In the second such incident this year, a member of Seattle Law Enforcement has been implicated in the use of excessive-force when it pertains to interacting with a non-White member of the community. Officer Ian P. Walsh punched a 17-year-old African-American girl, Angel L. Rosenthal, in the face after she intervened in the arrest of her 19-year-old friend, Marilyn Ellen Levias. It seems that this situation, which must be embarrassing for the Seattle Police Department, started as the result of a simple Jaywalking violation near Franklin High School on Monday, June 14, 2010, that spiraled out of control. Interestingly, Acting Deputy Chief Nick Metz has expressed concerns over Officer's Walsh's conduct and has recommended that he be reassigned to the department's training unit, pending the results of an internal investigation by the civilian-led Office of Professional Accountability. The head of the Seattle Police Union and Sgt. Rich O'Neill of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, said that Walsh acted properly and was justified in the action he took to defend himself by the use-of-force. Serene Cook of Lakewood, WA wrote the Op-Ed, POLICE: Officer handled situation with grace (TNT, 6-17) in which she lauded the officer for handling the situation with amazing restraint [a punch in the face, no less] and should be commended, and that he handled it with grace; although one might just be inclined to suggest that it was D-I-S-G-R-A-C-E.
Be that as it may, here's a little recent history lesson of interaction between Law Enforcement and local citizens. According to Seattle P-I reporter Scott Gutierrez, on November 29, 2009, King County Deputy Sheriff Paul Schene, an 8 year veteran, after a 15-year-old girl who was booked into the Sea-Tac City Hall Detention center holding cell, was asked to removed her basketball ball shoes, as she kicked one of them off, it was sent flying apparently in the direction of Schene and hit him on the right shin. The Officer then lunged through the other side of the door and kicked the girl, striking her in the stomach or upper thigh, pushed her against a corner of the wall before flinging her to the floor by her hair, and if that was not enough, he made "two overhead strikes" to her body, although it was not clear where they landed. He further uncovers that in December, Deputy Don Griffee was charged with misdemeanor assault for allegedly punching a handcuffed male suspect. In January, Deputy Brian Bonnar was accused by his fellow deputies of using excessive force on a woman who had been restrained after a high-speed pursuit. And as far as interaction with the minority community, on April 17, 2010, at least two Seattle Police Officers kicked and stomped a Spanish-speaking robbery suspect who was lying prone on the ground and under their control. One of the officers kicked the suspect while he was lying on the sidewalk and yelled racist epithets at him. Officers let the man go after realizing that they had the wrong person.
So what does all of this have to do with Officer Walsh's actions? It seems that the SPD has a systemic problem of over-reaction and developing an aggressive posture, especially with members of the minority community, often escalating into a use-of-force or excessive-force situational response during an incident that is either provocative, confrontational, or appears threatening to Law Enforcement. Officer Walsh has been on the force since 2006 and despite his training, it appears that he lost control of the situation, did not consider his surroundings and proximity to her friends to properly to make the proper assessment of his actions to handcuff Levias, wherein Rosenthal was able to approach him and place her hands on him. He apparently wasn't watching her come near or if he did, was not able to prevent her advance until after making contact with his person, he decided to punch a teenage girl in the face. This is not the action of a trained professional because a blow to the face could have resulted in serious facial lacerations, a spinal injury from the head snapping backwards or even death, in some extreme cases.
Police officers are supposedly taught de-escalation techniques to take control of the situation, not to "lose" control, and it could very easily have gotten out of hand altogether; especially seeing a grown man [whether in a uniform or not] punch a teenage girl in the face with his clenched fist, especially if he's White and she is Black. Walsh panicked because he didn't have sufficient backup to secure the area and prevent any more interference from friends of the girls or curious onlookers, and it apparently did not occur to him to threaten to use a taser or pepper spray on anyone who seemed as though they would interfere with his initial detention and handcuffing of Levias. One can only ponder, in retrospect, what the reaction would have been if the girl in question was White and the Police Officer was Black?
776 Commerce St. #B-11
Tacoma, WA 98402
June 17, 2010
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