EVERETT — A man who served a month in jail for running from Everett police will serve no more time behind bars for the offense, in a case that prompted the police department to clarify its policy about a technique to pin suspects with a knee to the back.
The arrest of Joseph Michael Hill, 39, a Black man, came the day before police killed George Floyd while detaining him in Minneapolis.
Body-worn camera footage showed Hill repeating, “I can’t breathe,” as a police sergeant held him down by kneeling on his back in a yard in south Everett.
Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman said the pinning techniques vastly differed: The officer in Hill’s case applied pressure to the shoulders and not directly to the neck, and it lasted 14 seconds — much shorter than the 8-minute suffocation of Floyd.
Nonetheless, both incidents led Everett police to add a line to the policy manual explicitly telling officers to move a restrained person to a position where it’s easier to breathe “at the earliest safe opportunity.” The police chief said that was already an unwritten policy, but now it’s codified. Templeman determined the sergeant acted within the updated policy.
Hill pleaded guilty to resisting arrest Monday. Other charges of fourth-degree domestic violence assault and criminal trespassing were dropped in the plea deal. Everett Municipal Court Judge Amy Kaestner sentenced Hill to 30 days in jail. He had already served that time while waiting to post bond.
A neighbor reported a possible domestic violence assault with a knife around 6 a.m. May 24. Initially, Hill’s off-and-on girlfriend identified her boyfriend as the attacker. The neighbor told police Hill may have a knife, police reports say. Officers searched the neighborhood and found Hill on a roof, saying he didn’t want to go to jail. Officers surrounded him, then chased him when he ran. A sheriff’s deputy rushed at him with a barking police dog. Hill surrendered and dropped to his belly until the sergeant caught up to him.
The sergeant hopped a fence and pinned Hill, who then told police he could not breathe and that he was having a seizure. The sergeant wrote that he “clearly was not” having a seizure. Hill’s defense attorney questioned how the officer could have known that.
In custody, Hill told officers the woman actually attacked him, striking him with a glass object and throwing steak knives at him, and that he defended himself and ran. The girlfriend had an injury to her face, as if she had been punched. She told police Hill did not use a knife, nor did he threaten her with a weapon. She declined to cooperate with police — and, in the end, the assault charge was dropped.
The crime “sounds so bad,” defense lawyer Maxwell Mensinger said, “but when the facts emerge, the truth is … ultimately a lot sadder.”
Hill and his attorney seriously considered taking the case to trial, delaying the case over the past months. Instead, they took the plea deal as a practical decision to ensure he would serve no more jail time, though Hill maintained he had been wronged by the system even as he read over the paperwork in court Monday, Mensinger said.
“You never know if a jury’s going to do the right thing,” Hill’s attorney said. “This took a lot of the risk off the table and that’s why he chose it.”
Mensinger said he was disappointed police did not apologize for pinning Hill in a way that the defense saw as unnecessary and as potentially deadly force.
Police reports said Hill had a wad of cash in his pocket and nothing else. Yet the allegations that he had a weapon on him were used to argue for an amount of bail that effectively kept Hill jailed, Mensinger said. Hill managed to post $10,000 bond in late June.
“One of the lessons to be learned,” Mensinger said, “is that information police are receiving when they’re trying to track people down is not always reliable.”
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.