EMT cleared in May Day clash claims SPD officer lied about assault

A Seattle woman who lost her job and home after she was wrongly charged with attacking a police officer now claims officers lied in an effort to cover up excessive force during last spring's May Day demonstration.

Maria Morales was among the first demonstrators charged after the riotous protest swept through downtown Seattle on May 1. A Seattle police officer claimed she was punched by Morales, a 30-year-old emergency medical technician. King County prosecutors followed up with an assault charge.

Those allegations – publicized on seattlepi.com and elsewhere – cost Morales her job and apartment, as well as thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees. They were also baseless; video of the scene, included above, refuted the police account and prompted prosecutors to drop the case.

“It’s a complete fabrication, and the reason that we know that is because it was on video,” said Darryl Parker, who is representing Morales in a civil suit filed in U.S. District Court. “The statement of probable cause that led to her arrest is completely false.”

Parker claims Seattle police violated his client’s civil rights, assaulted her and lied to prosecutors to ensure that charges would be filed against her.

A spokeswoman for the Seattle City Attorney’s Office declined to discuss the case. The city has not yet responded in court to the civil suit, which was filed earlier in December.

Morales was accused of attacking two officers during the May Day violence, which investigators now contend was prompted by a small group of anarchists operating within the massive, annual May Day demonstration.

Having spent the day laying groundwork she hoped might lead to a new job, Morales at 3:30 p.m. joined a march against police brutality that was part of the larger May Day demonstration.

That march turned violent as the column reached the intersection of First Avenue and Pine Street. Some marchers began throwing items as they clashed with police dressed in riot gear and armed with batons. Morales soon found herself penned in between a wall and a police bicycle belonging to Seattle Police Officer Sonya Fry.

According to her attorney’s statements to the court, Morales touched the bicycle’s handlebar so that she could leave the area, and was immediately pulled into a battery of police bicycles by Fry.

“Morales was swarmed as Fry and other officers flipped her over onto her stomach, pepper sprayed the left side of her face and arm, and put her in two sets of handcuffs,” Parker told the court. Morales was then arrested on suspicion of assault.

Having suffered an injury to her hand during the arrest, Morales was booked into King County Jail and held overnight. Staff at a Veterans Affairs clinic later noted her thumb was swollen and that her body, arms and legs were bruised.

Two days after the incident, a Seattle police detective filed a statement with prosecutors recounting Officer Fry’s version of events. In it, the detective contended Fry claimed Morales punched her in the chest, kicked another officer and disobeyed police orders.

“Morales got right up to Officer Fry and said, ‘Okay bitch’ then punched Officer Fry in the chest with a closed fist,” the detective told the court in a one-page statement outlining the allegations against Morales.

The detective went on to assert that Morales kicked a second officer. Video of the incident shows Morales' feet were secured by officers immediately after she hit the ground.

None of those allegations was true, and video of the scene shows them to be lies, Parker said by phone Wednesday.

“That police officer overreacted,” Parker said.

“Usually the truth lies somewhere in between” what police and an arrestee claim, the attorney continued. “Not in this case.”

Accused alongside three other participants in the May Day demonstration, Morales was charged with fourth-degree assault, a misdemeanor. That charge was later dismissed with prejudice, as were similar charges against videographer Joshua Garland.

King County prosecutors have since leveled more serious charges against five other demonstrators. They are alleged to have been part of a group of anarchists responsible for much of the vandalism that occurred during the protest. A federal investigation is also ongoing.

Charged three days after the May 1 protest, Morales wasn’t cleared until mid-August. The charge against her was dismissed with prejudice at the request of the prosecution; such a move means the charge can’t be filed again at a later date.

The allegations left Morales publicly shamed, without work and broke from legal expenses she incurred to fight the unsubstantiated charges.

As a result of her arrest, she lost her job as an emergency medical technician, Parker told the court. She subsequently lost her apartment.

Claiming his client’s constitutional rights were violated, Parker filed a lawsuit late last week in U.S. District Court at Seattle. In the suit, Parker contends Morales was the victim of a malicious prosecution pushed forward by false information provided by police.

Writing the court, Parker faulted the City of Seattle for failing to train and manage its police force, which was sanctioned after Department of Justice investigators found a “pattern of excessive force” within the department.

“The need to train officers in the constitutional limitation on the arrest of citizens and the amount of force to apply when doing so can be said to be ‘so obvious’ that the failure to do so could properly be characterized as ‘deliberate indifference’ to constitutional rights,” Parker told the court.

Speaking Wednesday, Parker also said the city has refused to release documents related to his client’s arrest.

Morales requested the documents shortly after she was charged but, following a series of delays by the Seattle Police Department, still does not have them. Parker said he and Morales have been told those with the records have simply been too busy to provide them.

“It’s become a convenient excuse,” the Bellevue attorney said. “I have no way of knowing what’s true or not true, but I think it’s bizarre. Most cities get you the same information in five days."

Parker said he expects to serve the lawsuit on the City of Seattle in coming days. No amount of damages is specified in the civil lawsuit, which Parker filed Friday.