Seattle Journalist Threatened with Arrest for Taking Photos; Vows to Take Action

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King County Sheriff’s Officer Patrick “K.C.” Saulet

For more than two decades, King County Sheriff’s Officer Patrick “K.C.” Saulet has been able to keep his job despite a string of sustained complaints that prove he is a thug, a bully and a genuine asshole.

So it’s no wonder he was the first cop to approach a Seattle journalist Tuesday and threaten him with arrest for having the gall to take photos of a group of cops surrounding a man in typical intimidating fashion.

Not to be outrivaled, Seattle police officer John Marion then approached the reporter and threatened to harass him at work for daring to ask questions about Saulet.

But Dominic Holden, reporter for Seattle’s weekly newspaper, The Stranger, did not allow those two to deter him from publishing his photos and his article.

In fact, it empowered him to file official complaints against the two officers and vow to keep readers informed of the developments of those complaints.

Here is how he described yesterday’s encounter in The Stranger:

From 20-25 feet away, I couldn’t discern exactly what was happening, but the man eventually stood up to leave. That’s when one of the officers eyed me and yelled something like, “He’s got a camera!

King County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Patrick “K.C.” Saulet rushed over and told me to leave or be arrested. He claimed I was standing on transit station property; the plaza belongs to King County Metro’s King Street Station and I could not stand there, he said. I backed up about two feet over the line that he pointed out (two parts of the same walkway) until I was unambiguously on the City of Seattle’s sidewalk, near a utility pole by the curb. But Officer Saulet then insisted that I would be arrested unless I left the entire block.

Now, let me pause for a second to say this: When the US Department of Justice alleged that the Seattle Police Department was routinely using excessive force, federal prosecutors stressed in their report that officers were escalating ordinary interactions into volatile, sometimes violent, situations. Now a federal court controls the SPD under a reform plan, and the King County Sheriff’s Department has faced extensive scrutiny for officer misconduct, so the two agencies should be showing more civility on the beat. Or so you’d think.

Back to Saulet: “You need to leave or you’re coming with me,” he said while repeating his arrest threat yet again. Commuters, shoppers, and vagrants were milling about the sidewalk and plaza—some people were passing closer to the center of the police activity than I was—but I was the only one on that busy block told to leave (the guy watching the police and taking their picture). I hadn’t tried speaking to the officers or bothering them in any way, I hadn’t even identified myself as a reporter, and I was standing on public property. The officers did not accuse me of any offense other than standing there. At this point, the man police were questioning had left. So I asked for the officer’s name—I wanted to know who was threatening to arrest me—and he pointed to his embroidered shirt breast; as I took a photo of it, he lifted his hand, apparently in an attempt to block the shot.

Holden later learned that Saulet has a long history of misconduct and abuse  – even complaints from fellow officers – so we already know he can do whatever the hell he wants.

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Seattle police officer John Marion

As for Marion, who was displaying the behavior we’ve come to expect from Seattle police over the years, he should be made an example by the department’s new ombudsman of police accountability, Pierce Murphy, who started his job with much promise on July 1.

According to Real Change News:

Murphy joins Seattle at a pivotal time in the Seattle Police Department. A 2011 report from the Department of Justice (DOJ) found that Seattle officers have a pattern and practice of excessive force.

The city entered into a court-ordered settlement agreement with the DOJ that includes changes to the OPA as recommended by the newly formed Community Police Commission, a 15-member panel of citizens, police accountability advocates and SPD officers and sergeants.

Before coming to Seattle, Murphy served as the Boise, Idaho, police ombudsman, a position he held since 1999, following a high-profile shooting there. He has since become a well-known figure in the police accountability world.

According to city of Boise reports, Murphy has fielded fewer complaints against the police department every year since 2006.

Murphy credits that decline to the work he did building relationships between the police and the community.

“I saw that there was a crisis of trust between the community and the police that served it,” Murphy said.

He hoped to do the same thing in Seattle and promised to hold weekly meetings with the community.

And now we have Holden to hold his feet to the fire.

Because it shouldn’t be considered professional conduct in our county police force to threaten law-abiding citizens with arrest. It’s rank intimidation. I also can’t imagine that when that civilian asks a question of city officers—am I breaking the law?—that it is considered professional to threaten the civilian with visiting his place of work and harass him. If either of those things are considered acceptable, we should change the code of police conduct, because both are insane. And if they aren’t considered acceptable, I expect the departments to punish the cops involved.

Call the Seattle Police Department at (206) 625-5011 and the King County Sheriff’s Office at (206) 296-3311.