Seattle officers reprimanded over disclosure of dash cam video

Seattle officers reprimanded over disclosure of dash cam video
SEATTLE -- For the past year the KOMO 4 Problem Solvers have uncovered case after case of questionable conduct by Seattle Police Officers caught on tape. Now we've found a chilling case that started as a simple traffic stop that could happen to any one of us. Only this time the dash cam video of the incident was shown to a man's boss, jeopardizing his very livelihood.

Most people who know Keiwuan Miller see him as either the assistant high school basketball coach or as a security officer at a local public high school. But on an April day in 2010, drivers could have seen him along the side of a city street, stopped by Seattle police for allegedly not wearing his seat belt.

Miller, who has absolutely no criminal history, says he's been stopped by police time and time again simply because of the color of his skin. And every time he's stopped, "it brings back the first time, the second time, when I was a teenager, when I was 22, It brings all those times back."

As a result, Miller says he suffers from anxiety attacks, which prompted him to get out of his car while waiting for Officer Mary Ann Unger to write a ticket.

On the police dash cam video of his traffic stop you hear Officer Unger telling Miller he needs to get back in his car. Miller is clearly agitated, but never threatens or moves towards the officers. He does try to explain why he can't get back in his car.

"I told her, I'll tell you the same thing, I have anxiety issues," he said.

It didn't help that as a security guard he was carrying a rifle shell that a teacher had found at school the day before. That also put police on alert. Miller says he tried to explain all that and the officers knew he worked school security.

"I told her the bullet was in my wallet because I was taking it back to school" where it had to be logged into records, Miller said.

But when another officer shows up with a drawn gun -- and then a third and a fourth officer, Miller tells us, "this is ridiculous, this is over the top. There's no reason for you to pull your gun out."

Miller believes the audio at the end of the video makes it clear why this simple traffic stop so quickly escalated. On the recording you hear Officer Unger tell another officer, "I tell you he scared me from the very get go."

Watching a copy of the dash cam video, Miller remarks, "That was the problem. And I kind of knew that, because I'm a large black man, no ifs, ands, or buts."

Miller tells us he would have chalked this all up to experience, except just five days later he was pulled over again for allegedly not wearing his seat belt.

"This happens to be the same woman on the same hill, with the same other two officers, like, you're kidding me? Now you're harassing me," Miller said.

But Miller was wearing a seatbelt, and this time stays in his car throughout the stop. Even though Miller got no ticket, the officers immediately go to his school and show his boss their dash cam video - not of that day's stop - but the video from five days earlier when Miller gets out of the car and is frisked.

"I didn't even get to see the video and you show my boss? What is the purpose of that?" Miller said.

KOMO 4 News is suing the Seattle Police Department after the department denied our requests for other videos similar to Miller's stop. Citing privacy laws, the department has denied us copies of any videos less than three years old. Yet the officer who stopped Miller didn't hesitate to show damaging video to Miller's boss at school, jeopardizing his job.

"I feel like a traffic infraction potentially could have got me fired and I still have a mortgage, I still have kids, and that's just not okay," Miller said.

The Problem Solvers obtained records from the police department's internal investigation of this case. In it, Officer Unger tells investigators she went to Miller's boss because she was concerned for the safety of the kids. But she never mentions anything about concerns for anyone's safety in her initial report, nor does she mention showing Miller's boss the dash cam videos.

Seattle Police Department Spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said officers respond to over 1,000 calls a day and get 99.99 percent of them right.

"We owe it to the community to do the best job we possibly can, but ultimately there's going to be instances where things aren't done perfectly," he said.

Whitcomb said that when the department doesn't get a call right the public should have confidence that the Office of Professional Accountability will act.

In this case, officers Unger and Jacob Nelson were investigated and received reprimands for showing the video to Miller's boss.

"For discipline to be effective people need to learn from it, so it's not always the amount of discipline it's how well the discipline was imposed," Whitcomb said.

Miller believes the majority of Seattle police officers do a good job. He works with them in his position as a security officer and wants to maintain a good relationship.

"Right is right, wrong is wrong. But again, we are all in the same community. Nelson, Unger, we're all in the same community and, I think we got the same goals."

KOMO 4 News is still waiting to see if the department will encourage our efforts at improving oversight by making more dash cam videos publicly available.