Seattle U.S. Attorney John McKay is monitoring four incidents of alleged police misconduct. But the Seattle Times says that if history is any indicator, these inquiries will fade away, even those in which federal authorities believe police were out of line.
The Times says that never have federal prosecutors in Seattle filed criminal charges against a police officer or prison guard for violating someone’s civil rights. Since 1996, the Justice Department has turned down 47 referrals from federal agents in Seattle of suspected civil-rights violations by law enforcement, everything from suspected beatings to fatal shootings.
A recent dismissal involved the then-chief of the Sequim Police Department, who decked a handcuffed suspect, sending him to the hospital for observation. The Justice Department turned it down, believing it could not win its case.
Federal law requires prosecutors to prove officers intentionally violated someone’s civil rights, a high burden of proof.
Recent incidents – including a SWAT team’s slaying of an unarmed jail escapee and the puzzling death of a 52-year-old bank vice president while detained by Port of Seattle airport police – have raised questions about who polices the police.
A former federal prosecutor in Seattle, Harold Malkin, said: “The fact is, jurors are reluctant to question the use of force by police in the absence of persuasive evidence to the contrary.”
Given the slim chance of prosecution, some lawyers and police watchdogs say victims’ families and the public are given false hopes. “The system does have a tendency to create false expectations,” said Sam Pailca, a lawyer who directs the Seattle Police Department’s Office of Professional Accountability.