In 2012, UW student David Pontecorvo was capturing video on his cellphone as Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers arrived for a noise complaint. During their dispatch, the officers decided to beat the then-19-year-old Pontecorvo with batons, flashlights, and fists.
In October, his case settled in court for $100,000. Pontecorvo’s litigation filed against SPD, the City of Seattle, Sgt. Joseph Maccarrone, officers Alvaro Ferreira, Christine Nichols, Michael Renner, and others.
SPD referred all calls about the case to the city attorney’s office.
Kimberly Mills, communications director for the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, said they don’t comment on settlements. The way settlements work are entirely different than trials. In settlements, the plaintiff and the defendant reach an agreement of some sort, usually compensation for damages, and then the defendant is released of any liability claims related to the event or anything resulting from the event.
“We try to settle cases rather than trial,” Mills said. “The general rule of thumb is 95% of civil cases settle because it takes so much court time, and the police cases fall into that category too.”
In the eyes of Mills, and perhaps the police officers involved, Pontecorvo was “injured while resisting arrest.”
However, Daniel Fjelstad, Pontecorvo’s attorney, called the case interesting because no charges were ever brought to his client. Fjelstad said a big reason why Pontecorvo decided to bring what happened forward in the first place was to bring the officers to light; officers who gave Pontecorvo cuts, bruises, and a broken cheekbone and nose.
“Renner and Maccarone have a record of very similar conduct and nothing happens to them,” Fjelstad said. “Last time, they got sued for beating somebody up. They got the city sued again, and nothing happens to them. It’s kind of disturbing.”
Both Renner and Maccarone were involved in a 2008 case in which the plaintiff had received two vertebrae fractures, two rib fractures, and cuts that required stitches, according to The Seattle Times.
That lawsuit cost the city $85,000.
SPD Public Affairs Officer Patrick Michaud said there are two levels of protocol when it comes to handling officers who have used force.
Any time there is injury involved in an interaction between SPD officers and a civilian, the Force Review Board (FRB) checks to see if there’s “anything in there that kind of raises their hackles,” according to Michaud. It only takes one member to say something is wrong, and no one else needs to approve or agree, and it then gets sent to the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA).
Once the OPA performs its own investigation and forms recommendations on any punishments for the officer involved, it then goes back to the FRB and the chief has the final say in what happens.
Fjelstad said the SPD knew about Pontecorvo’s complaint before there was any litigation involved, and so the FRB did its own investigation.
However, Pierce Murphy, civilian director of the OPA, told The Seattle Times there was no complaint, so there wasn’t any investigation into the Pontecorvo incident.
Only recently have protocols changed, requiring the OPA to be notified when an officer is facing a lawsuit.
Pontecorvo’s case isn’t the most expensive one Seattle has had to pay for this year. The City of Seattle broke records by paying $1.975 million in a July settlement for a man who was shot in the face by an SPD officer in 2009.
Pontecorvo himself, a geography major at the UW, is currently out of the country.