Court records show it took a jury precisely five minutes to find Yvette Gaston not guilty of assaulting a Seattle police officer -- and for good reason, Gaston and her attorney say: During last week's trial in Seattle Municipal Court, the four officers involved didn't tell the same story.
Gaston is the King County juvenile probation officer charged with obstructing and assaulting an officer on Sept. 4, 2008, after a young man under her authority was arrested for jaywalking in the Central District ("NAACP calls down city for behavior of officers," Oct. 8-14).
Gaston, a 12-year veteran of the juvenile court, had just purchased school clothes for the teenager at Sears and then dropped him off at 23rd Avenue and Jackson Street when she got a frantic call from the young man that police had stopped him and were accusing him of stealing the clothes in his bag.
Gaston says she drove to the scene, showed her badge to Officer Christopher Kelley and identified herself as the youth's probation officer. The officer told her to leave and, while she was backing up, Gaston says, an officer behind her grabbed her arm while another yelled that she had no business being there. Gaston used her cell phone to call 911 and request a supervisor to come to the scene, but a transcript of the call presented as evidence confirmed that Officer Eric Faust took the phone and told the operator to disregard the call.
At trial, the judge dismissed the obstruction charge, but left the jury to decide whether Gaston had assaulted Leanne Shirey, the officer Gaston says grabbed her from behind. Three of the officers testified that Gaston had charged up to Kelley and Shirey had stepped in front of her when Gaston pushed her. Kelley, however, gave different testimony, describing a calm exchange with Gaston with no one between them.
After a year of stress and worry that the case could end her career, Gaston says she's grateful one officer told the truth, but the damage is done. "I feel a lot more nervous about dealing with the police, especially as a citizen," she says, "because I don't know if there will be some type of retaliation."
She and her attorney, James Bible, are now weighing whether to sue the Seattle Police Department over the charges, which Bible says should never have gone to trial.