U.S. Attorney: No merit to Seattle officers lawsuit

SEATTLE — U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan on Thursday dismissed as “without merit” a civil-rights lawsuit filed by more than 100 Seattle police officers saying that new use-of-force policies are restricting their constitutional right to protect themselves.

“We will be moving forward. We will not be distracted by those who want to slow or stop reform,” Durkan said at a news conference, a day after officers sued U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and other city officials in federal court in Seattle.

There has been significant progress in reforming the Seattle police force, and officers deserve credit for taking on “full-bore change,” Durkan said.

The officers’ complaint says the new policies require them to use significantly less force than is being threatened against them and have resulted in cases where officers hesitated or failed to use appropriate levels of force.

Durkan said no one can say the policies are making it harder for police officers because they haven’t been fully implemented yet. The reforms will make officers safer and help restore confidence in police, she said.

The officers’ complaint seeks an injunction against the policies, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

In the lawsuit, the officers say they can cite numerous incidents “where patrol officers have hesitated or failed to use appropriate levels of force under the circumstances, including cases where officers have frozen, or retreated from suspects who threatened the officer with death of serious physical injury.”

The lawsuit says that officers and the public were unnecessarily exposed to serious danger or death in those cases, and officers have been injured because of the new policies and practices.

The department’s new policy — negotiated between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice, and approved by a federal court judge — went into effect Jan. 1.

The policy defines force as any physical coercion by an officer, lists guidelines for every weapon used and requires the most serious uses of force to be investigated by a special team. It spells out when force is appropriate and when it’s prohibited. The policy also stresses developing and using alternatives to force and requires that officers carry at least one less-lethal tool such as a Taser.

They were developed under a settlement between Seattle police and the U.S. Justice Department, which found in 2011 that officers were too quick to use force.

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