May 112011

Yesterday around 5:30 p.m., I was at my friend Ben’s home when we heard a loud noise outside. I thought it sounded like a car had run into something. Within a few seconds of the noise, a police car siren came on. I ran outside to see what had happened. Two cars, a blue SPD squad car and a black Toyota, were stopped in Rainier Avenue, each facing southbound. The Toyota, in the middle of the road, was badly damaged on the front driver side, and I could see some damage to the front passenger side of the police car, which was in the northbound lane. The driver of the Toyota got out, walked to the police car’s window, waved, then tapped on the window. I didn’t notice if they spoke, but the police officer remained in his car. The other man sat down, leaned against a utility pole, and made a phone call.

Ben came out with a video camera in hand to witness and make a record of what happened. A Metro bus driver who had left his parked bus to watch asked Ben why he was recording, then grabbed at his arm in an apparent attempt to stop his recording. Ben yelled to nearby police officers that the man had assaulted him. One said he’d attend to the matter soon. A few minutes later, he said that he would contact Metro Police (a service provided by the King County Sheriff’s Department). They and a Metro supervisor arrived about 10 minutes later and took reports.

Paramedics arrived within a few minutes and attended to the police officer, who remained in his car and was eventually moved on a stretcher to an ambulance, and the driver of the other car, who was put in a neck brace and taken away in another ambulance.

Shortly thereafter, a TV news reporter arrived with camera. After being hassled by one of the police officers directing traffic, he made his way over to the scene where multiple people and I stood on the sidewalk observing. He filmed the scene for a few minutes, then interviewed both Ben and I on-camera about what we had observed. He told us that radio reports suggested the police car had been responding to a call with lights and siren on. Each of us told him that we were absolutely certain that the siren was not on prior to impact.

Rainier Avenue was closed in both directions for almost three hours as multiple police cars arrived on-scene and police eventually took photographs and downloaded information from the car’s computer system. Around 9:00 p.m., Ben’s wife and a neighbor went to the hospital to pick up the driver of the other car, who was their neighbor. When they returned, he explained that he had been turning left off of Rainier when the police car behind him — no lights or siren — pulled into the northbound lanes (driving southbound) to pass his car, and ran into it.

This morning, John de Leon at the Seattle Times reported:

At about 5:19 p.m., the South Precinct officer was responding to a disturbance call, with his siren and emergency lights activated, heading south in the 5300 block of Rainier Avenue South when he approached a Toyota. As the patrol car approached 42nd Avenue South, the officer moved into the northbound lane to go around the Toyota, which had stopped in front of him in the southbound lane.

The Toyota then turned left and collided with the patrol car.

Ben e-mailed the reporter to find the source of his (incorrect) information. He referred Ben to the SPD Blotter, where the Seattle Police Department reported:

On May 10th, at approximately 5:19 PM, a South Precinct officer was travelling southbound in the 5300 block of Rainier Avenue South. The officer was responding to a disturbance as a backing officer with his emergency lights and siren activated. As the officer approached 42nd Avenue South, the officer moved into the northbound lane in order to go around a Toyota that had stopped in front of him in the southbound lane. As the officer did so, the stopped Toyota turned left and collided with the patrol car, causing the collision. The officer and the driver of the Toyota were both transported to the hospital with complaintants of pain. Both were evaluated and released from the hospital. Detectives from the Traffic Collision Investigation Squad (TCIS) responded to investigate and process the scene. Detectives will now be responsible for the follow up investigation.

The police car’s dashboard camera system should show whether or not his lights and siren were activated. Seattle Police are equipped with Coban Technologies in-car recording systems (“dash cams”). These have a “pre-event buffer and fail safe feature” that allows video to be retrieved even if the operator did not have the system in record mode. In a Coban promotional video, Karim Miller, Seattle Police Department Forensic & Digital Imaging Manager, discusses the pre-event recording feature.

Police officers frequently abuse their authority for their own convenience when driving. We’ve all seen them speeding or blowing through intersections without any indication of an emergency. It looks like this time, doing so caused some serious damage, and SPD are spreading false information about the incident.

UPDATE: Ben filed a public records request for 1) all records related to the police blotter notice I quoted above, including who wrote it and what underlying reports and information were relied upon to create it, and 2) all records related to the accident.  I requested dash cam recordings five minutes before and after the collision and logs of access to any recordings made by equipment in the squad car that day.

UPDATE 2: Ben’s neighbor, driver of the car the police officer ran into, spoke with someone who lives across the street and claims to have witnessed the collision.  This person says there were no lights, no siren, and that the officer was talking on his mobile phone.

UPDATE 3: On or about May 25, SPD updated the blotter entry that continues to report false information about this (incident 11-149229) with attribution to Detective Mark Jamieson (badge number 5930, I believe). Ben requested all records related to Mr. Jamieson, including but not limited to e-mail and mobile phone call logs, from May 10 through May 25.

  6 Responses to “Police misinform public about squad car collision with another vehicle”

  1. damn wish I could find mine

  2. The police must hate you guys! Your sleuthing and solid follow up are undermining their attempted whitewash of a potentially embarassing departmental situation.

  3. Does Ben’s neighbor mean “Talking on his mobile phone” as in using a handset held to his ear instead of a hands free device? In any case, that probably isn’t illegal given that a police car is an authorized emergency vehicle, but it could factor into any civil suit brought against him.

    RCW 46.61.667
    Using a wireless communications device while driving.

    (1) Except as provided in subsections (2) and (3) of this section, a person operating a moving motor vehicle while holding a wireless communications device to his or her ear is guilty of a traffic infraction.

    (2) Subsection (1) of this section does not apply to a person operating:

    (a) An authorized emergency vehicle,

    • I wasn’t there, so I don’t know. I’m guessing that he or she would not have noticed the police officer using a phone unless he was holding it to his head. That he was on the phone — if he was — would help explain why he ran into another vehicle.

  4. Awesome work. It would be even better if you could get the phone records to see if he was making a personal phone call. That would be very interesting.

    • I requested such, but Officer Bourns (driver of the wrecked squad car) doesn’t have a department-issued phone. His personal phone records should be available via subpoena, but I’m not in a position to do that.

      PDR # 2011-1588

      Mr. Mocek,

      This email is in response to your public disclosure request dated May 12, 2011 for ” copies of the May 10, 2011, usage log (voice and SMS messages) for any Department-issued mobile phone issued to the officer who drove the Seattle Police Department squad car involved in the collision at approximately 5:30 p.m. on May 10, 2011, in the 5300 block of Rainier Avenue South.” The officer involved in this collision does not have a department issued mobile phone, therefore the Seattle Police Department has no records responsive to your request.

      You may file a written appeal with the Chief of Police within ten (10) business days from the date of this letter. Please include your name and address and a copy of this letter together with a brief statement identifying the basis of the appeal. Please mail or deliver your appeal to:

      Chief of Police
      Seattle Police Department
      PO Box 34986
      Seattle, WA 98124-4986

      This concludes Seattle Police Department’s response to your public disclosure request.

      If you have any questions, please contact our public disclosure desk at 206-684-5481.

      Thank you,

      Sheila Friend Gray
      Public Request Unit Manager
      Seattle Police Department

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