Citizen's site allows public to access Seattle cops' videos

Citizen's site allows public to access Seattle cops' videos »Play Video
KOMO is KATU's sister station in Seattle.

SEATTLE -- Seattle police are under fire again, this time with a civil rights lawsuit and a new website.

Both are designed to spur change within the department, according to citizen advocate Eric Rachner.

When Seattle police arrested Rachner for refusing to show his identification three years ago, they picked the wrong guy in more than one way. Though SPD told Rachner there were no dash cam videos in his case, he knew they would exonerate him and he refused to give up his search for that evidence.

"I didn't choose to get into this," he said. "I got prosecuted and I was out thousands of dollars, and so I had to get these videotapes to clear my name."

The city ultimately dropped charges of obstruction against Rachner, but he's now suing the department, claiming wrongful arrest, malicious prosecution and intentionally concealing video evidence to hide officer misconduct.

But he's not the only one who's had problems getting SPD's dash cam video. A Problem Solver investigation discovered that SPD's system has lost thousands of dash cam videos, but the department never notified any public defender agencies and requests for video are routinely denied.

Dashcam video of Eric Rachner's arrest.

"Video is often decisive," said Lisa Daugaard, deputy director of The Defenders Association. She said SPD regularly tells their attorneys that dash cam video no longer exists or never existed, but after repeated requests, a video might later be produced.

"That's a problem for them and a problem for civilians and a problem for us," Daugaard said.

Rachner says he's spent thousands in attorney fees and lost thousands more due to lost business opportunities. And while he is suing for monetary damages, he says it's about more than money.

"Now it's also about trying to find out who else has been through this and to help them out by getting their videos," he said.

With that in mind, Rachner has developed a website using SPD's video database so anyone can find out what happened to their video evidence.

"It'll keep the Seattle Police Department honest, at least as far as the question of videos and whether or not they exist," he said.

Seattle police spokesman Sean Whitcomb applauds Rachner for putting the information online.

"Transparency is a very important virtue for our department. And we try to achieve that by sharing information and public education," he said, adding that he thinks it's a good idea to make the database available to everyone.

Public defender Daugaard agrees.

"Having the database out there means that everybody's kind of playing on a level playing field," she said.

Both Daugaard and Rachner hope the effect of multiple lawsuits and the publicizing of the problems with the video system will force the department to change.

"Regardless of what happens in my individual case, I want to make sure SPD still changes its behavior," said Rachner.

A KOMO News is also suing Seattle police as we'd been fighting to get a copy of that video database for several years. We believe everyone should be able to access that information, and so we're including this link to Rachner's website.