Los Angeles detective's report clears SPD in stomping but finds lapses
A Los Angeles police detective's report requested by the Seattle City Attorney's Office found that two Seattle police officers acted reasonably when they stomped a prone Latino man in April, but faulted the department for what he deemed tactical and investigative lapses.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A Los Angeles police detective's report requested by the Seattle City Attorney's Office found that two Seattle police officers acted reasonably when they stomped on a prone Latino man last spring, but faulted the department for what he deemed tactical and investigative lapses.
The report by Gregory McKnight, a 24-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, played a role in last week's decision by city attorneys to not bring misdemeanor assault charges against the officers.
The April 17 incident generated widespread publicity and condemnation, in part because one of the officers, Shandy Cobane, was captured on videotape telling the Latino man he was going to "beat the [expletive] Mexican piss out of you, homey. You feel me?"
McKnight, who reviewed the Seattle police investigative file, including audio and video footage, found that using profanity is acceptable in some situations, but "a racial slur should never be used." His report was obtained by The Seattle Times under a public-disclosure request.
McKnight concluded that Cobane, who was working as a gang detective, and patrol Officer Mary Lynne Woollum used reasonable force when the man didn't follow directions to stop moving his hands and legs while he and two other men were detained in a robbery investigation in the South Lake Union area.
But McKnight, whose job includes investigating deadly force and other use-of-force cases involving Los Angeles officers, found it "problematic" that two of the men, including the Latino man, were not handcuffed, when there was probable cause to handcuff all three.
"By not demonstrating the fundamentals of officer safety and good tactics," the officers "placed themselves, the suspects, and public at undue risk," McKnight wrote.
"Had the officers handcuffed" the Latino man, McKnight noted, "it is in this reviewer's opinion, the force used by the officers would not have occurred."
The Latino man and the handcuffed man were freed. The third man and another suspect found nearby were arrested and are now on trial for armed robbery.
McKnight faulted Seattle police investigators for failing to ask some questions that might have provided a clearer understanding of what had occurred before and after force was used, including statements made by Cobane and Woollum.
McKnight, whose name was provided to the City Attorney's Office by Seattle police, did the report for free as a professional courtesy.
Craig Sims, chief of the City Attorney's criminal division, said Tuesday that Seattle police did a fine job on the investigation, but that he was aware a lot of people question the integrity of the Police Department. He said he turned to McKnight for an "outside and fair assessment" of the case.
The department, he said, should possibly look at the need for changes in policies and procedures in light of the report.
Seattle Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer said Tuesday that McKnight's report contained "good observations by a very distinguished professional," but with a "lack of context."
The department doesn't have a blanket policy to handcuff all suspects, nor does it plan to install one, because officers should have discretion and the community would have understandable concerns, Kimerer said.
"From clarity of hindsight, it might have been an appropriate thing to do" in the April incident, Kimerer said. "On the other hand, I wasn't there."
Concerning the criminal investigation, Kimerer said Cobane and Woollum had a legal right to not answer questions, and that some information wasn't included because there was nothing to document.
City attorneys are always free to ask for more investigation and didn't do so in the case, Kimerer said, noting that none of McKnight's criticisms affected the charging decision.
Sims said he didn't need to ask for more work because he had sufficient information to decide the narrow question of whether Cobane and Woollum acted unlawfully.
City Attorney Peter Holmes said last week his office determined that a fourth-degree-assault charge did not apply to the actions of Cobane and Woollum because they used reasonable force under state law to gain compliance from a suspect who wasn't following police commands.
Both officers are now subjects of an internal investigation by Seattle police that was put on hold while county and city prosecutors reviewed the incident. Earlier, county prosecutors concluded they could not bring a felony hate-crime charge of malicious harassment against Cobane.
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.
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.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or email@example.com
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