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Feds and Seattle police settle over excessive force allegations

By Terry Frieden, CNN
updated 8:56 PM EDT, Fri July 27, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Justice Department and Seattle announced a settlement Friday
  • The settlement involves allegations of excessive force by the Seattle police
  • The agreement calls for a federal court-appointed monitor who will resolve disputes, officials say

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Justice Department and Seattle announced a settlement Friday over long-simmering allegations of excessive force by police officers.

The agreement calls for a federal court-appointed monitor who will resolve disputes that might arise over the next several years, according to officials. The monitor will also be able to order changes in the reforms announced Friday, if necessary.

"This agreement represents a blueprint for reform," said Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, the nation's chief civil rights official, who flew to Seattle to join city officials for the announcement.

A series of allegations by minority groups that police were quick to resort to force in several instances prompted the Justice Department to launch an investigation.

Some of the incidents were videotaped. Most prominent of the incidents was a case in which a wood-carver and member of "First Nations" was shot and killed by a policeman. Totem carver John T. Williams was walking down a street with a piece of wood and small knife when he was ordered to drop the weapon. When he failed to respond immediately, he was fatally shot.

That August 2010 incident prompted more than 30 organizations to demand a Justice Department investigation. Justice launched a probe that found in December 2011 that the Seattle police department had engaged in a "pattern or practice" of excessive force.

During bumpy negotiating sessions in which officials say Seattle officeholders argued over the agreement, the Justice Department set a July 31 deadline for a settlement, saying if they did not agree the federal government would sue the city. The last-minute deal Friday avoided that outcome.

The Seattle settlement comes just days after the Justice Department announced a much broader deal with the city of New Orleans to try to root out deep-seated corruption in its police department.

The Justice Department Civil Rights Division still has 15 other "pattern or practice" investigations of police departments pending. The largest is Puerto Rico. Most of the others deal with small cities. A suit against Maricopa County, Arizona, alleging discrimination against Latino suspects is currently being challenged in a federal court.

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