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DAVID ALLEN & RICHARD HANSEN, Attorneys
JAMES KELLER, Defendant

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June, 2004
Seattle Times, Wednesday, June 16, 2004


Jury vote favors acquittal in officers' assault case

Prosecutors likely to decide on retrial in next two weeks

Tracy Johnson, P-I Reporter

King County jurors leaned toward acquitting three police officers accused of roughing up a man last year, though they could not unanimously agree on most of the criminal charges.

Jurors found King County Sheriff's Deputy James Keller not guilty of assaulting the man in October but deadlocked on the same fourth-degree assault charges against Deputy George Alvarez and Des Moines police officer Barron Baldwin.

They also could not agree whether any of the three officers were guilty of unlawful imprisonment. They split 8 to 4 - the majority favoring acquittal - on each of the five charges that led them to deadlock.

"It should have been 'not guilty' for all three of us," Keller said after the verdict was read yesterday. "We were just doing our jobs, and it was a total one-sided investigation."

"We're able to hold our heads up high," Alvarez said. "We were in the right and did absolutely nothing wrong."

King County prosecutors are expected to decide in about two weeks whether they will retry the officers, though the officers' attorneys say they shouldn't because jurors weren't close to convicting anyone.

All three remain on paid leave. The two deputies could still face discipline and may lose their jobs, as an internal investigation recommended even before the trial began. They will first have an opportunity to meet with Sheriff Dave Reichert.

In a written statement yesterday, Reichert said he appreciated the jury's work in the difficult case and that he would "continue to hold members of the Sheriff's Office to the highest standards."

The three officers were accused of going too far with pepper spray, threats and their fists when Michael Winchester, a 23-year-old drug addict, wasn't cooperating with their efforts to turn him into a drug informant.

Prosecutors said the officers punched and slapped Winchester, then drove him to the banks of the Green River and threatened to throw him in the water.

Jurors heard conflicting testimony of a Des Moines police officer who reported the encounter to his superiors, a sheriff's deputy who didn't - and Winchester himself, who admitted to telling a few lies.

Jury foreman Richard Whipple said he and most of the other jurors just didn't see clear evidence that a crime had been committed. He said they considered that the officers "have a job to perform, and it's obviously very dangerous."

But he also noted that the other four jurors were convinced - each for different reasons - that the officers went too far. Deliberations lasted four days.

Attorney Richard Hansen, who represents Baldwin, said he "thought there was a substantial likelihood of a hung jury from Day One, just because the stories were all over the board." Attorney Anne Bremner, who represents Alvarez, said the charges should have never been filed and that all three officers want to go back to their jobs.

"The facts are the facts. They attempted a prosecution and failed," she said. "The Sheriff's Office should take heed and give them their jobs back."

3 police officers won't be retried

Jury couldn't reach verdict

Christine Clarridge, Seattle Times Reporter

Background | The charges grew out of an alleged assault on a reluctant informant; an inquest is looking into a separate fatal shooting.

King County prosecutors won't retry three police officers whose trial for allegedly illegally detaining and roughing up a reluctant informant ended in a hung jury last week.

Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng issued a brief statement yesterday saying that despite the lack of a definitive verdict, it was right for prosecutors to take the case to trial once.

"There are categories of cases that are deserving of examination by a jury and allegations of police brutality are among them," Maleng's statement said.

"The fact that the jury could not reach a conclusion is an indication of how challenging these cases are."

One prosecutor said yesterday's decision was based largely on the fact that the jury deadlocked 8-4 in favor of acquitting the police officers on five of the six charges.

Defense attorneys for the three men said the decision to drop the cases should be seen as exoneration.

"It recognizes that a majority of the jurors believed our clients were innocent and that they were doing their jobs at the time this nonincident happened," said defense attorney David Allen, who represented King County sheriff's deputy James Keller.

Keller, fellow sheriff's deputy George Alvarez and Des Moines police officer Barron Baldwin were arrested last year and charged with unlawful imprisonment and fourth-degree assault.

They were accused of pepper-spraying and hitting Michael Winchester, a drug user they wanted to turn into an informant, in October to punish him for not returning their phone calls.

Prosecutors also alleged the three officers drove Winchester to the Green River and threatened to throw him in. The incident was initially reported to police supervisors by another officer who was there at the time. But the defendants argued that officer wasn't close enough to see and fully comprehend what was going on.

All three men remain on paid administrative leave pending the results of internal investigations. Meantime, they are in court in Kent facing a King County inquest into a separate fatal shooting of a reputed drug dealer that occurred in September.

Their jobs as police officers are still in question.

Baldwin's status at the Des Moines Police Department depends on the results of a continuing internal investigation, a department spokesman said yesterday.

Keller and Alvarez face a special hearing with King County Sheriff Dave Reichert to determine whether they will be fired or face any other punishment from the department, according to spokesman Sgt. John Urquhart.

At one point, the Sheriff's Office formally notified Keller and Alvarez that a supervisor who had reviewed the investigation was recommending termination.

But defense attorneys said that in light of the jury's split, the men ought to get their jobs back. "It should send a very strong message to the Sheriff's Office that these officers are needed back on the street, and should be reinstated as soon as possible," Allen said.

The jury deliberated more than four days before deadlocking on five of the six charges against the officers. On the sixth charge, the jury acquitted Keller of fourth-degree assault.

The shooting inquest in Kent is looking into the death of 34-year-old David Taiese Fesili. It is expected to end today with a jury answering questions of fact to help prosecutors determine whether any laws were broken.

Fesili died when Baldwin, Keller and Alvarez returned fire after Fesili fired at them numerous times while fleeing in a stolen car near Des Moines.

King County inquest juries have never ruled against a police officer in a fatal shooting.

 


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