Video of SPD officer kicking prone man sparks internal investigation
The Seattle Police Department has launched an investigation after a gang detective and a patrol officer were captured on videotape kicking a prone man and using ethnically inflammatory language.
Seattle Times staff reporters
Interim Seattle Police Chief John Diaz said Friday he is going to have to "repair damage" in the community after the release of a videotape showing a gang detective and a patrol officer kicking a prone man and using ethnically inflammatory language.
The Police Department disclosed Friday that it has launched an internal investigation into the incident, in which the gang detective, Shandy Cobane, can be heard on video telling a man lying on a concrete sidewalk, "I'm going to beat the [expletive] Mexican piss out of you, homey. You feel me?"
The officer, Shandy Cobane, apologized for his language at a press event Friday night.
Earlier Friday, as the mayor, City Council and Latino groups expressed concerns about the incident, Diaz said regardless of the outcome of the internal investigation, his command staff and others in the department will seek to restore the good relations it has worked to develop with communities throughout the city.
"You start over," Diaz said, adding, "Yeah I'm frustrated."
Friday night, a clearly distressed and tearful Cobane addressed the media.
"I know my words cut deep and were very hurtful," he said. "... I am truly, truly sorry."
A 15-year veteran of the department, Cobane, 44, said he never dreamed he'd "bring such notoriety to my department. Sadly, I did."
Apologizing to colleagues, the Latino community and Seattle, he said his "offensive and unprofessional" words did not reflect who he is.
He said he would work to regain the trust of the Police Department and the Latino community and that he looked forward to sitting down with members of the Latino community to offer his apologies in person.
At the media event Friday night, Diaz said: "As a Latino, I must say the words were hurtful" but he appreciated Cobane coming forward to apologize of his own volition.
Still, Diaz said, racial and ethnic slurs are unacceptable in the department. He said the internal investigation would continue.
The video first aired Thursday night on KIRO-TV. Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, in a written statement Friday, called it "disturbing."
Interim Deputy Chief Nicholas Metz said the department first learned of the video a few days after the April 17 incident. Metz said it was his understanding that an internal investigation was launched shortly thereafter.
But Cobane and the other officer, who has not been identified, were not placed on administrative reassignment until Friday, Metz said.
Rich O'Neill, president of the Seattle Police Officers' Guild, agreed an internal investigation is warranted, but cautioned against jumping to conclusions.
"I'm not condoning anything at this point, but we need to reserve judgment until the officers can say what they saw," O'Neill said Friday morning. "After the officers have had an opportunity to tell their side of the story and it's reviewed [by commanders], then let the chips fall where they may."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Greenberg, who supervises the Seattle office's civil-rights division, said federal prosecutors are "aware" of the videotape and have seen news accounts of what it contains.
"We intend to review the situation," he said.
Diaz said he has not watched the video because he wants to keep an open mind before he might be asked to make disciplinary decisions.
"As soon as it was described to me, I said, 'This is going to the Office of Professional Accountability ... to be investigated fully,' " Diaz said Friday afternoon while attending a ceremony in Olympia honoring fallen and wounded police officers.
"I am not going to make any predetermined judgments on this case," he said, "but I do have to say that if what I understand is on that video and what I heard is on that video, that's very disturbing to me."
Diaz said one issue investigators will examine is whether one of the officers used an ethnic slur or simply language intended to get the detainee under control.
"Am I offended by people using any kind of slur? Absolutely," said Diaz.
The disclosure of the video comes just days before a search committee formed by McGinn is to pick three finalists for Seattle police chief from a list of nine semifinalists, including Diaz and two high-level department commanders, Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer and Assistant Chief Jim Pugel. The six other semifinalists are current or former chiefs from across the country.
The 26-member search committee is scheduled to announce on Tuesday the three finalists, whose names will be submitted to McGinn.
Diaz said he expects to be asked about the video and his handling of the incident when he and other candidates are interviewed in private Saturday by the search committee.
He said he hopes the committee will look at his entire record. "Most people would say I always try to do the right thing and I have high standards," he said.
According to KIRO-TV, which said it got the video from a freelance videographer, Seattle police officers responded to the area near China Harbor restaurant after several nightclub patrons called 911 to report an armed robbery in the parking lot. The patrons apparently described the robbery suspects as Hispanic.
Around 1:15 a.m. April 17, a patron of China Harbor, located at 2040 Westlake Ave. N., went to the parking lot to say goodbye to his girlfriend, who had gotten into her car, according to a police report on the robbery.
Four Hispanic men walked up to him, and one of them demanded money and pulled out a 3-foot-long machete, according to the report. The man told his girlfriend to leave and began walking to his car, but was followed by the four men, the report says. According to the report, a second suspect told the victim, "We can kill you right now. We can do whatever we want with you."
The victim gave the men $20, but they demanded more money so he gave them another $20 before getting into his vehicle and calling 911, the report says. He told officers the man with the machete appeared to be drunk or on drugs.
The victim was able to positively identify at least one of the suspects at the scene, the police report says. Police later arrested two of the four men — one told officers he was from Mexico while the other said he was from El Salvador, according to the police report. A third man was interviewed and released at the scene, and the fourth man was not found.
It's unknown if the man released from the scene is the same man seen in the video.
The video, shot around 2 a.m., shows a group of officers detaining three men, who are lying on a sidewalk about a half-mile from the robbery scene.
After one of the men moves a hand to his face, it appears Cobane is trying to stop the movement with his boot but ends up kicking the man's head. The man can be seen reacting, his head briefly flinching upward. Moments later, a patrol officer is seen stepping on the back of the man's leg or knee.
It was later determined that the man and another detainee weren't involved in the armed robbery, KIRO reported. The officers help the man to his feet and sit him against a patrol car. The man, who has a scrape on his head, tells the videographer: "They knocked me down and kicked me in the head."
Latino groups outraged
The Latina/o Bar Association of Washington on Friday condemned what it labeled an act of brutality and demanded explanations.
"This police brutality is an outrage to all citizens, in particular, the Latino community," the organization said in a written statement.
Estela Ortega, executive director of El Centro de la Raza in Seattle, said her social-justice organization was outraged by the incident and what she labeled a "racist comment."
"Seattle is a great city and things like this really tarnish who we are as a city," she said.
In a statement Friday, Seattle City Council members called the incident "extremely troubling," saying they expect police leaders to take the appropriate actions with the involved officers upon completion of their internal investigation.
The council said it has requested a briefing by the Police Department on the results of the internal review and the next steps to be taken regarding the officers in the incident, as well as how to ensure "this type of confrontation is not repeated."
Diaz said he didn't know if the two officers filed use-of-force reports, which are required when the use of physical force causes an injury, could reasonably be expected to cause an injury, or results in a complaint of injury.
He said that would be one of the first questions addressed by internal investigators.
More to the story?
O'Neill, the union official, who viewed the video for the first time Friday morning, said given that officers were "proning them [the detainees] out on the ground," something early in the contact must have happened before the camera started rolling — perhaps the men refused to answer questions, failed to comply with commands or showed signs that they planned to flee.
As for the comment by Cobane, who can be heard threatening to beat the "Mexican piss" out of a detainee, O'Neill said that gang officers deal with plenty of rough characters and often need to use coarse language.
Cobane was named East Precinct Officer of the Year in 2004 and is "a very well-respected gang detective," O'Neill said.
"If people believe that in the course of police work that everything is 'Officer Friendly' and 'Mr. Rogers,' that's a very naive view of what goes on," he said.
Seattle Times staff reporters Mike Carter, Jennifer Sullivan, Janet I. Tu, Andrew Garber and Bob Young and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or email@example.com
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