Federal prosecutors are recommending a year in jail for a former Tukwila police officer who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for pepper-spraying a handcuffed patient in a hospital emergency room in 2011.
If U.S. District Judge John Coughenour accepts the government’s sentencing recommendation in its prosecution of Nick Hogan, it would be the first time in recent memory that a Washington police officer has been jailed for using excessive force on the job, a criminal civil-rights violation.
Hogan pleaded guilty in November to a single count of deprivation of rights under color of law. He will be sentenced at 9 a.m. Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Seattle.
In a sentencing recommendation filed this week, assistant U.S. attorney Bruce Miyake said Hogan’s actions, all while wearing a badge, justify the extraordinary sentence — the most severe that can be imposed for a misdemeanor.
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“The defendant’s conduct cuts to the very heart of our criminal justice system,” Miyake wrote. “If the community cannot rely upon police officers to obey the law, the community will lose faith in the very institutions designed to protect it.”
Hogan “abused his position of authority and committed a violent crime against a person in his custody,” Miyake wrote. “Adding to the egregiousness of this particular crime is the fact that the victim was restrained and therefore defenseless when the defendant used excessive force.”
Hogan’s attorney, Wayne Fricke, argued that Hogan does not deserve any more punishment than what he’s already received: He lost his job at Tukwila, was terminated from another job as an officer in Snoqualmie, and won’t ever be able to work in law enforcement again.
“Now the government … seek(s) to penalize him a third time for long ago conduct,” Fricke wrote in a brief filed Tuesday. “The defense can only ask, ‘For what purpose?’
“Mr. Hogan has suffered enough, and any incarceration/prohibitions simply amounts to ‘piling on.’ ”
Hogan had responded to a fight in Tukwila on May 21, 2011, and arrested a man identified as “M.S.” who had suffered a split lip during the altercation. Hogan transported him to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle to have the injury treated before booking him into jail.
According to reports, M.S. was verbally abusive but was handcuffed in the back of Hogan’s patrol car.
Nevertheless, according to internal-affairs documents obtained by The Seattle Times and federal court papers, Hogan resorted to force, using several hard “knee-strikes” to M.S.’s head when he pulled him from the back of the patrol car.
Once inside the emergency room, M.S. continued to mouth off, and Hogan responded by shoving him against a wall and pushing him to the floor, according to court documents and witness statements obtained by The Times.
The documents say M.S. was put into four-point restraints on a gurney, and he and Hogan were taken to a curtained treatment cubicle, where M.S. reportedly continued to be verbally abusive and threatened to sue Hogan.
“Hogan sprayed M.S. in the eyes, mouth and face with” pepper spray and made no effort to assist him afterward by washing off his face.
“Harborview Security entered the room, and observed Hogan calmly drinking water” which would have been used to wash off the powerful irritant.
M.S. was still restrained hand and foot with “teary, red, swollen eyes and snot running down his face” the document says.
Hogan told the security guard that M.S. had been “mouthy.”
Hogan was indicted by a federal grand jury in May over the 2011 incident, the final straw in a string of questionable use-of-force incidents, usually against people of color.
Two such incidents resulted in civil-rights lawsuits that cost Tukwila more than $425,000 in out-of-court settlements and fees.
Tukwila had hired Hogan in 2009 after his application for police officer had been rejected by departments in Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma and Fife.
After he left Tukwila, he was hired in 2013 by the Snoqualmie Police Department, which defended the hiring until Hogan was suspended and eventually terminated for having an affair with another officer’s wife. Other officers in the department also raised concerns about his police tactics.
Hogan is the first police officer in Western Washington to be indicted on a charge of a criminal civil-rights violation since 2008. King County sheriff’s Deputy Brian Bonnar was accused of roughing up a woman during a 2005 arrest but was acquitted by a jury at trial.