Judge orders SPD to pay fine for public records violation

Judge orders SPD to pay fine for public records violation »Play Video
Turner Helton
SEATTLE -- An elderly shop owner has chalked up a victory against Seattle police.

A King County judge ordered the Seattle Police Department to pay Turner Helton nearly $20,000 for denying records in an excessive force case.

KOMO News is also suing Seattle police for public records violations, and our case was cited in court on Wednesday as evidence that SPD has an ongoing problem.

Helton waited more than a year and had to sue before Seattle police would give him records about why they showed up at his antique store and ultimately sent him to the hospital.

Though the ruling was a victory, Helton is not celebrating. He says his incident with Seattle police nearly two years ago has turned his life upside down. He's had to move his business, and undergo surgery. And his arthritic hands are much worse.

"My hands - you can see the knots on my hands from them trying to break my hands. And I don't have control over my hands anymore," he said.

Judge Richard Eadie fined SPD nearly $20,000 for withholding public records in Helton's case, but added SPD did not act in bad faith.

"I don't feel that it's a victory, because it's not going to make any difference to the police department," said Helton.

Helton and his attorney believe it's part of a pattern by SPD.

"The police department is acting as though they are above the law, and that the public records law does not apply to them," said Helton's attorney Patrick Preston.

But the city argued that the police department has already changed its ways.

"As soon as the law changed, those records were released to Mr. Helton," Assistant Seattle City Attorney Sumeer Singla said.

Though he now has the records, Helton still has questions.

"Why? That's the thing that just bothers me the most is why? Why did they do it?" he said.

Police dashboard video cameras could have supplied evidence of the incident with Helton. KOMO is suing the department for preventing access to its dash cam video database for more than a year.

Though KOMO sources said all the officers involved in Helton's incident were trained and using the dash-cam system, that database now confirms that none of the responding officers recorded the incident.

"The cover-up aspect of this is that the police officers had training; they should have recorded this encounter with Mr. Helton. They turned off the recorder," Preston said.

Seattle police spokesman Sean Whitcomb says the officers "were following policy" by not recording the incident with Helton because they were out of range of the dashboard cameras.

SPD's Office of Professional Accountability investigated Helton's claim of excessive force and cleared the officers of misconduct.

Helton and his attorney are now considering filing a civil rights claim against the city.