In graphic newly released body camera footage depicting an arrest that occurred last February, Spokane Police Department officers can be seen smashing out the windows of a suspect's car after a pursuit, threatening to "f—-ing" kill the 29-year-old suspect and lifting a canine into the car where the suspect was attacked.
The incident stemmed from a traffic stop where the suspect, Lucas Ellerman, allegedly fled the scene, prompting a car chase. He was wanted on several felony warrants, including unlawful possession of a firearm, and police had previously received from a tip from an informant that he was armed. After a pursuit, officers Dan Lesser and Scott Lesser — Dan is Scott's uncle — eventually pinned Ellerman at a snowbank at the corner of East Fifth Avenue and South Custer Road in Spokane Valley.
In the video, Dan can be seen smashing out the driver's side window of Ellerman's car and screaming threats at him like "I'm going to put a bullet in your brain" and "I'm going to f—-ing kill you." Ellerman tells him that he "has a pistol," before retreating to the back seat after Scott smashes out the other window. (Dan also shouts "gun" several times.)
At one point, Dan says "Come out here or you're going to get bit," to which Ellerman responds "I'm coming" while moving towards the front seat towards Dan and holding what appears to be a lit cigarette, a lighter, and a pack of cigarettes in his hands. Dan then lifts the canine into the vehicle and the dog attacks Ellerman, who starts screaming. Ellerman is eventually pulled from the vehicle with the canine still biting his leg.
A firearm was not recovered from the scene.
The altercation has been the subject of much scrutiny and controversy. Back in May, the Inlander first reported on how details about the arrest leaked out of the Police Department and eventually made their way to Spokane Police Ombudsman Bart Logue — the agency's official watchdog — who had previously not been notified of the incident. He subsequently filed a complaint, prompting an internal affairs investigation. Members of the Spokane City Council also got involved as well, demanding that they see the video. However, the Spokane Police Guild required that they sign nondisclosure agreements, a demand that the council rejected.
At a Wednesday press conference where the footage was presented to reporters, Spokane Police Capt. Tom Hendren stated that the department's internal investigation into the incident found no use-of-force policy violations. Dan was cited for demeanor violations and not activating his body camera sooner, though Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl, who was at the press conference, wouldn't say what repercussions he would face.
Meidl explicitly threw his support behind Dan's decision to hoist the dog into the vehicle with Ellerman: "There was every reason to believe that this person did have a gun before he was handcuffed and searched," he told reporters. "I support using that canine deployment to get him out of the vehicle."
In a statement released on Wednesday, Spokane Mayor David Condon criticized Dan's demeanor in the video.
"While this incident removed a highly dangerous individual from our streets, the demeanor and disturbing language used by the officer in this incident demonstrates that we must continue to hold our officers accountable to the highest standards of conduct," he says.
As a staff writer, Josh covers criminal justice issues and Spokane County government. Previously, he worked as a reporter for Seattle Weekly. Josh grew up in Port Townsend and graduated from the University of Washington. Message him through Signal @ (360) 301-3490.