A 56-year-old African-American man filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Kent Police Department for alleged brutality and excessive force that caused him to suffer severe and permanent injuries after officers stopped him for a reported misdemeanor warrant investigation.
David E. Lewis, of Seattle, filed the suit Feb. 15 in U.S. District Court in Seattle, according to a news release from the Seattle-based law firm of Shishido Taren. The suit is against the city of Kent, Officers Eli Morris, Eric Tung and Eliot Hale and former Officer Richie Plunkett. Lewis is seeking compensatory and punitive damages from the city of Kent and the individual officers, to the fullest extent available under the law.
Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla said in a Wednesday email that the city hadn’t received a copy of the complaint.
“I’m aware, however, that a K-9 was used to help apprehend Mr. Lewis during an incident three years ago and that Mr. Lewis sustained several lacerations to his leg,” Padilla said. “The use of force was reviewed by the chain of command and found to be within policy. Mr. Lewis was charged with resisting arrest and assault on a police dog, and I understand he’s still awaiting trial on those charges.”
Attorney Jordan A. Taren, who along with Robin Shishido and Eric Harrison represent Lewis, said in an email that the lawsuit wasn’t filed until last week because criminal charges filed by city prosecutors against Lewis in Kent Municipal Court are still pending. Police arrested him that night for investigation of resisting arrest and crimes against a K-9 officer. A trial in November 2016 resulted in a hung jury, Taren said.
Since that time, the prosecution has requested multiple continuances, Taren said. Trial was set for the beginning of December 2018, but was continued three separate times, and is set for the beginning of March.
“As we moved closer to the statute of limitations on his civil rights claims, we decided to file now,” Taren said.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik will preside over the case. The city should receive a copy of the complaint this week, Taren said. Lewis has requested a jury trial.
Lewis was walking at about 1:47 a.m. on Feb. 18, 2016, in the 25800 block of Pacific Highway South on Kent’s West Hill, when a police vehicle cut him off, according to the complaint. Lewis stopped walking after Officer Morris pulled his vehicle in front of him. Morris yelled at Lewis that he had a warrant, but didn’t reveal what it was for after Lewis asked him. The attorneys for Lewis claim it was an alleged misdemeanor warrant.
Morris reportedly exited his vehicle with his Taser drawn and pointed it at Lewis. K-9 Officer Tung and his dog Kato arrived on the scene as Morris exited his vehicle. A third police vehicle pulled in behind Lewis, who carried a cellphone in one hand and an empty plastic detergent laundry jug in the other.
Tung then released Kato and directed the dog to attack Lewis, who reportedly didn’t exhibit any signs or aggression or resistance and his hands were visible at all times.
Lewis backed up as the dog attacked and held the jug to try to protect his legs from being bit. When Lewis stepped back, Officers Morris, Tung and Plunkett also charged him. Morris shot Lewis in the leg with his Taser, according to the court papers. Tung used his flashlight and hit Lewis at least three times in the back and head, including while Lewis was on the ground covered by two officers with Kato biting and ripping his leg.
Plunkett and Morris allegedly had tackled Lewis to take him to the ground, causing his head to hit the pavement which led to injuries to his face and teeth. Plunkett repeatedly kneed Lewis in the ribs. Tung continued to direct the police dog to attack and the dog tore into the leg of Lewis, biting him at least four times, which caused cuts and puncture wounds. Hale allegedly helped hold Lewis down and with unreasonable force reportedly drove his head into the ground.
“Defendants, without provocation or cause, unreasonably used severe, dangerous and potentially deadly force, including releasing the K-9 unit, to attack plaintiff within moments of their arrival,” the suit claims.
Paramedics transported Lewis to Valley Medical Center in Renton with injuries to his legs and face.
The suit claims the officers violated the Fourth Amendment rights of Lewis to not be subjected to unreasonable seizure with their use of excessive force and deploying a dangerous K-9 unit.
Lewis is the son of David Lewis, a well-known rock ‘n’ roll artist in the Pacific Northwest in the 1950s and ’60s labeled the “Father of Northwest Rock,” according to historylink.org. Lewis died of cancer in 1998.