Was Seattle Cop Justified in Punching Teen Girl?

About twenty years ago, in an imprudent effort to bring in some extra money, I enlisted to work the uniformed police detail during Los Angeles Raiders’ games at the L.A. Coliseum. As those who remember the Raiders’ days in Los Angeles may recall, the detail was rather like working as a guard in a 90,000-seat, open-air prison. The clientele at the typical California penal institution would have been almost undistinguishable from that which gathered at the Coliseum on those Sunday afternoons, with one significant difference being that many (most?) in the football crowd arrived drunk and proceeded to get more so with every snap of the ball. During that one memorable season among the Raiders’ fans, I was involved in more physical altercations than I have been in the rest of my police career.

But even among all those brouhahas in the grandstand, one in particular persists in my memory to this day. Some of my colleagues and I were summoned to give the heave-ho to a fan whose drunken behavior had veered even beyond the ample bounds tolerated by all the other drunks in that section. When we emerged from the tunnel and scanned the crowd, we were spared from what might have been a perplexing choice as to which person we had been asked to eject. For there, standing and holding aloft a bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey, was a woman of about 30. Yes, a woman. There was nothing especially menacing about her proportions or her apparent capacity for violence, but we were soon taken aback when, after a guttural shout of “Raiders!” in response to nothing we could discern to be occurring down on the field or elsewhere, she tilted the bottle to her lips and took a long, steady draw, the bubbles rising in the inverted bottle as they would in an office water cooler.

Skipping ahead a bit for brevity’s sake, the woman ended up in jail that afternoon, but not before a small amount of blood and a large amount of whiskey had been spilled in the effort to put her there. I can be thankful that video cameras were not as commonplace then as they are today, for if they had been, I’m sure I would have been every bit as famous -- or infamous -- as one unfortunate Seattle police officer is right now.

For a male police officer, there are few things more vexing on the job than trying to arrest a female who does not want to be arrested. Use too much force and you look like a bully, use too little and you look like a fool.

Which brings us to Seattle and that unfortunate cop. Perhaps you’ve seen the video, shot Monday afternoon near Seattle’s Franklin High School. (Warning: the video contains graphic language.  But it’s important to watch the linked video rather than some edited version, many of which have had the sound deleted.) The video begins after the action has commenced, so some scene-setting is here provided. Officer Ian Walsh was on patrol alone near the high school just after classes were dismissed for the day, and he saw a young male illegally crossing a major street, eschewing the use of a nearby pedestrian overpass. Walsh stopped him, but while speaking to the young man about the perils of his actions, four young females committed the identical violation in the same spot.

Officer Walsh stopped these four as well, and he was gathering the information required to warn them or to cite them for the traffic violation when one of them, Marilyn Levias, 19, started walking away. According to Walsh’s police report, he warned Levias that she would be arrested if she continued to walk away. When Levias kept walking, Walsh grabbed her arm and attempted to detain her.

And that’s where the tape begins. As the videographer approaches the scene, Officer Walsh can be seen attempting to restrain Levias near the front of his police car. The first sounds that can be heard on the tape are Levias telling Walsh to “get the f*** off of me,” a phrase which, together with some other colorfully insulting and vulgar language, she uses many times throughout the drama. (And note that the only improper language that can be heard on the video was spoken by the two young women who were arrested and the onlookers.)

Near the front of the police car is a second woman, Angel Rosenthal, age 17, who for a few moments is restrained by a male. As Walsh continues struggling with Levias, Rosenthal breaks free from the male, then places herself between Walsh and Levias before pushing the officer with both hands. Walsh responds by punching Rosenthal in the face, knocking her back and to the side of the police car. The camera then zooms in to a point that makes it difficult to discern what happens next, but it appears that Walsh briefly struggles with both women before Rosenthal is pulled away by the same male who had restrained her earlier.  Walsh then continues to struggle with Levias, finally handcuffing her at about the 2:25 mark in the tape.

(It’s interesting to note that of all the onlookers present, the male who restrained Rosenthal is the only one who was the least bit helpful in resolving the situation. The rest were either absorbed in recording the incident on their own cell phones or in seeing to it that others had done so, with no one apparently even entertaining the thought of helping the police officer.)