Community Post

More Details on Youth Probation Officer Assault

KTKeller posted a great story the other day about a juvenile probation councilor that has been charged with assaulting a police officer.  There were a lot of detailed, thoughtful comments on both sides of the story.   And several times commenters suggested that people seek more facts about the case to go beyond what has been reported in the papers and blogs.

Thanks to the endlessly helpful folks at the SPD media office, we’ve gotten hold of redacted copies of the original police reports.  Bear in mind that a police report is by its nature one sided – it’s an officer’s account of what happened for a particular incident.  But they are sworn statements made under penalty of perjury.

The incident started on September 4th at 4:07pm, when two officers were dispatched to a report of multiple teenagers throwing rocks across traffic near 23rd & S. Jackson.   The officers saw the juvenile suspect step out into a traffic lane on Jackson St near the middle of the block and told him to get back on the sidewalk and not jaywalk.  As the officer approached the kid to give him a citation, he told the officer to “get back in your car”.

The suspect wasn’t  cooperative with police as they issued the citation, refusing to help in the spelling of his name or to give any picture ID or social security number.  The report says he was “acting in a very agitated and semi aggressive manner”.   At one point he put his hands in his pockets and refused to remove them and “continued to clinch his fists and place his body in an aggressive fighting posture.”

A crowd of 20-30 unhappy people were starting to gather around the scene during this time.  Officers report recognizing “known area gang members” among them, and ended up putting the suspect into a patrol car and taking him to the precinct to continue the identification and citation process.

The suspect’s probation officer, Ms. Gaston, was called somewhere around this time, and she arrived at the scene a few minutes later.  She approached the officers and asked “What!? Your [sic] arresting him for jay walking now!?”   She’s further described as “heated, antagonistic, and accusatory”.  

Police ordered her to stay back, but she continued to follow an officer to the patrol car.   A female police sergeant put herself between that officer, causing a physical altercation:

Sgt. [redacted] extended her left arm out as Gaston tried to pass her.  Sgt. [redacted] told Gaston that she needed to stay back.  Gaston continued forward until she ran into Sgt. [redacted]’s arm, which held straight holding Gaston back, providing a safe working space for Officer [redacted].   Gaston jerked her arm, striking Sgt. [redacted]’s arm and knocking it away.  Gaston proceeded to lean forward, and with her right hand, push Sgt. [redacted] in the chest.   Sgt. [redacted] explained that the attack was unwanted touching.

The report says that Ms. Gaston was not immediately booked for assault “as a matter of professional courtesy”, considering her role with the county.  But they note that:

Her actions showed a direct intent to assault an officer.  As officers continued to attempt to reason with the hostile and aggressive “probation officer”, she declined to provide the name of her supervisor or his phone number, exclaiming that she was off duty and was not required to.

The use of quotes around probation officer in that part of the report gives me pause.

The suspect was searched at the precinct, where police found that he had a pair of Joe Boxer underwear in one of the legs of his pants.   The report mentions that “Speaking with [a witness], officers learned that the item had not been purchased from the Southcenter Sears.”  The redacted report doesn’t give any further information as to who the witness was.   But it notes that Sears security was contacted and they ran a check that determined that the shorts had not been purchased when the juvenile suspect was shopping there with Ms. Gaston.

The report also mentions that police determined that there was probable cause connecting the juvenile suspect to a previous burglary.

So as is usually the case in these situations, it seems to come down to a question of whether or not you trust the police.  And I suppose one could quibble with whether a push and a refusal to stop should be followed up with an assault charge vs. something less onerous like obstruction or disorderly conduct.  But I’m guessing the law is clear that it qualifies as an assault in the technical sense.

0 thoughts on “More Details on Youth Probation Officer Assault

  1. Wow, Scott, thank you for your work to put this story in context! It’s way different from what the original reports led many of us to believe.
    Yes, it’s partly about what source we choose to believe; in this instance, we heard only the one side and therefore had no competing choice to consider. It’s also about our prior experiences that seem relevant; and in this case, at least, it’s about the initial story, and I no longer remember the source, which appeared to be a news story and “just the facts,” as much as a local incident can be. It makes me wonder about the veracity of other reporting.
    If this new version is the most nearly correct one, I am relieved. From what I have seen of Capt. McDonagh, I’m sure he would not condone the level of racial profiling that this original story alleged, and it also did not fit my impression of most EP officers.
    I also appreciate all the people who have contributed to this discussion on each of the threads that have taken it up – especially Eyes Open, who has given us thoughtful information and perspective.

  2. This whole thing makes me think it should be a law that all officers must carry sound and video recorders as a part of their uniforms. It’s the only way we can get past the he-said/she-said and distrust that is built into the system.

    The technology is all there. We just need the will to deploy it.

    SPD was experimenting with audio recording for a while, but the police guild said it violated their contract and it was ended. Very short sighted, and a very bad call for us and them.

