CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

City: No 'patterns of abuse' in obstruction arrests

Accidentally caught in an after-midnight clash between police and revelers, Richardson was doused with pepper spray, punched in the head and shot with a stun gun in the parking lot of the McDonald's near Seattle Center.

Prosecutors followed with charges of obstruction of justice and resisting arrest -- so-called contempt of cop charges that some defense lawyers say are filed to justify otherwise unwarranted arrests.

A Seattle P-I investigation earlier this year showed that nearly half of those arrested by Seattle police officers on obstruction charges from 2002 to 2007 were freed without conviction.

Richardson's case was similarly resolved, with prosecutors agreeing last month to drop the charges so long as he stays clear of legal trouble for six months.

Drawing a conclusion disputed by Richardson's attorney, the Police Department's civilian auditor found in a recently released review that "no pattern of abuse" was evident in obstruction arrests.

But the auditor, former U.S. Attorney Kate Pflaumer, did note that bar fights or large disturbances -- like the post-New Year's crowd Richardson found himself in -- are among the most problematic situations because officers must make quick decisions as people flee.

"While some of the reports described situations that, in retrospect, could have been handled differently, the reports reflected good faith efforts to maintain order at the time," Pflaumer wrote in her report, which was prompted by the P-I investigation. [Mark Godsey]

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