Judge refuses to dismiss lawsuit over SPD officer's remark
Ruling allows excessive-force and discrimination claims to be heard by jurors.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Ruling in a case that has roiled the city, a federal judge on Thursday denied a request by city attorneys to dismiss a civil-rights lawsuit stemming from a Seattle police officer's threat to beat the "Mexican piss" out of a Latino man during a robbery investigation in 2010.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez in Seattle found that excessive-force claims may be raised at trial regarding the actions of the officer, Shandy Cobane, and another officer at the scene, which were partly captured on videotape by a freelance videographer.
With other officers surrounding Martin Monetti Jr., Cobane stepped "forcefully" on the hand of Monetti and pressed for about 20 seconds after Monetti moved a hand while prone on the ground, Martinez wrote.
Officer Mary Woollum then "forcefully" stepped on Monetti's right calf, Martinez added.
"At no time while lying prone on the ground were the suspects searched for the weapons in question," Martinez wrote in a 13-page order. "The officers never attempted to handcuff the plaintiff despite numerous officers surrounding him throughout the incident. A few moments later, the plaintiff was lifted from the sidewalk and ultimately released."
Martinez also ruled that Monetti may pursue a discrimination claim against Cobane for saying, "Keep your [expletive] head on the ground. Don't you start. You got me? I'll beat the [expletive] Mexican piss out of you, homey. You feel me?"
Monetti "has provided direct evidence of discrimination" as to Cobane, who was a gang detective when the April 17, 2010, incident occurred before being demoted and suspended for 30 days for the remark.
The incident sparked community outrage, with Mayor Mike McGinn and Police Chief John Diaz denouncing Cobane's remarks and promising that racially charged language would be a firing offense going forward.
But in an argument that has angered community groups and the city's minority leaders, city attorneys argued that Cobane used the language as a control tactic and not to offend, while acknowledging the "Mexican piss" remark was unprofessional.
Cobane's comment had "no appreciable discriminatory effect," according to the city.
In his ruling, Martinez dismissed a discrimination claim against Woollum, finding her conduct wasn't linked to Cobane's comment.
He also set aside Monetti's claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress, concluding that Monetti had not shown a medical disorder.
Monetti's allegation that he has suffered from nightmares and general fear was insufficient, the judge found.
Martinez also granted the city's request to dismiss a claim of outrageous conduct.
"Reasonable jurors could not conclude that verbal insults and the physical force used here was so unconscionable as to rise to the level of outrage, nor is there evidence of severe emotional distress suffered by the plaintiff," Martinez wrote.
Martinez declined to dismiss assault and battery claims in the suit.
In their motion to dismiss, city attorneys contended that a frame-by-frame analysis of video of the incident shows that Cobane did not kick Monetti in the head, as Monetti has alleged and the news media widely reported.
But the opinions of the city's video expert, contained in a report, won't be allowed at trial because jurors are capable of making their own determinations, Martinez wrote.
City attorneys also maintained that Monetti was involved in two robberies that occurred outside the China Harbor Restaurant in South Lake Union — an allegation that Monetti denies.
The incident was among the first of several video-recorded confrontations between Seattle police and citizens that led up to a Department of Justice (DOJ) finding in December that officers routinely use excessive force on a regular basis. The DOJ is now engaged in mediated settlement talks with the city, demanding changes in the Police Department.
Monetti's attorney, Lorena González, said in a statement Thursday that Martinez's ruling "confirms our position that there is strong evidence that the Seattle Police Department broke the rules and that the reforms highlighted by the DOJ Report are more critical now than ever."
The City Attorney's Office did not comment on the ruling.
Monetti filed suit in U.S. District Court in Seattle last year, naming the city, Cobane and Woollum.
According to the suit, Monetti went with two friends to the China Harbor to celebrate his 21st birthday.
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.
Prosecutors found no evidence of criminal conduct by Cobane and Woollum, nor were they found by the Police Department's Office of Professional Accountability to have used improper force.
Seattle Times reporter Mike Carter contributed to this story, which contains information from Times archives. Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org