When Seattle police Officer Benjamin Kelly confronted and killed fugitive cop-killer Maurice Clemmons on a darkened South Seattle street in 2010, he was hailed as a hero and named Officer of the Year.
Since then, he’s cost the city $165,000 to settle civil-rights lawsuits alleging illegal stops and excessive force.
Kelly’s actions during an illegal 2009 stop and search of a jaywalker resulted in dismissal of federal firearm charges against the jaywalker because a gun Kelly found in his waistband during the search couldn’t be used as evidence, according to records in one lawsuit.
The most recent settlement, finalized Monday, involves payment of $150,000 to settle a civil-rights lawsuit filed last year by Giljon Lee-Sean Johnson, a convicted burglar who Kelly shot and seriously wounded in 2014.
The Seattle City Attorney’s Office confirmed the settlement and provided a copy of the agreement dismissing Johnson’s lawsuit, but otherwise declined to comment on the agreement.
Kelly, 46, is a patrol officer and hostage negotiator, according to Seattle payroll records. He was hired in 2005.
He had been on the force fewer than four years when Clemmons, an Arkansas felon with a long and violent history, walked into a Parkland coffee shop on Nov. 29, 2010, and killed four Lakewood police officers having coffee before they began their shift.
Two days later, Kelly was sitting in his patrol car, investigating an abandoned stolen car, when he said he saw Clemmons, wearing a hoodie, approaching from behind.
Kelly said he left the car and shot the man when he refused to show his hands and made a movement toward his waistband. Police found one of the slain officer’s guns in Clemmon’s pocket.
Kelly was named the Seattle Police Officer of the Year, received the department’s Medal of Valor and was honored in Washington, D.C., by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
More recently, he’s found his police work the subject of lawsuits.
Johnson sued last year after he was shot July 19, 2014, after a foot chase with Kelly, who had found him hiding outside a South Seattle home where neighbors had reported a burglary in progress.
Court documents give this account of what happened next:
Kelly was one of several officers who responded to the call. Two men were arrested in the home, and Kelly and other officers were searching the area when he came across Johnson hiding between a garage and a fence.
Kelly drew his weapon and ordered the man to show his hands, but instead the man climbed onto the flat roof of the garage in the backyard and refused to come down.
Johnson, who was not armed, eventually jumped off the garage and ran, with Kelly close behind him, his handgun still drawn.
Johnson tried to jump a 6-foot-tall fence but failed and fell back just as Kelly caught up with him. Kelly said Johnson hit him in the face as the two tumbled into a heap on the ground.
The officer responded by “pistol whipping” Johnson with his handgun, according to Johnson’s complaint. A struggle ensued, and Kelly said that at one point his gun-hand became pinned and he feared Johnson might get control of the weapon.
According to the pleadings, Kelly fired his gun at least twice, both shots striking Johnson in the torso. He was seriously injured but recovered. He pleaded guilty to burglary and resisting arrest.
Kelly was not hurt.
The City Attorney’s Office said Kelly was exonerated in an internal investigation into the shooting.
Johnson’s attorney, Matthew Hartman, said the question turned on whether Kelly’s use of deadly force was reasonable under the circumstances.
“While it’s true Mr. Johnson ran from Officer Kelly, the question is whether Officer Kelly had the right to shoot him for doing it,” Hartman said.
In 2013, the city paid $15,000 to settle a lawsuit filed against Kelly by a man who said the officer had illegally stopped him for jaywalking on Rainier Avenue South and found a gun during a subsequent search.
The city paid the money, and a federal judge found the 2009 stop was illegal, and federal firearm charges filed against Charles Shateek Smith were thrown out.
Kelly’s behavior in that case prompted U.S. District Judge Richard Jones to publicly call him out for “reprehensible conduct,” which included launching into an expletive-laden tirade and fighting with Smith within seconds of leaving the patrol car.
“His conduct promotes disrespect and disdain for every police officer, even those who treat suspects with respect, integrity, and professionalism,” Jones wrote.