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Originally published June 27, 2012 at 12:34 PM | Page modified June 27, 2012 at 10:32 PM

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SPD lawsuit over racial slur settled for $150K

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 has been settled for $150,000.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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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 has been settled for $150,000, the man's attorney announced at a news conference Wednesday morning.

While attorney Lorena Gonzalez said the settlement was "a good result" for her client, Martin Monetti Jr., she said the city and Police Department seem incapable of admitting the comment was discriminatory or indicative of "a culture of biased policing" against minorities.

"I think the Seattle Police Department needs to acknowledge when they make a mistake and I'm not sure they're capable of doing that," said Gonzalez.

When Gonzalez deposed the officers involved in the incident, she said "all of the responding officers who were white saw absolutely nothing wrong" with the comment, while the sole officer of color on the scene that night was the only one to characterize it as a racial slur.

The suit alleged that Officer Shandy Cobane also kicked Monetti in the head and hand during the incident.

A preliminary claim filed before the lawsuit sought $750,000 in general and punitive damages for alleged civil-rights violations, unreasonable use of force, assault and battery, outrageous conduct, emotional harm and intentional discrimination. Gonzalez said punitive damages aren't awarded in a settlement agreement, and the $150,000 is for emotional distress.

The settlement allowed Monetti to avoid years of litigation and a probable appeal by the city had he won his suit, she said.

Monetti "is happy he can finally close this chapter in his life and move on," she said.

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes issued this statement: "The City has consistently maintained that Officer Shandy Cobane's use of language was unacceptable and unprofessional, having no place in policing. However, my duty to defend the City's treasury and its employees required a vigorous defense when presented with the $750,000 claim for damages."

Cobane sparked a public outcry when video emerged of the April 17, 2010, incident in which he was heard telling Monetti he would "beat the (expletive) Mexican piss out of you, homey. You feel me?"

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

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

Moments later, Officer Mary L. Woollum is seen stepping on Monetti's leg.

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

Two men were convicted of robbery and other charges and sent to prison. Monetti testified against both.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, named the city, Cobane and Woollum.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez last week denied a city request to dismiss the suit and found that excessive-force claims could be raised at trial regarding Cobane's and Woollum's actions.

Three days later, after 10 hours of intense mediation, Gonzalez said the settlement agreement had been reached. Terms aren't final, but she said she said she expects the city to include something denying liability in the case.

Police Chief John Diaz suspended Cobane for 30 days for his words, the most severe punishment short of firing.

Cobane, a decorated officer who has served in the department more than 17 years, also was demoted from gang detective to officer. 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, under which he would be fired for engaging in any other serious misconduct.

Cobane issued a tearful public apology soon after the incident. But Gonzalez said when she deposed Cobane, "he said he didn't write it, he just read" the apology at the behest of his commanders.

She said Cobane admitted in his deposition that "there is a culture of accepting this kind of language within the Seattle Police Department."

In punishing Cobane, Diaz said 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 drew condemnation from civil-rights and minority organizations, and the incident was one of several prompting the U.S. Justice Department to open a broad civil-rights investigation that found Seattle police had engaged in a pattern of excessive force.

Holmes mentioned the investigation in his comments about the settlement: "As the negotiations with the Department of Justice continue, we aspire to police conduct that goes well beyond the constitutional minimums at issue in this lawsuit."

Monetti was at work Wednesday and did not attend the news conference in Gonzalez's downtown law office, but Gonzalez read aloud a statement he had prepared.

In it, Monetti said he was "hurt that SPD officers treated me badly two years ago and hurt that SPD continued to defend" Cobane's actions. "... I hope that the DOJ's efforts of changing the culture and practices of SPD will be helped by my case."

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

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