Is This the Right Time to Hit a Woman?

Last Monday, police officer Ian Walsh observed a group of women jaywalking near MLK Way in central Seattle. He directed the women to his squad car, presumably to warn or cite them for breaking the law. They refused to cooperate.

One of the women, Marilyn Ellen Levias, decided to walk away instead. As Officer Walsh grabbed her, and the pair struggled, a crowd gathered to watch. Levias’ companion, Angel Rosenthal, shoved Walsh so that Levias could escape.

Officer Walsh responded by punching Miss Rosenthal in the face. The event, minus the initial confrontation, was captured on video by an alert citizen.

Were the officer’s actions justified? Some local groups have labeled this an instance of brutality or excessive force, but without advancing any theory of “reasonable force” under these difficult circumstances. Let’s consider the alternatives:

The officer could have just let them leave, after they started to resist. Does anyone think this would be an appropriate response?

The officer could have tried talking to them, instead of using physical force. In fact, this is how the confrontation started: Walsh wanted to talk, but Levias wasn’t willing to listen. At that point, he had to either ignore the offense, or to escalate the response.

The officer could have used, or threatened to use, a weapon. Scratch pepper spray off the list immediately, because if the target is two feet away, you may as well spray yourself. Other options include Taser, baton, and pistol. Which of these weapons would have been preferable?

The Taser’s reputation as a “safe” or “nonviolent” weapon is totally unjustified. When you seize up due to electrocution, you fall down. When you fall down without any bodily control, you often hit your head. And when you hit your head on the ground, you can die.

Should Officer Walsh have drawn his gun, in this growing crowd of people, over an overblown jaywalking violation? Or should he have beaten Rosenthal with a stick instead? I don’t think so.

The officer could have shocked and intimidated her into compliance, with a minimal and strategic use of force. (Minimal is defined in relation to the officer’s previous, ineffective attempts.) This is the option he chose, and as bad as it looks, I haven’t heard any better ideas yet–not even with the benefit of hindsight.

The officer could have called for backup. And when they arrived a few minutes later, they (ideally) would attempt to subdue Levias and Rosenthal using minimal force. In the meantime, Walsh would still have to deal with them both, while avoiding the active interference of the crowd, and trying to maintain control of the weapons on his belt. In other words, nothing would have changed.

Let me know if I missed anything.


  1. Wow.
    Maybe the police should carry that dye that gets all over you if you break into a safe, it can be licensed for self-defense purposes too I believe.
    This is a situation where a semi-permanent dye would work well.
    The crime quickly became resisting arrest and assaulting an officer, but de-escalation would have been easy. Had he “marked” them, he could have let them get away and they would have been easy to find and arrest later.
    Then again, what the jury is going to see here is insubordination. As a police officer you don’t want that, but it may be part of the job. If the DA isn’t prosecuting J-Walking then the officer should probably say, “good-bye, have a nice day” and then write a letter to the newspaper explaining why the DA should start prosecuting minor offenses.
    We have a don’t touch rule in our schools and nearly everywhere else. The video doesn’t actually catch the very beginning. The officer may have made a mistake by touching her. I personally think the don’t touch rule is crazy, but as an officer you have to know that lots of people are trained by their parents to pretend to be victims even when they are wrong or the aggressor.

  2. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said today,

    After reviewing the evidence in consultation with lawyers in my office and the King County Prosecutor, I have decided to charge Marilyn Levias with Obstructing a Public Officer, a gross misdemeanor under the Seattle Municipal Code. Levias’ conduct in the video reflects a dangerous refusal to observe the cardinal rule that civilians simply must comply with instructions from police officers…

    That said, our police department is capable of far better than we have witnessed in recent months. Besides educating the public, the OPA Review Board and at least two OPA Auditors have also consistently stressed the need for de-escalation training for officers, including the observation by Judge Michael Spearman that “The use of force in a [jaywalking] situation as a best practice is questionable.” This dangerous intersection near Franklin High School is a known public safety problem, and despite that knowledge, SPD leadership essentially “planned to fail because it failed to plan.” I trust that we will not see this ongoing problem addressed in the same shortsighted manner that occurred on Monday.

