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The Times' criminal justice team looks behind the scenes and behind the headlines.

June 17, 2010 at 10:42 AM

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City attorney blasts SPD leadership over jaywalking incident

Posted by John de Leon

Video courtesy of KING 5

-- From Times staff reporter Steve Miletich:

Seattle City Attorney Peter Holmes on Thursday lashed out at the Seattle Police Department and its leadership over the punching of a jaywalking suspect by an officer.

In announcing that one of the two females at the center of the incident would be charged, Holmes said the incident represented a complete breakdown of the leadership of the department. He said the Police Department failed to provide adequate training and planning for its officers to handle the incident that was captured on video.

As Mayor Mike McGinn is deciding whether to name Interim Police Chief John Diaz or Ron Davis, the police chief in East Palo Alto, Calif., as Seattle's next permanent chief, Holmes urged the mayor to make a decision on the department's leadership. He said his personal view was that McGinn should select someone from outside the department or start the selection process all over.

"I think it's extremely unfortunate," Holmes said of the incident. "I think the incident could have been handled better."

Reached for comment, Diaz said he "vehemently disagreed with Mr. Holmes." He said he planned to meet privately with the city attorney.

Some people in City Hall are considering asking the mayor to restart the process, according to a source.

Meanwhile, Marilyn Ellen Levias, one of two females at the center of the videotaped punch of a jaywalking suspect by a Seattle police officer, will be charged with obstructing a police officer, according to Kimberly Mills, spokeswoman for the Seattle City Attorney's Office. The charge is a misdemeanor.

Officer Ian P. Walsh was attempting to stop Levias, 19, for jaywalking Monday around 3:10 p.m in the Rainier Valley when a 17-year-old friend, Angel L. Rosenthal, intervened. In an incident caught on video, Rosenthal is seen pushing the officer, who responds by punching her in the face.

Levias and Rosenthal were arrested.

Diaz ordered the review of the department's training procedures after a videotape of the incident was repeatedly broadcast on Seattle television stations and media websites. Walsh, 39, who joined the department in November 2006, has been temporarily placed in the department's training unit to allow him to review his tactics.

Walsh's handling of the incident was backed by the head of the Seattle police union, who said the department's review is necessary but that the officer had been defending himself.

James Kelly, chief executive officer of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, said Tuesday Walsh's punch was an overreaction. "The provocation by this 17-year-old kid may have presented a confrontation situation, but the use of violence in the form of a full punch in the face was just plain wrong," he said in a statement.

Rosenthal and Levias are black; Walsh is white.

Levias was released on her personal recognizance after her arrest Monday. She is scheduled to be arraigned on the charge at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in Seattle Municipal Court.

Levias was charged in February 2009 with third-degree assault after she allegedly pushed a King County sheriff's deputy.

According to charging documents, on Feb. 3, 2009, deputies were called to the Ruth Dykeman Children's Center, a Burien center for troubled girls, in response to a report that Levias was being abusive toward staff. When Levias was confronted by Deputy Amy Zarelli, she pushed the female deputy, causing her to fall, charging papers said.

Levias was given a deferred disposition -- meaning the charge would be dropped if she stayed out of trouble -- because it was a first-time offense.

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