Black Seattle cop made threatening move against handcuffed Black man, video shows


A Seattle police officer under investigation for allegedly using excessive force on a man arrested at the scene of a disturbance call in August made a threatening move toward him a short time later as the man sat handcuffed in a holding cell, newly released video shows.

Officer Clayton Powell can be seen leaning forward, putting his face close to the man, cocking his arm and balling his hand into a fist before pulling back and leaving the cell.

The video, captured by an in-house camera in the South Precinct, was released Thursday under a public-disclosure request by the Seattle City Attorney's Office, which is reviewing the entire episode to determine if Powell should be criminally charged.

Powell and other officers were called to the 3700 block of South Othello Street about 8:40 p.m. on Aug. 2 to investigate a report of a drive-by shooting involving a pellet gun.

A video later posted on YouTube showed a heated argument between Powell and a man at the scene.

Police said Powell, 51, who joined the Police Department in 1993, was baited into a physical confrontation with the man, who allegedly spit in the officer's face.

Powell initially pushed the man after the spitting, which would not be considered a criminal act because it could be viewed as self-defense, according to a law-enforcement source familiar with the investigation.

But Powell is then alleged to have physically contacted the man after he was placed in handcuffs, making the officer subject to a potential assault charge, the source said.

It is not clear on the YouTube video exactly what happened.

After being arrested, the man who allegedly spit on Powell was taken to the South Precinct and put in a cell in handcuffs.

The video, which does not have an audio track, shows Powell initially opening the cell door and repeatedly pointing at the man from the entry area while apparently saying something to him.

About 6 minutes later, Powell returned to the cell, again appearing to say something and this time making a threatening gesture with his hand.

He then followed with the punching motion and left the cell.

No criminal case against the arrested man was referred to the City Attorney's Office by the Police Department, said Kimberly Mills, spokeswoman for the office.

The holding-cell video could be used as supplemental evidence to bolster an assault charge against Powell, according to the law-enforcement source.

Police initially said that other officers who responded to the shooting call reported that Powell had used excessive force and engaged in unprofessional conduct at the scene.

But police later revised their account, saying no other officer reported the conduct. Rather, a sergeant who routinely screened the arrest learned of it when he asked Powell's partner what had happened.

The partner told the sergeant to ask Powell, and when he did, Powell explained what had happened, police said.

Powell was placed on paid administrative leave after the incident and has since been put on non-patrol duty in the South Precinct, a police spokesman said.

The case initially was referred to the Police Department's Office of Professional Accountability for an internal investigation. But that inquiry was suspended when the criminal review began and won't resume until the criminal aspect is completed.

The incident occurred just days after the Police Department and the Department of Justice signed a landmark settlement agreement in U.S. District Court intended to address a pattern of unconstitutional use-of-force within the department, which the Justice Department found was partly from lack of adequate training and supervision of officers.