Seattle prosecutors often file charges of obstruction of justice and resisting arrest — so-called contempt of cop charges that some defense lawyers say are filed to justify otherwise unwarranted arrests. A Seattle Post-Intelligencer investigation showed that nearly half of those arrested by Seattle police officers on obstruction charges from 2002 to 2007 were freed without conviction. An audit report by former U.S. Attorney Kate Pflaumer noted that bar fights or large disturbances are among the most problematic situations because officers must make quick decisions as people flee.
The newspaper describes one case in detail, in which a man on New Year’s Eve stepped out of a fast-food restaurant to turn off his car alarm. In the moment it took him to cross the parking lot and return, police had asked the restaurant to shut its doors until a crowd passed. The man said two deputies approached him from behind, grabbed his wrists and attempted to pull him from the doorway. When he demanded that a deputy tell him why he was being manhandled, the man’s partner blasted the man’s face with pepper spray. An officer later fired a Taser into his back as he knelt on his hands and knees. The suspect was black. Pflaumer noted that blacks made up 51 percent of obstruction arrests between January 2006 to July 2008, which is consistent with their representation in arrests in violent felonies, but not in the overall population.