Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole imposed the discipline Feb. 10 on Sgt. Lora Alcantara, adding three days to an original recommendation of a two-day suspension stemming from a 2013 incident.
A veteran Seattle police officer has been suspended for five days without pay for an expletive-laced pursuit three years ago in which she referred to a suspect as a “Negro,” punctuated with an obscenity.
Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole imposed the discipline Feb. 10 on Sgt. Lora Alcantara, adding three days to an original recommendation of a two-day suspension.
“Your language, and particularly your use of the term ‘(expletive) Negro’ to describe a suspect was totally unacceptable,” O’Toole wrote in a disciplinary report that cited the f-word.
Alcantara, who is white, also was ordered to undergo retraining in department policies regarding profanity, derogatory language and race and social justice.
Video of the incident recorded on Alcantara’s dashboard camera recently surfaced on YouTube. (WARNING: The video contains offensive language.)
The incident occurred on Feb. 27, 2013, more than a year before O’Toole became chief but after the city agreed in 2012 to adopt federally mandated reforms to curb excessive force and biased policing.
Alcantara, 46, who joined the department in 1993, was an officer at the time. She was promoted to sergeant in April 2014 before the incident came to light.
Alcantara, while in her patrol car, chased a car driven by a wanted male suspect, who fled from her and was subsequently involved in several hit-and-run collisions.
During the pursuit, Alcantara swore at least 10 times over a span of about 10 minutes, according to the disciplinary report. She can be heard on the video repeatedly using the f-word.
While impounding the suspect’s then-unoccupied vehicle, Alcantara described the events to her sergeant using language that showed “contempt” or “disrespect” for the suspect based on race, the report says.
“While inside your vehicle and out of earshot of anyone other than your sergeant, you commented: ‘The (expletive) Negro, as I was crossing the street, the guy went through the alley,’ ” the report says.
Alcantara, during the internal investigation, explained she was talking to herself and expressing frustration during the pursuit, while recognizing her patrol car was part of her workplace.
She said she used Negro as a “descriptor” without intending it to be racially derogatory.
In addition, Alcantara acknowledged that using the f-word before uttering Negro could be viewed as particularly troubling. But Alcantara asserted that, although lamentable, it was an extension of the same obscenity she used throughout the pursuit in the course of repeated swearing, not because of race.
But Alcantara acknowledged her language was unacceptable, according to the report.
In retrospect, the report adds, Alcantara recognized her words could be viewed by others as suggesting contempt toward African Americans and could undermine public trust in her and the department.
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“You expressed remorse for your actions and apologized for your language,” O’Toole noted in the report.
O’Toole wrote that such language wouldn’t be tolerated and found the “gravity” of the offense justified an increase in the suspension.
“At the same time, I am cognizant of the fact that the incident is more than two years old and that your supervisors report that you have shown considerable growth since the event, that it was an outlier, and that at no other time have your actions suggested bias of any kind,” the chief wrote.
O’Toole also noted Alcantara had received no other discipline during her career.
Had the language been directed at the suspect or the public or tied to a particular action, the discipline would have been far more severe, O’Toole added.
In an interview Thursday, O”Toole said she saw no evidence Alcantara was a racist, based, in part, on Alcantara’s personal relationships, nor any evidence of overall biased policing on Alcantara’s part.
If she had, O’Toole said, she would have fired Alcantara.
O’Toole noted Alcantara’s case was decided before Sunday’s shooting of a black man, Che Andre Taylor, by two Seattle officers.
In September, O’Toole fired Officer Cynthia Whitlatch over her arrest in 2014 of an African-American man using a golf club as a cane, in what O’Toole labeled a case of case of biased and overly aggressive policing.
In that case, Whitlatch’s actions occurred during a public interaction, along with a subsequent racially charged Facebook post and her claim she was being targeted because she is white.
The incident involving Alcantara came to light on June 1, 2015, and it was referred to the police department’s Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) two days later, the department said.
The comments were initially discovered by a prosecutor while reviewing the eventual case against the driver of the car, including the video. The prosecutor alerted the police department, which referred the matter to the OPA.
When the incident occurred, Alcantara’s sergeant counseled and corrected her but didn’t believe he needed to take formal action under department policy at the time. The policy has since changed to provide clarity on what needs to be referred to OPA and the sergeant has received additional training on that.
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the officer was pursuing a stolen car. In fact, the driver was wanted on a warrant.