by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Seattle Police Department investigators are looking into a disturbance involving three off-duty police officers that allegedly began with a racially charged statement at Neighbours Seattle, a popular Gay dance club on Capitol Hill.
The incident began at approximately 1 a.m. Monday outside the alley entrance to the nightclub. According to the two and a half page police report, three men got into a scuffle with two of the club's security guards after exchanging words in the alley.
Footage captured by surveillance cameras showed the men shoving each other. What started as a shoving match evolved into one of the off-duty officers being tackled by a security guard, who then pulled the officer's head back by placing a hand around his throat.
When police arrived, the three men involved in the fight identified themselves as off-duty Seattle police officers.
The guard who tackled the off-duty officer told police he had charged at the man because he 'shouldn't have acted like that if they were police officers.'
He added one of the men had told him, 'You don't know anything about the law, Mexican,' the report says.
All three officers had been drinking, investigators said, and two of them - including the man who was tackled - were 'visibly drunk.'
No one was seriously injured in the incident.
That is the synopsis of what the mainstream media has reported on. I decided to speak with Neighbours Seattle staff, including the men involved in the scuffle, and if what I was told is even anywhere near true, these three off-duty officers were acting like world class jackasses from the moment they came in contact with Neighbours employees.
According to Neighbours Seattle general manager, Steve Tracy, Neighbours Seattle has 'a great relationship with the East Precinct.'
Tracy maintains that the club's management and staff - including security - has absolutely no beef with SPD, even after the incident. Why would they? They exist together. Whenever there is a problem at Neighbours Seattle, the club relies on a swift police response. Likewise, Neighbours security guards - who are often responsible for keeping more than 500 dancers safe - respect the police officers who come to the aid of the nightclub staff when needed.
But what is at issue here is not uniformed police officers on duty. We are talking about three drunk men - two of whom were visibly intoxicated. The police report taken at the scene says that Neighbours staff and the men first came into contact in the alley, when the truth is some of the men had been inside the building earlier that evening, and their behavior was much the same.
According to witnesses in attendance at the nightclub's Noche Latino, a weekly Latin dance night at the club, a bartender had had a run-in with one or more of the men earlier in the night. People who I spoke to at the club said the men were acting cocky and flashing their police credentials while saying that they did not like the way they were being treated. At one point, they tossed a penny into the Latino bartender's tip jar.
Hours later, the hotdog vendor at the Shell station on the corner of Broadway and Pike came walking (swiftly, almost running) up the alley to speak with one of the Neighbours security guards stationed at the door. The vendor had apparently been in an argument with the off-duty officers, who followed him up the alley.
On the security video, the vendor (also Latino) can be seen getting into a shoving match with the off-duty officers. That's when the Neighbours security guard called for backup and stepped in to break up the fight.
In the police report, the vendor says he was only walking up to the door to greet the security guard. After watching the surveillance footage, I can say this is completely untrue. The off-duty officers were already following the vendor when he appeared on camera, and within seconds of his walking over to the Neighbours' entrance, the vendor and the officers got into an argument and eventual shoving match.
The second security guard who arrived at the scene (also Latino) is whom the intoxicated off-duty officers zeroed in on. The first guard, who asked not to be named and will be referred to as Security 1, began to ask the men to leave. According to Security 1, they began to tell him and Security 2 - another Latino security guard who'd arrived to help - that the alley was not private property and refused to leave.
Why would they refuse to leave? Because according to Neighbours security personnel, as well as the club's general manager and responding officers to the situation, they were heavily intoxicated. And according to Security 1 and 2, 'they had a problem with brown people.'
While all of this is alleged, I do have to point out that throughout the night - from the Neighbours bartender to the security guards and hotdog vendor - everyone the officers scuffled or argued with was Latino.
What happened next is just bad news for SPD, a department which has come under fire again and again for officers - both on- and off-duty - acting out with racial slurs.
According to Security 2, who called the SPD Office of Professional Accountability (the situation is being investigated through Internal Affairs) because he felt the truth isn't being told, the officers' aggression had strong racial motivations.
'They kept saying racist things to us. They called [Security 1] 'Mexican,' kept referring to me as a 'little boy,' and it got even worse,' said Security 2, who would not give his name as he does not have the authority to speak on behalf of the nightclub. 'They even told [Security 1] to 'go back to your country, this is my country.'
The initial scuffle between Security 1 and two of the officers, who - according to the police report - continued to keep their hands in their pockets because they knew surveillance cameras were on, began when, Security 1 claims, the men would not leave and after a few shoves it got a little out of control.
Again, in the video, you see one of the off-duty police officers - the most aggressive of the group - try to go at a customer who was outside witnessing the incident. You clearly see the customer put his hands in the air as if to say, 'I don't want any trouble' and Security 1 gets in between the two of them.
At one point, one of the intoxicated officers makes a dash for the door, trying to get inside the club. That is when Security 1 takes him down.
My question to SPD is this: Does identifying yourself as an officer - even when you are off-duty and drunk - allow you to charge at a nightclub door after you've been asked to leave?
Does being an officer enable you to tell people to 'go back to their country'? Why didn't they leave the alley in the first place? Why did three off-duty police officers need to go inside a Gay nightclub on the Hill when they were too drunk and had been asked to leave?
The SPD officers are currently claiming they were assaulted and did nothing wrong. The officers are saying they did not say anything racist and that they identified themselves as officers from the start, even though Neighbours security personnel and the general manager say they did not identify themselves until after the pushing and shoving began.
SPD spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb assured SGN that the police are investigating this incident, which caught the attention of Police Chief John Diaz.
'The fact that I hold my officers to the highest standard is no secret. Our community deserves and expects nothing less,' said Chief Diaz in a statement about the incident. 'Right now this case is in the hands of the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA). It was referred there by department commanders per department policy. The investigation will receive priority and will continue with necessary speed and due diligence.
'The OPA is working hard to determine the facts,' he continued. 'I have complete confidence in the OPA's ability to investigate this incident in a way that is thorough and fair. I will not judge this incident until the investigation is complete and the facts are in. Due process is a necessary component to the integrity of our police accountability system.'
'If the investigation bears out that my officers acted inappropriately, know that they will be held accountable. As chief of police, that is my responsibility.'
SPD's officials are asking anyone with information pertinent to the investigation to contact OPA by phone at (206) 684-8797 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The security personnel at Gay nightclubs and bars on the Hill deserve the respect of the community for keeping us safe, telling us when we've had enough and it's time to go home, and I think we can all agree that, despite them being paid to put up with everyone's bullshit, the last thing they should have to worry about are aggressive off-duty police officers - drunks, at that.
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