Belinda Sandidge was at the Bite of Seattle last month when she says she got a real sense of just how terrified her 23-year-old son is of the police.
The two Kent residents were waiting in line for food when a Seattle police officer stepped up behind them. Suddenly, Carl Sandidge, a 23-year-old African American who towers over his tiny mother, darted under her umbrella and snugged in close. He was trying to get away from the officer, she says — and the memory of the police beating and using a Taser onn him in downtown Seattle.
The incident is what led Belinda Sandidge to sit on a newly formed People’s Panel on Police Accountability announced Aug. 3 by Seattle’s Minority Executive Directors Coalition and the Seattle chapter of the NAACP. The five-member panel plans to take and track reports of police misconduct — and, if need be, prosecute cases on its own.
Since January, when a man arrested downtown says police planted drugs on him, the NAACP has publicized a number of alleged misconduct cases against African Americans, leading Mayor Greg Nickels to appoint a task force to review the police force’s citizen complaint system at its Office of Professional Accountability. According to Seattle police, the same man was recently arrested by officers for drug possession.
In a press conference last week, NAACP chief James Bible said the mayor’s task force will only conduct a survey of police oversight systems nationwide, providing “nothing more than an illusion of fairness,” he said. By contrast, the People’s Panel will analyze police misconduct and its impact, along with the causes of racial disproportionality in the criminal justice system.
The panel includes three African Americans who say they have experienced police abuse firsthand, along with two Seattle University sociology professors who will assist in analyzing data from cases such as Carl Sandidge’s.
On Aug. 21, 2005, Sandidge had just left the Meridian 16 Cinema and was walking to a bus stop with his friend Derrick Frazier when two men in a small pickup truck began yelling at Frazier to “take your flag out” – a reference to a green-and-white bandana hanging out of Frazier’s back pocket.
Sandidge and Frazier kept walking east on Pine St., but near the corner of Third Ave. and Pine St., at the Macy’s store, the truck pulled over. The men inside wore plain clothes and never identified themselves as Seattle police, Sandidge says.
Like other police misconduct cases that the NAACP has brought to light, the details given by Sandidge and the officers differ wildly from there.
In their report, the officers say, they “politely asked Frazier to stop flying his gang colors” – something that isn’t even constitutional, says one of Sandidge’s lawyers. Upon stopping, the report says, Frazier was belligerently drunk and Sandidge menaced them, leading to a scuffle in which Sandidge was tasered.
According to Sandidge, the men in the truck called Frazier over and when he asked what was up, one officer jumped out of the truck, grabbed his friend, and was repeatedly banging Frazier on the hood when Sandidge asked him why.
That, he says, is when Ofc. Dave Blackmer got out of the truck and came at him, grabbing his wrists, backing him against a wall and then tasering him at close range. He fell to the ground, and Blackmer got on top of him, repeatedly shocking him.
“Every time the Taser stopped,” Sandidge says. “I would say, ‘I’m not resisting,’ and he would tase me again.”
After being handcuffed and lifted to his feet, he was led to a police van that had arrived. On his way to the van, he says, another officer, Ofc. Marcos Ortiz, punched him in the stomach.
Sandidge was released the next morning, but charged with assault, resisting arrest and obstruction of justice. A jury later found him not guilty of the first two charges. The prosecutor’s office then dropped the obstruction charge.
The People’s Panel on Police Accountability is now demanding the city prosecute officers Blackmer and Ortiz for assault. On July 31, attorneys for the group sent a letter to City Attorney Tom Carr urging him to bring charges in the case.
The NAACP’s James Bible said last week that he expects another letter will go to the city attorney shortly requesting that Sgt. Greg Sackman be prosecuted in the alleged 2005 assault of another African American, Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, who says he took a beating after he questioned an officer.
Ruth Bowman, a spokesperson for the city attorney, said she would have no comment on the Sandidge case until her office had reviewed the evidence. If the City Attorney doesn’t prosecute, Bible said, the People’s Panel will file its own citizen complaint, a type of self-prosecution allowed under court rules.
“This was not simply police misconduct,” Bible said. “This was assault, and assault is a crime.”
Sandidge, who just started a job at an auto parts store and will start school at Highline Community College this fall, said his heart was pounding that day at the Bite of Seattle when the police officer walked up.
“I guess you could say it was shocking,” Sandidge says of having Taser prongs fired into his chest two years ago. “When I see the police now, I try to stay as far away from them as I can. I don’t want to say ‘Hi’, ‘Bye’, or anything.”