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Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Cop Taped Using Force in Arrest Must Face Trial

(CN) - A federal judge has refused to dismiss a man's civil rights suit against a Seattle police officer, ruling that a video tape of the arrest could support either side and evidence backed the man's claim that the city has a "custom of ratifying the constitutional violations of police officers."

John Kita says the arresting officer used excessive force and the patrol car's dashboard camera video proves it. Officer Kevin Oshikawa-Clay claims the video shows he was using practices "within the department's use-of-force policy," including striking Kitna on the back of the head as a "distraction technique."

U.S. District Judge John Coughenour said this disagreement shows the need for a trial. "The undisputed facts of plaintiff's case against defendant K.V. Oshakaway-Clay are susceptible to competing inferences," Coughenour wrote on April 11. "At one point, defendant struck plaintiff forcefully on the back of his head. This fact cannot be ignored."

It tends to indicate that Defendant used excessive force while arresting plaintiff," Coughenour added. "Whether defendant's forceful arrest was reasonable under the circumstances depends upon several factors that require further explanation at trial- including the severity of the crime at issue, the threat which plaintiff posed to defendant and to other individuals, and whether plaintiff was actively resisting arrest at the time of the incident."

Oshakaway-Clay's supervisors reviewed the tape and praised the officer for his actions, the judge noted.

"Jurors may agree with these conclusions," according to the ruling. "If so, they will have concluded that defendant Oshawaka-Clay behaved appropriately, and will have therefore also concluded that defendant City of Seattle is not liable for plaintiff's injuries. On the other hand, jurors may disagree with the supervisors' conclusions.

"If so, they are entitled to receive evidence on the issue of whether an alleged systematic lack of accountability for police abuses within the City of Seattle police department caused the injuries of which plaintiff complains," the ruling continues.

"Because this Court cannot tell for certain which party is right, this is an easy decision: The jury shall decide."

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