This image from a Seattle Police officer's body-worn camera shows Officer Donovan Lewis questioning Isabelle Kerner in the back of an ambulance in Capitol Hill on Oct. 8, 2017.
This image from a Seattle Police officer's body-worn camera shows Officer Donovan Lewis questioning Isabelle Kerner in the back of an ambulance in Capitol Hill on Oct. 8, 2017.

A United States District Court judge has dismissed claims in a lawsuit filed against the Seattle Police Department by city council candidate Isabelle Kerner over its handling of an assault case in Capitol Hill back in 2017. The order came a day after the District 7 candidate contacted defense attorneys about dropping the suit.

Kerner had been sitting on a scissor lift outside Neumos with her friends on the night of Oct. 8, 2017, when her complaint states a group of men walked by and hurled profanities at her. One of Kerner’s friends reported returning insults.

Then one of the men reportedly grabbed Kerner by the hair and attempted to drag her from the scissor lift, while the others punched her in the back of the head.

Sohaib Zulfiqar was punched in the face by a member of the group as he tried to intervene, according to Kerner’s complaint.

“They’ve been attacking multiple people and they keep picking fights,” Zulfiqar told a 911 dispatcher.

Kerner’s lawsuit particularly focused on the handling of the assault case by responding Officer Donovan Lewis, who accepted her alleged assailants’ account of what happened, which was that Kerner and her friends yelled homophobic and racial slurs at them. Her alleged assailants and Lewis are black and Kerner is white.

Kerner alleges her assailants didn’t accuse her and her friends of making racist and homophobic slurs until Lewis asked them if they thought that was a motive. Kerner accuses Lewis of siding with the alleged assailants, none of who were arrested, “and implied she deserved to be attacked,” the complaint states.

The Office of Police Accountability received a complaint on Oct. 16, 2017, where Kerner alleged Lewis accused her of being homophobic and racist, rolled his eyes at her and dismissed her statement while interviewing her from inside an ambulance. She reported Lewis also called her crazy to other officers.

“I think what made her upset was she said, ‘My friend was black, my friend was black, I would never call anyone the N-word,’” Lewis told the other officers, which was caught on another officer’s body-worn camera, “and I said, ‘I’ve been called the N-word by a white person with his black friend in the car, so that means nothing.’”

The OPA found the complaint of unprofessional conduct sustained, as well as a complaint that Lewis had improperly categorized the incident as a disturbance rather than a bias crime in his General Offense (GO) Report. The OPA further found that the officer failed to collect physical evidence, conduct comprehensive interviews with Kerner’s friends, canvas the area for independent witnesses, and include information in his GO Report detailing why the three men felt they had been targeted because of their race and sexual orientations.

Lewis was not found to have conducted bias policing despite his unprofessional interaction with Kerner, according to the OPA, as there was no way to prove Lewis’ status as a black man caused him to believe Kerner’s alleged attackers over her.

Seattle Police Sgt. Douglas Raguso was also named in the OPA complaint. He was in charge of overseeing the investigation. The OPA found he did a poor job providing oversight and followup, but only recommended the sergeant receive retraining regarding his responsibilities when called to the scene of a malicious harassment investigation.

Kerner accused SPD of falsifying the police report, violating the code of conduct, failing to investigate, misconduct and violating her 14th Amendment rights to due process and equal protection in her lawsuit.

U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour responded to a motion for summary judgement on April 30, which was filed by attorneys at Christie Law Group, which defended the police department under a $65,000 contract with the city attorney’s office.

Coughenor found that Kerner’s lawsuit only named the police department as a defendant in the lawsuit, and not the City of Seattle.

“The Seattle Police Department, as an entity of the City of Seattle, is not legally capable of being sued,” Coughenor writes in his order, adding Kerner did not name any individual officers as defendants.

Coughenor also found that Washington law does not allow for civil action based on alleged criminal violations, such as Kerner’s assertions of biased policing, failing to conduct a thorough investigation and discrediting statements of an independent witness.

“Essentially, Plaintiff attempts to hold Defendant civilly liable for the alleged criminal violations of its officers,” Coughenor writes.

The district court judge also found allegations of due process violations under the Fifth Amendment only apply in cases involving the federal government. He also sided with SPD when it came to allegations of 14th Amendment violations, writing that Kerner failed to show how actions by SPD deprived her “of a liberty or property interest.” Coughenor also found Kerner failed to provide evidence that SPD discriminated against her as a member of a protected class.

The day before the district court judge’s order was filed, Kerner contacted Anne Trivett with Christie Law Group about dropping her lawsuit. The parties reached an agreement regarding terms of a stipulation and order for dismissal of all claims, however, the judge’s decision had already been made. The City of Seattle will not be seeking to recover attorneys fees and other court costs associated with the lawsuit, according to an email from Trivett to Kerner.

Kerner tells Queen Anne News part of her decision to drop the case was because Raguso had called her to apologize for his handling of her case, and that the police sergeant said the experience had changed how he practices policing. She added she is also not perfect.

“I just couldn’t justify fighting with a city that I’m trying to work with,” she said.

A news release issued by Kerner states the East Precinct sergeant’s apology came weeks before the motion for summary judgment was filed.

“Mistakes are only failures when we refuse to take responsibility and miss out on the opportunity to learn from them,” Kerner states in the release. “We need to foster a system in which allegations against public officials at every level and within every City Department do not view complaints against them as an attack, but rather a chance to reflect on how we can use such feedback to make ourselves and our communities better.”

Kerner had been seeking $50,000 in emotional damages and another $50,000 in punitive damages. Her release states the lawsuit was not about money but ensuring no one else experienced what she went through.

“What was the point the public might ask?” Kerner’s release states. “The point was to make one, and given recent awareness of an estimated 100-150 prolific violent repeat offenders responsible for 3,500 crimes, Kerner has faith her message was received.”

This statement refers to the System Failure report drafted by 2017 city attorney candidate Scott Lindsay, who also served as public safety advisor to former mayor Ed Murray.

Kerner commends Lindsay in her release, as well as presiding Municipal Court Judge Ed McKenna “for bravely speaking out on the Repeat Offender Report when other elected City Officials chose to remain silent.”

McKenna was recently asked to step down or change his behavior by City Attorney Pete Holmes and Anita Khandelwal, director of the Department of Defense, who claim the judge has disregarded his “duty to act with impartiality and integrity,” according to an open letter issued to McKenna. The judge denies those accusations.

“Kerner’s complaint will remain on her campaign website and so will the videos of Responding Officer’s on her YouTube channel,” the release states. “While Kerner fully forgives all officers involved and all other City Departments involved, she will not forget this incident and hopes the City of Seattle doesn’t either.”