Seattle police sergeant from car attack investigation has spotty ethics history
A Seattle police sergeant was placed on paid administrative leave in August, pending the outcome of an investigation into an alleged car attack earlier that month.
Sgt. Michael Tietjen, who is accused of driving an unmarked police vehicle onto a sidewalk toward protesters on Capitol Hill on August 12, has a history of ethics investigations and excessive force allegations, according to court documents and a series of 2007 reports published by the Seattle Times.
The Seattle Office of Police Accountability has launched a probe into allegations that Tietjen sped onto a sidewalk toward protesters. A spokesperson for the accountability office said it received roughly 20 complaints about the incident.
The officer is also accused of charging his vehicle at protesters a second time that same night, stopping just before he reached them.
This isn't the first time Tietjen's conduct has come under scrutiny.
He was accused of punching and choking a man to the point of unconsciousness during a 2005 arrest, and was among various officers in 2007 flagged as having credibility issues by the King County Prosecutor's Office.
A video of the event from this summer shows a blue, unmarked GMC SUV suddenly accelerate through an intersection at 11th Avenue and Pine Street. The driver veers toward a sidewalk and the camera cuts away briefly. But as the vehicle comes back into view, a person is seen jumping through a row of bushes to get out of the driver’s path.
While neither the Seattle Police Department nor the Office of Police Accountability are naming Tietjen directly, Tietjen himself shared his department issued serial number — 6645 — with a person who confronted him on camera after the alleged car attack.
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KUOW verified Tietjen's serial number by reviewing court documents from cases involving him, which reference the number.
On the video from this summer, Tietjen says he was pursuing a suspect when confronted by the person recording the video.
"I just wanted to know why you drove up onto the sidewalk," the person says.
"Trying to catch a bad guy," Tietjen responds. When the person recording asks the officer whether he caught the suspect, Tietjen says, "No — he ran like a roach."
Tietjen also states that he "used to love Seattle" but now "it's pretty fucking dirty." His reason for staying, he says, is "because they pay me like $200k a year to babysit."
In a video witnesses say was taken approximately 40 minutes after the first alleged car attack, Tietjen accelerates toward another sidewalk but breaks before making contact.
“Why would he run – he was peaceful?” Tietjen says roughly 34 minutes into a livestream video containing that footage.
A string of recent car ramming incidents have left many Seattle demonstrators on edge, including one that killed one protester, Summer Taylor, and left another, Diaz Love, severely injured in July.
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Also in July, off-duty Seattle Police officer Molly Clark was accused of driving aggressively toward protesters.
Protesters with the Every Night Direct Demonstration had gathered at Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood on August 12 as part of ongoing protests against police brutality and racism. The protesters assembled in Cal Anderson Park between 7 and 9 p.m. and braced for potential a confrontation with Seattle Police officers, one member said.
The Every Night Direct Demonstration has become known for its head-on approach to protesting police violence. The group is regularly clad in protective gear, and trains demonstrators in first-aid and self-protection tactics in the event they are met with police violence.
"If other groups bring the MLK energy, we bring the Malcolm X energy," said a protester with the Every Night Direct Demonstration, who asked that KUOW not to name him out of concern for his safety.
He added that the group doesn't seek out confrontations with police officers, contrary to some perceptions.
"SPD has proven they are more than willing to escalate on their own — they don’t need our help doing this," he said.
While he didn't witness the alleged car attack, the protester said he heard the resulting commotion as he was leaving Cal Anderson Park late into that night.
"There was a weird vibe," he said. "Between us saying we were getting ready to disperse and the rapidly ramping up SPD presence, I could tell things weren’t going to go well."
Tietjen, the officer accused of the alleged attack, has been a Seattle Police officer for over 20 years, according to his LinkedIn profile.
In 2007, Tietjen and his partner were accused of using excessive force against and planting drugs on a man taken into custody. While they were believed by a civilian watchdog to have lied in arrest reports they submitted, investigators ultimately cleared the pair of any wrongdoing.
Also in 2007, Tietjen was named as a defendant in a federal lawsuit, accused of beating a man amid an arrest in Belltown and choking him to the point of unconsciousness. That case was settled for $500 in 2014.
Tietjen did not respond to KUOW's requests for comment for this story.