Police officer testifies suit has marred his reputation

A Seattle police officer told a federal-court jury yesterday that two Central Area men suing him for alleged brutality are fabricating their accusations and have sullied the reputation he has built in 15 years of hard work as a patrolman.

"It's not comforting, I guess, feeling that I haven't been vindicated," Officer Ronald Martin testified in U.S. District Court in Seattle. "I didn't, and still don't, believe I did anything improper.

"And I don't have $11 million, either, so it's been pretty stressful."

Martin, 50, took the stand during the trial in a federal civil-rights lawsuit filed by Gregory Lewis and Kenyatto Allah, who allege the officer roughed them up and improperly arrested them in September 1998 after they ran to help a young man trapped inside a crashed car on East Cherry Street.

The men have not asked the six-person jury in Judge Barbara Rothstein's court for a specific amount of money in punitive damages, but in an earlier claim against the city, they asked for $11 million.

Allah has testified that Martin grabbed him and slammed him against the crashed car for no other reason than that he was climbing out of it after trying to help the injured teen inside. Lewis testified last week that Martin tried to strangle him for objecting to Allah's arrest, forcing Lewis, a karate teacher, to fight back.

Both men were arrested for obstructing police. They were acquitted in Municipal Court.

Martin testified yesterday that the men were the aggressors in the tussles with him that he was simply trying to do his job.

Martin said he had good reason to believe at first that Allah was connected with the crashed car, which turned out to be stolen, and that it was his duty to detain Allah until he could make sure Allah hadn't disturbed a crime scene by being in the car.

"He was a felony-arrest suspect at that point," Martin said. "I don't believe as a conscientious police officer I could have allowed him to leave."

The officer said he wasn't even going to handcuff Allah. But instead of cooperating, the officer said, Allah struggled to get away. Martin said that forced him to push Allah onto the car to restrain him.

A small crowd was yelling that Allah was not involved in the crash but was just trying to help. Martin said he couldn't just take the crowd's word for it.

"It could have been his brother lying for him, for example," Martin said.

Martin let Allah go. But when he started to walk away, Martin followed. "My assessment was he was leaving the scene," Martin said.

That's when Lewis stepped in the officer's way to protect Allah, Martin said.

Martin said he didn't choke Lewis. Instead Lewis gave him a swift karate kick and at least two punches to the face, Martin said. He and another officer tackled Lewis and cuffed him.

Martin also denied threatening Lewis at the police station. Lewis contends Martin told him he would be branded a danger to police and suggested he would be shot.

Martin said Lewis is exaggerating a procedural conversation he had with Lewis informing him he would be reported as a "hazard" to police, as is standard departmental procedure following a scuffle with officers.

Now, Martin said, he fears that even if the jury clears him, the damage may be already done. The lawsuit contributed to his decision this year to leave the East Precinct after a decade of patrolling it, he said.

He now is assigned to the harbor patrol.

"I've experienced my loss of sleep over it," he said. "I think I've been a better-than-average patrol officer. ... That's kind of been raised into doubt."