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Originally published June 22, 2011 at 12:35 PM | Page modified June 22, 2011 at 10:23 PM

Latino man sues Seattle police, city over detention and ethnic comment

A federal lawsuit was filed against the city of Seattle on Wednesday over the highly publicized incident last year in which a Seattle police officer threatened to beat the "Mexican piss" out of a Latino man who was detained during a robbery investigation.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A federal lawsuit was filed against the city of Seattle on Wednesday over the highly publicized incident last year in which a Seattle police officer threatened to beat the "Mexican piss" out of a Latino man who was detained during a robbery investigation.

The suit, brought by Martin Monetti Jr., the target of the comment, alleged that Officer Shandy Cobane also kicked him in the head and hand during the incident.

It seeks unspecified general and punitive damages for alleged civil-rights violations, unreasonable use of force, assault and battery, outrageous conduct, emotional harm and intentional discrimination.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, also names Cobane and Officer Mary L. Woollum, who participated in the detention of Monetti.

"What Officer Shandy Cobane and Officer Mary Woollum did to me was wrong," Monetti, 22, of Seattle, said during a news conference on Wednesday.

Cobane was suspended last month by Police Chief John Diaz for 30 days for the remark — the most severe punishment allowed short of firing.

In a prepared statement addressing the suit, the Police Department said Cobane and other officers responded to a report of an armed robbery involving a machete.

"The officers had reasonable suspicion to detain Mr. Monetti as they investigated," the statement said, noting the Police Department's Office of Professional Accountability, the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, Seattle City Attorney's Office and the Los Angeles Police Department each determined the force used was lawful.

"The Seattle Police Department and Officer Cobane have acknowledged that statements made by him to Mr. Monetti during the April 17, 2010, stop were unacceptable," the statement added.

Monetti's attorney, Lorena González, said at the news conference that the Police Department had not taken full responsibility for the incident.

Flanked by his mother, father and sister, Monetti said, "I hope it will become a Police Department that the community trusts and respects instead of one that the community fears."

Monetti, who read from a prepared statement and didn't take questions, said he was bothered that other officers "stood around and watched and did nothing."

Cobane, a decorated officer who has served on the department for more than 17 years, also was demoted from gang detective to officer as a result of the incident. He promised to meet with Latino groups to repair relations and agreed to speak to other officers about the importance of racial and ethnic sensitivity.

He also submitted to additional training and accepted a "last-chance" agreement with the department, under which he would be fired for engaging in any other serious misconduct.

Diaz said at a May 12 news conference that if officers use such language in the future, they will be fired. He said he would have fired Cobane if not for legal advice that the action would be overturned.

Cobane sparked a public outcry when video emerged of the incident in which he was heard telling Monetti he was going to "beat the [expletive] Mexican piss out of you, homey. You feel me?"

Cobane drew condemnation from civil-rights and minority organizations, and the incident was one of several that prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to open a broad civil-rights investigation in March into whether Seattle police have engaged in a pattern of excessive force and biased policing.

Monetti was one of three men detained by Cobane and other officers during a robbery investigation in the South Lake Union area.

After Monetti moved a hand to his face while lying on the ground, Cobane is seen on the video apparently trying to stop the movement with his boot.

Moments later, Officer Woollum is seen stomping on Monetti.

Two of the three men, including Monetti, were freed, while another suspect was arrested nearby.

Two men were each convicted earlier this year of robbery and other charges and sentenced to more than 10 years in prison.

Monetti testified against both men, said González, his attorney.

According to the lawsuit, Monetti went with two friends to the China Harbor Restaurant on the night of April 16, 2010, to celebrate his 21st birthday.

While in the parking lot, they witnessed an armed robbery but were not participants, according to the suit.

Soon after, Monetti and one of the men began walking to a car when they were approached about 1:30 a.m. April 17 by police officers and ordered to get on the ground.

"Monetti complied with this and all other commands issued by the officers," the suit says.

While Monetti was prone, Cobane used his foot to kick and stomp on Monetti's head and hand several times, according to the suit.

Some of the kicks to Monetti's head were not seen on the video, González said.

Monetti also heard other racist comments not on the video but isn't sure who made them because he was face down, González said.

The suit alleges other officers didn't stop the use of force and racist language. The suit claims that the Police Department's policies, practices and customs tolerated the use of racial and ethnic slurs by officers.

Woollum stomped on Monetti's lower back with her foot, the suit alleges.

In March, Monetti filed a claim against the city seeking more than $750,000, alleging, among other things, that he suffered physical pain and suffering, lost wages and medical costs.

No settlement was reached with the city, prompting Monetti to sue.

Cobane has apologized for his remark and said he was grateful to get a second chance.

In September, prosecutors said they would not charge Cobane with the felony of malicious harassment, the state's hate-crime law.

In December, the Seattle City Attorney's Office said it would not seek misdemeanor assault charges against Cobane or Woollum because they used reasonable force under state law on a suspect who wasn't following police commands.

Seattle Times staff reporter Jennifer Sullivan and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story, which also includes information from Times archives.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com

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