The Berry Lawson Case was a major police brutality case in pre-World War II Seattle. Lawson was a waiter who in March of 1938 was arrested by Seattle police officers for sleeping in a chair in the Mt. Fuji Hotel. Mr. Lawson resisted arrest and was killed. Witnesses claimed he was pushed down a flight of stairs while the three police officers, Patrick Whalen, Fred Paschall and W. F. Stevenson, said that he fell down the stairs.
Initially King County Coroner Otto Mittlestadt cleared the three police officers of any wrongdoing. However the Seattle branch of the NAACP challenged that decision and pushed for the three police officers to be charged. They organized a committee made up of several groups in the Seattle black community including Republicans, Democrats, Communists, working class and middle-class blacks, various social and cultural groups, all of whom came together in a rare showing of unity to meet with the new Mayor of Seattle Arthur Langlie. In addition black political clubs put pressure on King County Prosecutor B. Gray Warner to bring charges against these three police officers. The Seattle branch of the NAACP started its own investigation and found Travis Downs, a white hairdresser who was forced to go to Portland after he witnessed the Lawson incident. They convinced him to return to Seattle to testify. Finally the three officers were charged with second-degree murder and dismissed from the police force.
The three officers posted bail of $5,000 and through their defense attorney, stated that they were innocent and being unfairly blamed for the death of Mr. Lawson. The hairdresser was kept in jail because he could not post bail and was a material witness. The trial began on May 22, 1938. Downs and other witnesses testified for the prosecution while the defense refused to call a single witness. On June 10, 1938 the police officers were convicted on manslaughter and each sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The Washington State Supreme Court upheld the guilty verdicts, in January of 1939, but four months later the Governor granted a pardon to two of the officers and then in December of 1939 pardoned the third officer. Even though the officers did not serve their jail time this case was important in that it was the first time in Seattle and one of the few times in the nation where officers were held accountable in a police brutality case.
Created by: Lou & Friend Jackie
Record added: Jan 09, 2011
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