No charges against police-taunting teen arrested at rally

He’s seeking damages. Meanwhile, video shows a man pulling a gun at the “Back the Blue” event last week.

Benjamin Hansen is arrested after dangling a doughnut at police officers during a pro-police rally July 17 in Everett. (Screen grab from video courtesy of Bennett Haselton)

Benjamin Hansen is arrested after dangling a doughnut at police officers during a pro-police rally July 17 in Everett. (Screen grab from video courtesy of Bennett Haselton)

EVERETT — A teenager who was arrested for taunting police with a doughnut last week will likely not face criminal charges, the Snohomish County prosecutor said Thursday.

Prosecutor Adam Cornell said the decision came after he reviewed video taken of the July 17 encounter at the end of a pro-police rally. The prosecutor also reviewed a court marshal’s arrest report.

“I don’t think there’s any jury in the county that’s going to convict that young man of (fourth-degree assault) based on the evidence I know so far,” Cornell said. “… I have an ethical obligation to only bring charges where I think the facts meet the law. In this case, the facts and the law do not establish at all the commission of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Benjamin Hansen, 18, of Duvall, submitted a claim for damages to the county’s risk management division Thursday. To settle the claim without moving ahead with litigation, he’s seeking $150,000, a written promise that charges will not be filed, an independent investigation, and a written apology from Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney, who spoke at the rally. Hansen is represented by attorney Braden Pence, of Everett-based Mazzone Law Firm.

According to the claim, the request for payment includes attorney’s fees and general damages for assault, racial discrimination and 24 hours of unlawful detention.

Much of the claim is based on videos that were widely shared on social media, depicting a tense encounter between Hansen and a group of sheriff’s deputies, including marshal James Simoneschi and sheriff’s Lt. Tom Morris, who was dressed in civilian clothes.

“The shameful truth is that without the audio-video recordings, Lt. Morris and Marshal Simoneschi would likely have gotten away with this abuse of power,” Pence said. “The entirely unnecessary assault and casual collusion between officers to construct a false arrest of a non-violent protester is shocking, and leads one to wonder how many other Snohomish County citizens not protected by a video recording have likely been likewise victimized by Sheriff’s Office employees. These facts speak to a culture of indifference and impunity that Snohomish County should work diligently to correct.”

Sheriff’s spokesperson Courtney O’Keefe said the arrest is under internal review with the sheriff’s Office of Professional Accountability. The sheriff’s office would not comment further, pending the review.

The arrest took place at last Friday’s “Back the Blue” rally on the Snohomish County Campus in Everett. The event was organized by the Snohomish County Republican Party and featured the sheriff as the keynote speaker. Deputies estimated more than 300 people attended to support police, while about two dozen counter-protesters shouted slogans across the street.

Of the counter-protesters, Hansen was one of the more daring. At one point, he stood at a distance behind a rally speaker, and in view of the crowd, holding up a skateboard inscribed with the acronyms BLM (Black Lives Matter) and ACAB (short for an anti-police slogan). He stood behind the crowd, yelling “Black Lives Matter,” as the crowd chanted “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter.”

A teenage girl said she brought the doughnut, tied onto a stick with string, as a joke. It had been well received earlier in the night by both sides, she said. After the rally, and after most people had dispersed from the county campus, Hansen asked for the prop.

In a video recorded by the girl, Hansen is seen skateboarding up to a group of people, including sheriff’s deputies and marshals assigned to patrol the county campus, with the makeshift doughnut fishing pole in hand. At first, one of the marshals laughed. But as Hansen raised the doughnut in front of Morris, and made a comment about “bootlickers,” the lieutenant became irate.

“Get that (expletive) (expletive) away from my face or I will whoop your (expletive), boy” he says. “Get the (expletive) away from me.”

The word “boy,” which Pence claimed was used a racist slur, is hard to make out in the video’s audio due to other noises happening at the same time.

Simoneschi then shoves Hansen from behind. Hansen asks the girl recording the video if she caught it on camera, and asks deputies for their names and badge numbers. They don’t respond to the request. Instead, Simoneschi arrests Hansen and walks him to the courthouse steps.

In an arrest report, Simoneschi wrote Hansen reportedly “pushed the stick and the donut towards Lt. Morris’s face.” To avoid being jabbed, Simoneschi wrote, Morris backed up against a retaining wall and railing of a staircase. When Hansen pushed the stick further toward Morris, the lieutenant was unable to move out of the way anymore, Simoneschi wrote.

There were no reports or video evidence reviewed by The Daily Herald that Hansen touched anyone during the rally. Under state law, a person does not necessarily have to be touched or harmed for someone to be charged with assault.

