Seattle Cops’ Civil Rights Claims Falter at Ninth Circuit

SEATTLE (CN) – The Ninth Circuit seemed skeptical of Seattle police officers’ claims that a new use-of-force policy mandated by the Department of Justice violates their Second Amendment rights.

U.S. Circuit Judge N. Randy Smith told the officers’ attorney he didn’t “have much of an argument” at a three-judge panel appellate hearing on Monday.

More than 100 officers sued to block the police reforms in 2014, saying the revised use-of-force policy unreasonably restricted them from defending themselves and violated their Second Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights.

The Seattle Police Department was placed under a consent decree in 2012 after an 11-month investigation by the DOJ found routine use of excessive force and civil rights violations. As part of the police department’s settlement with the DOJ, it implemented new use-of-force policies that stress minimal reliance on physical force.

U.S. Chief District Judge Marsha Pechman dismissed the suit from the Western District of Washington in 2014, finding no case supports the officers’ “novel theory that a police department policy outlining expectations for an officer’s use of force can burden conduct protected by the Second Amendment.”

Pechman also said the officers “grossly misconstrue Fourth Amendment law” by claiming the use-of-force policy is a metaphorical seizure of their right to use force.

At Monday’s hearing, the officers’ attorney, Athan Tramountanas, urged the panel to revive the case.

He said the new use-of-force policy is “overly complicated and dangerously restrictive.”

Tramountanas stuck with the argument that the new rule robs police of their Second Amendment right to self-defense.

“You must abandon your reason,” Tramountanas said in reference to the guidelines that now require officers to use de-escalation techniques before resorting to force.

“The officers aren’t arguing for no policy,” he said, just a policy that’s reasonable.

“They have to be able to defend themselves,” he added.

City attorney Gregory Narver contended that the lower court’s ruling was spot-on, and that this was not a Second Amendment case.

“Hyperbole aside, this doesn’t disarm the police,” Narver said. He also argued the policy doesn’t keep officers from defending themselves.

If the officers had real concerns about the use-of-force policy, they should have brought them before the federal judge overseeing the police reforms rather than asking an appellate panel to “create a new fundamental constitutional right,” Narver said.

The 126 officers, sergeants and detectives who filed the suit did so without union approval.

U.S. Circuit Judges Carlos Bea and U.S. District Judge William Hayes sitting by designation from the Southern District of California also sat on the panel.