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For King County cops, pointing a weapon at someone will soon be considered 'use of force,' settlement says

caption: Motorcyclist Alex Randall has settled with the King County Sheriff's Office over a lawsuit alleging excessive force during a traffic stop last year.
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Motorcyclist Alex Randall has settled with the King County Sheriff's Office over a lawsuit alleging excessive force during a traffic stop last year.
Alex Randall/YouTube

Pointing a gun at a someone isn't considered a "use of force," according to King County Sheriff's Office policy.

But after a widely-publicized interaction between an off-duty detective who pointed his gun at a motorcyclist and cursed at him during a traffic stop last year, that's set to change.

Motorcyclist Alex Randall sued King County in federal court earlier this year after the Sheriff's Office cleared the detective of using excessive force during the traffic stop.

Pointing a gun at someone wasn't considered a use of force, according to the department's general orders manual, so Detective Richard Rowe couldn't be found culpable for it.

Instead, an internal investigation sustained findings that Rowe violated policies on courtesy, unbecoming conduct, and failing to properly identify himself as law enforcement. Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht agreed with the first two findings, but not the third, and chose to suspend Rowe without pay for five days — half of what her department's internal investigations unit recommended.

Randall, who had recorded the altercation on his GoPro and posted it to YouTube, nevertheless argued in his federal complaint that Rowe had indeed used excessive force.

Now, according to a settlement agreement reached last week between Randall and the department, the Sheriff's Office has until the end of this week to issue an interim policy on pointing guns at people. At minimum, the policy will consider aiming a weapon a use of force "that must be lawfully justified and must be reported for review by supervisory personnel," the settlement says.

Early next year, the Sheriff will issue a permanent policy on the matter, according to the settlement. But that policy will be subject to collective bargaining from police officer unions.

The settlement also includes a $65,000 payment to Randall from the Sheriff's Office.

Deborah Jacobs, director of King County's Office of Law Enforcement Oversight, said she thought it was "fantastic" that Randall sought policy change as part of his settlement.

"We think that, to any person who's had a gun pointed at them, it's pretty clear that it's a use of force," Jacobs said. "You can control people by pointing a gun at them, so it's of course appropriate that it's viewed as a use of force by a police review system."

Jacobs added that she hopes reporting weapon-aiming will be pain-free for officers, so it doesn't discourage them from reporting or doing their jobs.

Jacobs said, this new policy will pull King County in line with the Seattle Police Department, which already views pointing guns as a use of force.

"This also gives the department much more opportunity to track officer conduct to find out how often guns are being pointed and under what circumstances," Jacobs added.

Randall's attorney, Christopher Carney, said in a statement that he and his client appreciated Sheriff Johanknecht's recognition of the issue.

“Pointing a gun at a person without a good reason needlessly escalates the danger of any interaction with police, and increases the risks that citizens and officers will be hurt or killed," Carney said. "This policy change brings the King County Sheriff in line with modern policing, and will hopefully improve officer training to deescalate dangerous situations.”

Randall also posted a video update with news of the settlement.

Attorneys who represented Detective Rowe said they were glad the parties reached an "amicable resolution to this litigation" and wished Randall well.

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