Minority coalition wants Seattle officers in video fired; criminal probe begins
A newly formed coalition of minority organizations called for the firing of two police officers who kicked and stomped a Latino man, and the Seattle Police Department said it has begun a criminal investigation of the videotaped incident.
Seattle Times staff reporters
Even as a newly formed coalition of minority organizations called for the firing of two police officers caught on video kicking and stomping a Latino man, the Seattle Police Department said a criminal investigation of the incident is already under way.
Seattle police said Tuesday the case was referred to a criminal detective who will gather evidence that will be forwarded to the King County Prosecutor's Office. It will be up to prosecutors to determine whether to file charges against the officers involved in the April 17 incident.
Such an investigation — and immediate firings of gang unit Detective Shandy Cobane and patrol Officer Mary Lynn Woollum — were part of the recommendations presented by the Community Coalition for Law Enforcement Accountability during a Tuesday news conference.
The coalition also called on the Seattle Police Department to place on unpaid leave, pending an investigation, a supervisor who witnessed the abuse but remained silent; and suspend without pay for at least two weeks the other officers who witnessed the abuse but did not intervene.
Coalition members also said they intend to provide recommendations in the next round of contract talks between the city and the Seattle Police Officers' Guild to ensure there are strong accountability measures for police misconduct and to prevent racial profiling.
They believe the April 17 incident was not an insolated incident, but part of a larger institutional problem.
"We believe that there is an insidious culture of tolerance within the Seattle Police Department that causes officers, including supervisors, to be silent even when there is criminal wrongdoing on the part of their colleagues," said Estela Ortega, executive director of El Centro de la Raza, which is part of the coalition.
Others in the coalition include the Latina/o Bar Association of Washington, the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, Asian Counseling and Referral Service, Chief Seattle Club, American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and about a dozen other organizations.
"People are understandably upset. We acknowledge that, we recognize that," said Seattle Police Department spokesman Detective Mark Jamieson. "That being said, this incident is under investigation."
Interim Seattle Police Chief John Diaz and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced Tuesday that the case had been referred to a criminal detective Monday — something they told the coalition's leaders would happen during a meeting Friday.
McGinn said the city has to follow the same process used in any case of police misconduct — a process that's part of the contract negotiated with the Seattle Police Officers' Guild.
Diaz said investigators with the department's civilian-led Office of Professional Accountability launched an internal investigation after the video footage of the incident came to the attention of police commanders. That administrative process is on hold now that the incident is being criminally investigated.
If Diaz were to compel his officers to answer "each and every question" about the incident now, it would taint the criminal investigation, he said. "We don't want to mix the administrative case with the criminal case. This won't be lost on a technicality," he said.
Once the criminal process is resolved, the administrative investigation will resume, Diaz said.
He used the example of an officer arrested for driving under the influence: The officer would face whatever punishment a judge deemed appropriate for the criminal offense and then the officer would be subjected to an internal investigation and any resulting discipline.
McGinn, in reply to a reporter's question about whether he supports Diaz's handling of the situation, said: "Yes, absolutely. Absolutely."
In the April 17 incident caught on video, police detained three men suspected in a robbery. Cobane can be heard telling a Latino man lying on a sidewalk, "I'm going to beat the [expletive] Mexican piss out of you, homey. You feel me?"
Two of the three men, including the one who was stomped and kicked — identified as Martin Monetti, 21, of Seattle — were later released. The third was arrested.
In the video, after Monetti moved a hand to his face, it appears Cobane is trying to stop the movement with his boot but ends up striking Monetti's head. Monetti reacts, his head flinching upward.
Moments later, Woollum is seen stomping on the back of Monetti's leg or knee.
Cobane has since apologized for his words that night. Diaz has said that racial and ethnic slurs are unacceptable in the Police Department.
Rich O'Neill, president of the Seattle Police Officers' Guild, said he's open to talking with coalition leaders. But he points out that the contract, which expires at the end of the year, already includes 29 measures on police accountability that were recommended by a panel put together by former Mayor Greg Nickels. That panel included former Mayor Norm Rice and former Gov. Gary Locke, among others.
In addition, O'Neill said, every officer has to go through a racial-awareness training program.
The FBI has launched a preliminary investigation to determine if Monetti's civil rights were violated.
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