No assault charge against police officers who stomped Latino suspect
No misdemeanor assault charges will be brought against two Seattle police officers who stomped a prone Latino man during a videotaped incident in April, including a detective who used ethnically inflammatory language, the City Attorney's Office announced Tuesday.
Seattle Times staff reporter
City attorneys announced Tuesday they won't file misdemeanor assault charges against two Seattle police officers who stomped a prone Latino man in April, including a detective who sparked a public outcry when he used ethnically inflammatory language during the videotaped incident.
The decision regarding Detective Shandy Cobane and patrol Officer Mary Lynne Woollum comes after the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office decided in September not to charge Cobane with malicious harassment, a felony, under the state's so-called "hate crime" law.
"Though the incident was marred by an unacceptable and unnecessary racist comment, our office concludes that neither officer's conduct was criminal, and I decline to file misdemeanor charges," City Attorney Peter Holmes said in a written statement.
Cobane, who was working as a gang detective, was condemned by civil-rights and minority organizations after he was captured on videotape telling the Latino man he was going to "beat the [expletive] Mexican piss out of you, homey. You feel me?"
Holmes said his office determined that a charge of fourth-degree assault — the lowest level of the offense — did not apply to Cobane's and Woollum's actions because they used reasonable force under state law to gain compliance from a suspect who wasn't following police commands.
Both officers will now be subject to an internal investigation by Seattle police that was put on hold while the April 17 incident was reviewed by county and city prosecutors.
Seattle Police Chief John Diaz, in a statement released shortly after Holmes announced his decision, said the internal investigation would be "given immediate priority" and proceed with "all due thoroughness and speed."
Diaz said slurs and other gratuitous language by his employees "are not tolerated and are against department policy."
He noted that if discipline is imposed, it could include suspension, demotion or termination.
Estela Ortega, the executive director of El Centro de la Raza, a Seattle social-justice organization, and chairwoman of a coalition of minority organizations formed in the aftermath of the incident, said she was disappointed and angry about Holmes' decision.
Ortega said the message is that police can get away with abuses, creating further "distrust" in the community after a series of confrontations involving police and minorities.
She said she has requested a meeting with Diaz and called on him to fire both officers
"This has got to stop somewhere," she said.
The incident was among several cited by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and 34 community and civil-rights organizations in a Dec. 3 letter requesting the U.S. Justice Department to investigate whether Seattle police have regularly violated the civil rights of suspects, particularly minorities.
The State Patrol, at the request of Seattle police, agreed last week to conduct a criminal investigation into one of the other incidents, in which a Seattle officer repeatedly kicked an African-American teen during a videotaped arrest inside a convenience store in October.
Video of the April 17 incident was first broadcast May 6 by KIRO-TV, prompting Cobane to issue a tearful public apology a day later in which he said, "I know my words cut deep and were very hurtful. I am truly, truly sorry."
The video showed police detaining three men suspected in two armed robberies in the South Lake Union area, including Martin Monetti, 21.
Holmes, in his statement, said that as officers waited for the robbery victims to arrive to identify suspects, Monetti, while prone, kept moving his legs and arms despite commands to the three to lie face down with their hands extended in front of their heads.
Moments later, Cobane directed his "Mexican piss" remark to Monetti, Holmes said.
Monetti, with his arms extended in front of his head, then moved his right hand toward the right side of his face, Holmes said.
On the video, Cobane is seen apparently trying to stop the movement with his boot but appears to strike Monetti's head. Monetti's head flinched upward.
Holmes and King County prosecutors found that Cobane used his foot to step on Monetti's hand and sweep it away.
County prosecutors found in September that although forceful, the stomp wasn't unreasonable considering the "totality of the circumstances."
Moments after Cobane's stomp, Woollum stepped on Monetti's right leg for about 24 seconds, Holmes said in his statement.
Two of the three men, including Monetti, were later freed. The third man and another suspect found nearby were arrested and charged with armed robbery.
Monetti was present during the alleged robberies but didn't participate, county prosecutors found.
County prosecutors said although Cobane used "patently offensive language," he did not intentionally target the man because of his race or national origin and that "such language is not in and of itself a crime."
Cobane, 45, a 17-year veteran, and Woollum, 45, a 13-year veteran, were assigned new duties after the incident. They will remain on reassignment until the internal investigation is concluded, Diaz said.
Seattle Times researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story, which contains information from Seattle Times archives.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org