Monday, September 7, 2009

African American Juvenile Probation Officer Found Not Guilty of Assaulting Seattle Police Officer

Yvette Gaston, a King County Juvenile Probation Counselor who has dedicated the past twelve years of her life to helping troubled children was found not guilty of obstructing Justice and assault of a police officer. In September of last year, Yvette Gaston secured a clothing voucher through her job so that she could help a child on her case load get school clothes. After securing the voucher she met the young man in downtown Seattle at Sears. After she got school clothes for the young man, she dropped him off on 23rd and Jackson. 23rd and Jackson is an area traditionally known as the Central District (CD). The CD has traditionally been the community of color in Seattle. It has long been known as a refuge for African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos and Asian populations.

Shortly after dropping the young man off, he was approached by police officers who accused him of stealing his school clothes, throwing rocks and jaywalking. The young man called the one person who could vouch for his whereabouts and the fact that he had legally obtained the clothing.....his probation counselor. After the young man reached Yvette Gaston, he handed the phone to one of the officers. Yvette attempted to explain and reason with the officer over the phone. To her surprise she was met with an angry and aggressive tone. The officer told her that the young man was being "lippy" and that he was going to show him how we "operate things in the CD."

The statements of the officer caused Gaston great concern. In recent years there has been a great deal of concern about police misconduct and racial profiling in Seattle. She made the courageous decision to go back to 23rd and Jackson and bear witness to the "incident." Upon arrival, she saw that the young man had been handcuffed and placed in the back of a squad car. (witnesses would later say that the officers had handled the young man in a very rough and unnecessary manner). Yvette approached the officers, showed them her badge and asked if they were really arresting this young man for jaywalking. An officer quickly approached Gaston and accused her of assaulting a police officer. She was so disturbed with the officers actions that she eventually called 911 herself. The Sargent on the scene eventually took the phone from her and essentially instructed the officer to disregard the call.

Shortly after bringing this issue forward through the NAACP, Gaston was charged with assault and an obstruction allegation was later added. The Law Office of Joe St. Laurent and James Bible handled Gaston's case. After nearly 12 months and several pre trial hearings, the case was ready for trial. A jury quickly found Gaston not guilty. While the jury has exonerated Gaston of all charges, she still has many emotional scars that are a direct result of the way in which she was treated by the police.

We can't help but wonder what things would have been like if Gaston was simply a concerned citizen who was interested in protecting the rights of a young man instead of a probation counselor. Would the Jury have sided with her even then?

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