    Seattle Police Officers Guild President Rich O’Neill replied,

    Mr. Holmes quotes Judge Spearman as saying, “The Use of Force in a jaywalking situation as a best practice is questionable.” Force was not used in a jay-walking incident! Force was used because the individuals involved assaulted a uniformed police officer. Officers are trained to enforce the law and not to “de-escalate” (walk away) simply because a violator objects to being stopped. That would simply lead to lawlessness.

  3. As you can see from the Youtube comments and on D.R., society’s expectations are not uniform.

  4. I believe the officer did everything he needed to do in order to maintain control as well as the upper hand. If a pop in the nose is the worst she got, she’s lucky. Once you take the gloves off and physically assault someone, especially a trained officer, you should expect nothing less in return…man or woman. Crossing that line changes all the rules.

    I applaud Officer Walsh for doing what he needed to do to protect himself and the others around him. He was outnumbered at least 2-to-1. From the video, there was another male in the altercation but, thankfully, he was trying to restrain one of the women to keep things from getting worse. At least he had a brain in his head. Kudos to him as well.

    The most interesting thing about this incident is that, more than likely, the officer would have probably simply issued a warning for the infraction had the women/girls listening to him in the first place. If they had done that, none of this would have happened and they’d be free to go about their day instead of spending it in the city jail awaiting trial.

    These women/girls had no respect for authority. Hopefully, they’ve learned something from this but my guess is that, because of the racial differences between parties, this will be incorrectly seen as something more and it will get blow out of proportion. If they had been whites, this wouldn’t have hit the headlines like this.

    Seattle, WA

  5. This video has created a ton of controversy. I read some of your comments on another blog and wanted to say that I respected your position and perspective on the matter. Your challenge for others to provide alternative techniques for dealing with multiple attackers was excellent. Whether we believe the officer was right or wrong, we should all learn from these situations.

  6. I don’t think you missed anything and agree.
    I posted about this too on my blog and understand why people see it in different lights. But the heart of the matter is this: had the two girls complied, there would have been no use of force necessary. If you don’t like receiving a citation, don’t break the law… If you do, trying to get away from a cop is not going to improve your situation one bit, on the contrary.
    Could the LEO have handled it better? Easy for us to judge from the safety of our homes… All the LEOs I talked to said he didn’t do it wrong. Perhaps not elegantly, but he didn’t break policy or procedures, according to them.


  7. Another factor that the public don’t know and therefore don’t keep in consideration is the “Force Continuum”. This is the response of an LEO (Law Enforcement Officer) according to resistance that a suspect presents. Also keep in mind that if a person has as many weapons as an LEO has on his or her duty belt, ie.: firearm, baton, taser, OC spray, etc., the individual needs to be concern of how to retain those weapons in an altercation. The blow to the face was just enough force, and minimal force use to get the second female out of the altercation. Notice that the officer, after the punch, continued with a arm lock to handcuff the first female. He did not engage in a fight with the female that pushed him (which could be consider a a assault of an officer in some states.)
    the moral of the story could be: At the end of your shift, you want to go back home to your family.

  8. how bout the dude holding the camera puts it down or gives it to someone else and helps subdue the female who got punched before anymore harm or injury was dealt.
    yes the officers actions were wrong but only to an extent. the female was obstructing the subdue of the original female and therefore she had to be stopped, but it is wrong in any instance to hit a women.
    he should have used an alternate method other than physical violence, to the extreme of a punch to the face.

  9. There really was no other way to handle this. If he had tried to use OC, the woman could have gotten free and ran. She’s lucky she didnt get a charge for assaulting a police officer.

  10. Personally I think the officer was justified given the situation.

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