In this case, though, Pence argued no assault or attempt of an assault took place.

“If Mr. Hansen’s intention was to assault or alarm anyone, he easily could have done so at the moment filmed or any moment earlier in the afternoon,” Pence wrote in an email to The Herald. “The fact that Mr. Hansen managed to interact with other officers and civilians with no issue, and that the incident only occurred upon Lt. Morris’ verbal aggression, demonstrates that event had far more to do with Lt. Morris than it did with Mr. Hansen.”

The damage claim points out inconsistencies between Simoneschi’s report and what can be seen in the video. Pence wrote that Hansen never pushed the stick and doughnut toward Morris’ face, and that the lieutenant never attempted to move out of the way of the stick.

The time between the lieutenant beginning to talk and the time Simoneschi shoved Hansen was about four seconds, Pence writes.

The claim alleged Simoneschi didn’t arrest Hansen because of the taunt with the doughnut, but because Hansen asked officers for names and badge numbers.

Another conflict

Pence wrote that while sheriff’s deputies were quick to arrest the teen over taunting with a doughnut, they “looked the other way” when earlier in the night a pro-police demonstrator pulled out a gun and pointed it at counter-protesters.

Video was captured of that incident, too. Counter-protesters who witnessed the event said a few of them had crossed the street when they were confronted by pro-police demonstrators, who were apparently guarding the county campus from counter-protesters, a public property typically open to anyone. Some were armed with guns.

“There was the typical yelling back and forth, I suppose,” said Ami McCuaig, 44. “We are just holding out signs and banners and flags.”

No one on the counter-protesters’ side had weapons, she said.

Another counter-protester, Matthew Lincoln, 38, a musician with the Everett band Florida Man, lives just a couple miles away from the campus. He said he saw the teenage girl who had brought the doughnut roller skate to the other side of the street first. When he saw several men approach her, he went to intervene along with some other counter-protesters.

A video shows a brief scuffle.

Then another man is seen dragging someone — Lincoln — away from the campus with his arm wrapped around their neck.

An unidentified man was seen wrapping his arm around a counter-protester and dragging him at the Back the Blue rally in Everett (Screen grab from video courtesy of Ami McCuaig)

An unidentified man was seen wrapping his arm around a counter-protester and dragging him at the Back the Blue rally in Everett (Screen grab from video courtesy of Ami McCuaig)

Lincoln broke free, he said, but then the man who attacked him pulled out a handgun and pointed it at him, then pointed it at other counter protesters.

McCuaig said the man pointed the gun at her.

“I stood there for a few seconds, thinking I’m dead,” she said. “ … When he didn’t pull the trigger, I bolted back across the street to warn the others.”

When she heard police sirens, she thought the man was going to be arrested. Instead, he’s seen in the video tucking the gun away and quickly walking away.

People in the video began yelling about a man with a gun. Witnesses said they directed those statements at police, who apparently didn’t follow up with any actions. One witness said she saw four deputies walk toward the crowd, but they didn’t make it halfway before turning around.

Counter-protesters say an unidentified man pulled out a gun and aimed it at them at the Back the Blue Rally in Everett. (Screen grab from video courtesy of Ami McCuaig)

Counter-protesters say an unidentified man pulled out a gun and aimed it at them at the Back the Blue Rally in Everett. (Screen grab from video courtesy of Ami McCuaig)

A group of deputies can be seen in at least one video that circulated on the internet, though it’s not clear whether they witnessed a gun being pulled in the mass of people.

“There was nothing done about it,” McCuaig said. “Nothing. They were more concerned about the shoving. I don’t really understand what was going through their mind, to be honest.”

McCuaig said she worried not just for herself, but for others gathered at the counter-protest, including her mother, who is over the age of 70.

“I feel silly that I relaxed, because I really thought they caught that guy,” she said.

Neither McCuaig nor Lincoln immediately called police. Both said Thursday that they want to press charges. McCuaig said she wasn’t sure at first whether she wanted to make a report, fearing possible retribution from the man with the gun.

Lincoln said Thursday that in the summer he’s usually out playing with his band, but the COVID-19 pandemic essentially canceled those plans.

“I’m supposed to be on tour,” he said, “not getting choked out.”

O’Keefe said the sheriff’s office didn’t know about the incident with the gun until a Herald reporter asked about it Thursday. By then, no one had filed a police report.

Now that the sheriff’s office knows about it, O’Keefe said, the incident is under investigation.

Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; zbryan@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @zachariahtb.

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