Seattle police officer crowd funds lawsuit

SEATTLE — A Seattle police officer suing to block new use-of-force policies has set up an Internet fundraising page to help pay for the legal fight, calling the federally mandated reforms “the greatest threat to the city’s public safety in our time.”

Robert Mahoney, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit brought by 113 officers, created the crowdfunding page Saturday on the website GoFundMe.

So far, the page lists $1,570 in donations on a goal of raising $100,000.

Just Monday, a Seattle attorney agreed to represent Mahoney and another officer in the case after the group of officers initially filed suit May 28 without legal representation. The attorney, Athan Tramountanas, declined in an interview Thursday to reveal whether he is being paid.

In mounting the fundraising effort and hiring the attorney, Mahoney signaled the officers’ intent to fully pursue their suit, which alleges the policies violate their constitutional right to self-defense and put them and the public in danger.

The legal battle has grown increasingly acrimonious, with the officers alleging in court papers last week that the city is “playing politics” with their lives.

On Thursday, attorneys for the federal monitor tracking the reforms, who is named in the suit, complained that a Seattle police officer not involved in the case refused to accept service of a motion to dismiss being delivered to 98 officers in the North Precinct. The officer said he would need legal guidance.

The use-of-force policies, which went into effect Jan. 1, grew out of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation that found Seattle police had routinely used excessive force and displayed disturbing, if inconclusive evidence, of biased policing.

Under a 2012 consent decree, the city agreed to adopt reforms to curtail unnecessary force and discriminatory policing.

The officers challenging the policies represent a fraction of the 1,200-member department, but their suit has proved to be a public-relations thorn for the city.

Seattle police declined to comment Thursday on the fundraising effort, but Mayor Ed Murray, new Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole and other city leaders have repeatedly expressed their full support for the reforms.

The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild has rejected the litigation, noting there was a review process currently under way to examine the need for altering the policies.

But the officers have pressed ahead, illustrated by the effort on San Diego-based GoFundMe, which was launched in 2010 and bills itself as “The World’s (hash)1 Personal Fundraising Websites.”

“This case may affect American law enforcement and public safety for decades to come,” Mahoney wrote on his fundraising page. “We are prepared to pursue it as far as necessary.”

While the officers aren’t opposed to reform, Mahoney wrote, they can’t support policies that infringe on the rights of the “very people sworn to uphold and protect the Constitution.”

Justice Department attorneys and their Seattle “representatives” have decided they know better what is reasonable, Mahoney asserts, ignoring experienced, highly trained officers “working the street every day” and the U.S. Supreme Court’s acknowledgment of the “natural individual right” of self-defense.

They want officers to “first go through a complicated, contradictory and confusing checklist of requirements, criteria and options” during tense, uncertain and rapidly unfolding events, rather than respond to “immediate threats of harm” with reasonable force, the 16-year veteran wrote.

The officers’ suit is before U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman.

City attorneys have moved to dismiss the suit, arguing that the use-of-force policy provides officers “reasonable latitude” to safely perform a job recognized to be “dynamic” and involve “split-second decision-making.”

Mahoney, 51, who in 2012 earned more than $102,000 in regular and overtime pay, offers a different picture.

“This policy is the greatest threat to the city’s public safety in our time,” he wrote on the fundraising page. “It unabashedly promotes the interests and rights of criminal suspects above those of both law-abiding citizens and officers.”

As of Thursday, the page listed 12 donations in five days, including some from officers who are part of the suit and others from anonymous contributors.

Mahoney did not respond to a phone message and email Thursday.

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