“Jesus talked about forgiveness for individuals. But really, this is less about the individual police officers … than the system they represent. The system needs to be held accountable”
Seattle, Wash. – A Seattle pastor, Reverend John Michael Helmiere, who was brutally beaten during a protest, has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging his First Amendment rights were violated, that he was subjected to excessive force, and that he was subjected to a wrongful arrest and malicious prosecution.
The lawsuit stems from an incident during a protest outside of Harbor Island pier in December of 2011. Helmiere, a United Methodist pastor who leads Valley & Mountain Fellowship in Seattle’s Hillman City neighborhood, was dragged from the crowd by cops during the protest, then thrown to the ground and viciously assaulted by an officer, leaving him bloodied, with cuts and bruises on his face.
Helmiere, a Yale Divinity School graduate, believes his constitutional rights were violated, and filed the federal suit in hopes of changing the way Seattle cops treat the public they are alleged to serve.
“Jesus talked about forgiveness for individuals. But really, this is less about the individual police officers … than the system they represent. The system needs to be held accountable,” said Helmiere, according to Seattlepi.com.
On the evening in question, roughly 300 to 400 demonstrators were gathered outside of Terminal 18 to take part in an act of civil disobedience, with the intention of blocking traffic and temporarily closing the port.
Helmiere was in attendance as a chaplain and was wearing his clerical collar, while calling for peaceful action, as bicycle police began to clash with protestors. The cops began using their bicycles to shove people back as they attempted to clear the street, at which point an officer grabbed him from behind and threw him to the ground, according to Helmiere.
After being thrown to the ground, the officer then began to beat Helmiere, punching him repeatedly in the face. The attack left the pastor bloodied, as the beating split his forehead open and left numerous bruises as a reminder of his victimization at the hands of Seattle’s finest.
In typical cop fashion, police claim Helmiere was ordered by officers to “get out of the street” and upon refusal to comply was arrested for suspicion of obstructing justice. He was then held overnight and charged with pedestrian interference and obstruction, both of which were dismissed in August 2013.
In the federal court filings however, attorneys representing Helmiere – Kenan Isitt, Christopher Carney and Sean Gillespie – contend that officers lied about the events that transpired regarding Helmiere’s arrest to cover for their brutal actions.
The minister wrote about the incident on his blog shortly after it happened writing,
“An officer pulled me down from behind and threw me to the asphalt. Between my cries of pain and shouts of “I’m a man of peace!” he pressed a knee to my spine and immobilized my arms behind my back, crushing me against the ground. With the right side of my face pressed to the street, he repeatedly punched the left side of my face for long enough that I had time to pray that the crunching sounds I heard were not damaging my brain. I was cuffed and pulled off the ground by a different officer who seemed genuinely appalled when he saw my face and clerical collar. He asked who I was and why I was here, to which I replied, “I’m a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I believe another world is possible.” He led me shaking to a police van where began a 12-hour journey of incarcerated misery.”
After much deliberation about how to react to the wrongs committed against him by the Seattle police, Helmiere said he was “called to tell the truth” regarding the abuse he received at the hands of law enforcement.
“Jesus is my example, my teacher. He confronted injustice where he saw it. He was courageous and stood up against it,” the pastor said. “I think he did that because he thought in doing so we could work towards … a peaceful and just society.”
It’s cases like this that highlight that police abuse of authority/police brutality is not simply a racial issue but a much larger societal problem which exposes major systemic failings with the overall U.S. approach to law enforcement.
“I understand and appreciate the role that police officers play in keeping people safe, but not everybody feels safe with police,” he said by phone Wednesday in an interview with Seattlepi.com. “Your social status shouldn’t determine your experience with regard to safety.”
The city has not yet responded to the lawsuit, and there was no specific demand for monetary compensation made.
When officers are so brazen as to beat a man of the cloth, while wearing his clerical collar and attending a protest as a chaplain, it begs the question; is there anyone that cops are not willing to brutalize?
Jay Syrmopoulos is an investigative journalist, freethinker, researcher, and ardent opponent of authoritarianism. He is currently a graduate student at University of Denver pursuing a masters in Global Affairs. Jay’s work has previously been published on BenSwann.com and WeAreChange.org. You can follow him on Twitter @sirmetropolis, on Facebook at Sir Metropolis and now on tsu.