Appeals court tosses Seattle cops' lawsuit against new use-of-force policy

SEATTLE - A federal appeals court has thrown out a lawsuit brought by more than 100 Seattle police officers who said the city's new guidelines on using force jeopardized their safety.

In a ruling handed down Tuesday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the finding of a U.S. District Court judge who held that the officers' arguments were unsupported by the Constitution or case law.

"We conclude that the (city's use of force) policy is constitutional under the Second Amendment because there is a reasonable fit between the ... policy and the city of Seattle's important government interest in ensuring the safety of both the public and its police officers," the court wrote in its conclusion. "We affirm the district court's dismissal of the appellants' Second Amendment claim."

The city of Seattle welcomed the appeals court ruling.

"The Seattle Police Department's new use-of-force policy, first implemented in early 2014 after approval by the federal court overseeing the consent decree between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice, has been a critical component in transforming policing for the residents of Seattle," City Attorney Peter S. Holmes said in a prepared statement. "On behalf of the city, I welcome this confirmation that constitutional policing and officer safety go hand-in-hand."

The Seattle Police Department adopted the new use-of-force policy under a 2012 settlement agreement with the U.S. Justice Department, which found that Seattle police routinely used excessive force, especially in low-level situations that might otherwise have been defused.

The policy lists guidelines for every weapon used and requires the most serious uses of force to be investigated by a special team. It spells out when force is appropriate, stresses that alternatives to force should be used "when time, circumstances and safety permit," and requires that officers carry at least one less-lethal tool such as a Taser.

While it says that force used must be reasonable, it also specifies that the analysis of whether the force was reasonable must allow "that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving."

The officers who signed on to the lawsuit, without the support of the police guild, objected, saying the policy elevates the rights of criminal suspects over those of police.

They argued that Merrick Bobb, the court-appointed monitor overseeing the reforms, refused input from the police department in the drafting of the new policy, and that it violates their constitutional right to defend themselves.

But the District Court and the Court of Appeals rejected those arguments.