  3. All of the discussion has been really something. I also forwarded the links to the Times reporter, although she was just reporting what the NAACP said. Maybe she’d followup.

  4. scott:

    I completely understand where you’re coming from, the “s/he said s/he said” does get tedious after a while. There are a lot of pros and cons to external surveillance, however there are some important challenges to address (this list is by no means exhaustive):

    1. Privacy rights and civil liberties. When does the cop start/stop recording? Should they have the authority to start/stop recording at will?

    Right now as I understand it, the vast majority of officers that are actually on patrol have been in-car camera trained – there are video cameras in the car that can either be manually activated, or are automatically activated when the cop’s emergency equipment (light array) is turned on. In conjunction with the in-car camera, the camera-trained officer has a wireless microphone on them that records their contacts when outside of the car (think traffic stops). In-car cameras were installed as SPD’s response to community concerns about police interactions with the community. The ironic thing, is that in-car video more often than not (somewhere around 95% of the time), proves that the cop was doing the right thing and the complaint against them was baseless or completely fabricated.

    Take for example this past spring on E Pine (or E Pike?)/Boren: An officer was on Boren, entered the intersection and collided with an Oldsmobile with 2 occupants, the Oldsmobile ended up going into a building. News reporters interviewed witnesses who excitedly reported that the cop ran the red light. It was all over the news and the backlash was substantial. When collision investigators went to the in-car video, the cop CLEARLY had a solid green light and the Oldsmobile driver had run hers. The collision was ruled unavoidable, and thankfully everyone got out of the hospital relatively unscathed…except for the SPD because when the truth came to light, suddenly no one was interested in reporting the truth or printing a retraction.

    So what are the rules that are in place? WA is a 2-party consent state when it comes to audio recordings, what if the officer is out on foot with their microphone on? Do they have to inform everyone within range of the microphone that they are being recorded? What if you happened to walk by an officer who’s mic was on and you were discussing a family member’s private health condition battle, or something sensitive that the mic picked up? Now it’s recorded in SPD’s system.

    2. The camera “sees” all, but not necessarily what an officer sees.

    I remember reading an article about former SPD Officer Tom Burns, who left the department to work with a company that was designing portable video camera units that officers could wear on their chest or on their duty belt. I could see how this could be a useful tool, and whiel a great idea in theory, but a forward-facing camera does not account for what an officer could see outside of the camera’s range of view. Unless police officers were willing to strap video units onto their heads and look like Lando Calrissian’s assistant from “Empire Strikes Back”, I can’t see that happening.

    There are similar issues with miniture video cameras that attach to the bottom of Tasers, I don’t think SPD uses them, but I know some deputies from KCSO that have used them before – the idea is that the camera activates and records taser applications to be reviewed at a later date, and perhaps for evidence in court. Again, sounds all good and well, but the camera again is forward-oriented and mounted on the grip of the Taser, meaning that until the officer points the taser at a person and deploys it, all you’re going to see is a really clear picture of the officer’s crotch, toes, or the ground. You miss everything leading up to the event that caused the officer to point his Taser at the person and fire it.

    3. The camera doesn’t “see all”

    OK, I know this directly contradicts #2, but again, cameras have a limited field of view. Unless a camera was hard-wired into an officer’s eyes, you’re not going to really see exactly what an officer is looking at. Imagine a camera mounted to your chest or your belt and face your TV. Turn your head to the left, look ahead, and imagine seeing someone charging you with a bat. Your eyes see it, but your chest is oriented away from what you’re looking at.

    Here’s a video link for your consideration, I saw this in a class once. WARNING: this is a real police video, and the suspect gets shot and dies. If you don’t want to see something graphic, DO NOT FOLLOW THIS LINK.

    For those that don’t want to view the video, I’ll summarize: Two seperate police cars end up in a parking lot and confront a suspect. The first car’s video shows the suspect walk across the camera’s range of view, and suddenly an officer appears from the right, follows the suspect and appears to shoot the suspect in the back.


    The second video is from the second car’s camera. Again, the suspect walks into the camera view, and the camera shows something shiny in the suspect’s hand. The suspect suddenly turns around and points an object at the officer. They struggle briefly and the suspect breaks free and walks away with his hands in front of him. He suddenly turns and points the shiny object at the other officer’s head. The officer quickly ducks, and then both officers engage the suspect and shoot him. Turns out, the suspect was holding a cell phone like a pistol, and turned around quickly on the officers following him. The second officer thought he was about to be shot in the head, ducked to get out of the line of fire, and then shot the suspect. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a cell phone, and unfortunately the suspect died. I believe the shooting was ruled justified because the officer thought he was about to be shot in the face.

    Guess which video the media chose to air…

    Anyhow, I agree with you Scott, I personally think that audio/video on the cops are a good thing to a degree, but it’s not the be-all-end all.