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June 21, 2012 at 4:46 PM

Judge refuses to dismiss ‘Mexican piss’ lawsuit

In a case that has roiled the city, a federal judge Thursday denied the city’s motion to dismiss a claim of excessive force in a lawsuit involving a Seattle police officer who threated to beat the “Mexican piss” out of Latino man during a robbery investigation in 2010, a decision that allows the case to go to trial.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez found that the claim can be argued regarding the conduct of the officer, Shandy Cobane, and another officer at the scene, Mary Woollum. Cobane pressed his foot on the hand of Martin Monetti Jr. while he was prone and Woollum stepped on his leg, Martinez wrote in his decision.

In a 13-page order, Martinez also ruled that Monetti may pursue a discrimination claim against Cobane over the “Mexican piss” remark.

Monetti “has provided direct evidence of discrimination” as to Cobane, who was a gang detective when the April 10, 2010, incident occurred before being demoted and suspended for 30 days for the comment.

City attorneys argued that Cobane used the language as a control tactic, while acknowledging the remark was unprofessional.

Martinez dismissed a discrimination claim against Woollum, finding her action wasn’t connected to Cobane’s comment.

The judge also declined to dismiss assault and battery claims, but granted the city’s motion to dismiss an claim of outrageous conduct.

Martinez also dismissed Monetti’s claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress, ruling his claim of suffering from nightmares was insufficient.

Seattle city attorneys had asked a federal judge to dismiss Monetti’s  lawsuit, arguing among other things that Cobane’s language was intended to control him during a robbery investigation and not to offend.

The motion also contended that a frame-by-frame analysis of video of the highly publicized incident shows that the officer, Shandy Cobane, did not kick Monetti 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 maintained 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, did not excuse what Cobane said to Monetti, calling the language “unprofessional.”

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 mediated settlement talks with the city, demanding changes in the Police Department.

Monetti filed suit in U.S. District Court in Seattle last year, naming the city, Cobane and Woolum. 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.

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.

Comments | More in The Blotter | Topics: Seattle Police Department

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