cuff him — at that point, there were four officers in the home.
After lying on the ground for several minutes, McCay was asked if he lived there. He responded that he did and had for the past 48 years. McCay remained handcuffed as officers told him to get to his feet.
“Hold me so I don’t fall,” asked McCay, who was struggling to balance on the stairs.
An officer, identified in the lawsuit and on body camera video as Scott LaPierre, responded: “Stand up on your own. If you fall, it’s on you.”
McCay was released after officers confirmed his identity.