City seeks dismissal of lawsuit in 'Mexican piss' case
In a newly filed motion, city attorneys argue that the language used by a Seattle police officer during the videotaped incident was meant to control a robbery suspect and not to offend.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle city attorneys have asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit stemming from a police officer's threat to beat the "Mexican piss" out of a Latino man, saying the language was intended to control him during a robbery investigation and not to offend.
The motion, filed Tuesday, also contends that a frame-by-frame analysis of video of the highly publicized incident shows that the officer, Shandy Cobane, did not kick the man, Martin Monetti Jr., in the head, as Monetti has alleged and the news media widely reported.
Cobane was suspended for 30 days last year for the remark — the most severe punishment allowed short of firing.
In their motion, city attorneys also maintain that Monetti was involved in two robberies that occurred outside the China Harbor Restaurant in South Lake Union in the early morning hours of April 17, 2010.
"While Monetti was ultimately not arrested or charged, there is nonetheless substantial evidence that he was, in fact, complicit in the robberies," the motion says.
The city, in its request, does not excuse what Cobane said to Monetti, calling the language "unprofessional."
But the 25-page pleading offers the city's most comprehensive rebuttal to the suit's allegations.
The incident was among the first of several video-recorded confrontations between Seattle police and citizens that led up to a U.S. Justice Department finding in December that officers use excessive force on a regular basis. The Justice Department is now engaged in settlement talks with the city, demanding changes in the Police Department.
Monetti's attorney, Lorena González, declined Wednesday to comment in detail on the motion, saying she will file a written response later this month.
"I'm confident that the City's request to dismiss our case will be denied," she said in an email.
Monetti filed suit in U.S. District Court in Seattle last year, naming the city, Cobane and another officer who participated in his detention. The suit 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.
According to the suit, Monetti went with two friends to the China Harbor to celebrate his 21st birthday. While in the parking lot they witnessed an armed robbery but were not participants, the suit says.
Monetti complied with police orders, but Cobane kicked and stomped on Monetti's head and hand several times, according to the suit. Some kicks were not seen on the video, according to González.
The other officer, Mary L. Woollum, stomped on Monetti's lower back with her foot, the suit alleges.
Monetti was one of three men detained during the robbery investigation. He and another man were freed. The third man and another suspect arrested nearby were convicted last year of robbery and other charges and sentenced to more than 10 years in prison.
According to the city's motion, one of the robbery victims told Monetti to restrain his machete- and gun-wielding companions, to which Monetti responded "just give him what you got" and "just give him the five dollars."
Monetti disregarded commands from officers to remain still while face down on the ground, forcing Cobane to shift to a "command voice de-escalation" technique, including what Cobane and the city acknowledge was the unprofessional comment, "I'll beat the (expletive) Mexican piss out of you, homey."
But Cobane's comment had "no appreciable discriminatory effect," according to the motion.
Cobane also used reasonable force when, unsure if Monetti was planning to harm the officers or flee, moved his boot toward Monetti's right hand to apply a "foot trap," the motion says. The technique is used to sweep and pin a part of a suspect's body to prevent further movement, according to the motion.
Woollum also acted reasonably when she saw Monetti raise his right leg and forcefully brought her foot down on his right calf and not his back, city attorneys contend.
Cobane and Woollum's actions have been documented by an expert forensic videographer, Grant Fredericks, who conducted the frame-by-frame analysis of the video shot by a freelance videographer.
Prosecutors found no evidence of criminal conduct by Cobane and Woollum, nor were they found by the department's Office of Professional Accountability to have used improper force.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org