The Kirkland Police Department is conducting an internal investigation into a September incident at a YMCA teen center, in which two white officers roughly arrested a 14-year-old African American boy, used profanity against and shoved the center’s black director and threatened a third African American teenager with a drawn Taser.
The Sept. 5 incident at the Kirkland Teen Union Building (KTUB) has traumatized the staff and clientele and undermined relations between police and young community members, said Loria Yeadon, the president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Seattle, at a news conference Wednesday.
“The police officers’ behavior and the level of force were unacceptable and cannot be condoned anywhere in our community, especially in a safe place for teens,” she said.
City and police officials have met with YMCA executives several times since the arrest. However, Yeadon said she has become frustrated with what she describes as the city’s lack of action to address the issue. The officers — neither of whom are identified — remain on patrol and to her knowledge have not been disciplined, she said.
The police department said the officers were responding to several 911 calls involving a group of young people who had been trespassing at Juanita High School and were believed to be on campus to assault another student. After a school resource officer chased them off, the police department said there were a string of 911 calls from the neighborhood involving vandalism and theft, including doorbell video of an alleged package thief who fit the boy’s description. The boy was reportedly seen going into the KTUB by a victim of one of the thefts and that’s when police responded, the department said.
A pair of officers can be seen on the center’s surveillance video walking past an empty reception area and then being led toward a music room where the 14-year-old was reportedly playing the drums. The officers chat briefly and then one can be seen entering a doorway leading to the music room. There is no video coverage of that small foyer, so what happens next is not seen.
However, within seconds of the officer entering the door, he and the slightly built 14-year-old come tumbling out. The officer is grabbing the boy, who appears to try to pull away when the officer flings him hard to the ground, puts his knee on his head and handcuffs him. That’s when Antoine Jackson, the program director, arrived and began speaking to the officers. There is no audio on the recording.
At one point, as they are walking with the handcuffed teenager, the officer turns and shoves Jackson in the chest. Jackson, at the news conference, said he was asking the officer what he was doing. “He told me to get the (expletive) out of his face, or he was going to shoot me in my (expletive) face with a Taser,” Jackson said.
Seconds later, as the officer is leaving the building, several other young people are encountered. One can be seen raising his arms and backing away as the officer draws his Taser from a holster on his utility belt.
“There is nothing that happened that suggests to me anything that would warrant what happened to this young man,” Yeadon said. “It pains me to think of this youth and him being thrown to the floor the way he was, in a place that is supposed to be safe for teens.”
She specifically noted that both officers were white and that the youth who was arrested and the ones who were purportedly threatened, were African American.
“I am calling for better, and asking for more, of the people who serve our community,” she said. “We’d also like to see better sensitivity and bias training. We are stronger together.”
Kirkland Police Chief Cherie Harris and City Manager Kurt Triplett in a joint statement Wednesday said the city “is dedicated to being a safe, welcoming and inclusive community,” and has a commitment to “building relationships with Kirkland’s young people.” In response to the YMCA’s concerns, the city posted audio recordings of several 911 calls related to the cases that led to the boy’s arrest.
“We understand that it is human nature to experience events differently based on our backgrounds and circumstances,” the mayor and police chief said in their joint statement. “We take very seriously the ways in which this event was experienced by the KTUB staff and youth. Kirkland is committed to continuing an ongoing dialogue to increase understanding of our different perspectives and make any necessary changes to create deeper, stronger relationships.”
City spokeswoman Kellie Stickney said the city has opened an internal investigation into the incident, which should be completed within the next couple of weeks. The city said in its news release that one of the officers admits to swearing. “This is not acceptable behavior in this situation,” the city said. “The Kirkland Police Department acknowledges this and will respond appropriately.”
The boy, who was not named by the YMCA or police, was charged with theft in the third degree, a gross misdemeanor, according to police.