David Rengo alleged he was handcuffed when an officer choked him in the back of a patrol car after his arrest in Belltown in April 2010.
The City of Seattle will pay $125,000 to settle a 2012 federal police-brutality lawsuit — that had been previously dismissed — after a panel of appeals-court judges questioned the dismissal and appeared prepared to send the case back for trial.
The settlement came after the panel of judges in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals strongly suggested the city and the attorney for David Rengo take the case into mediation. A settlement was reached last week, according to the Seattle City Attorney’s Office.
It was an unusual end of a case involving issues and individuals whose actions contributed to a 2012 consent decree between the U.S. Department of Justice and the city, mandating Seattle police adopt reforms to address excessive force and biased policing.
Rengo was arrested April 24, 2010, when two officers tried to stop him and another man from fighting a third man in the Belltown neighborhood.
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The officer who arrested Rengo was Shandy Cobane, who claimed Rengo assaulted him. Rengo alleged he was handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car, where he claimed an officer choked him while he was restrained.
Cobane was the subject of community outrage after he was videotaped using ethnically inflammatory language while detaining a Latino man. That incident — in which Cobane was heard telling the man that he was going to “beat the [expletive] Mexican piss out of you, homey. You feel me?” — occurred a week before Rengo was arrested.
The other officer is identified in court documents as Camilo DePina. He acknowledged he climbed into the rear seat of the patrol car, but he said he had no recollection of what happened next.
DePina has been named in several civil-rights complaints, including being one of the lead defendants in a lawsuit that led to the $1.75 million settlement with the family of Brian Torgerson, who in May 2010 suffered severe brain damage when he was beaten, restrained and his head wrapped in a “spit hood” by several officers.
In 2015, the city paid a woman $55,000 after she claimed her hand was broken and arm dislocated when DePina arrested her in 2011 while she was watching police question men on a downtown sidewalk.
DePina was also a defendant in a lawsuit in which the city paid $9,630 to a man who suffered a concussion and facial injuries during an arrest at a drive-in on Queen Anne in 2007.
Both Cobane and DePina remain on the force, according to 2016 payroll records.
After his arrest, Rengo was charged with third-degree assault after Cobane claimed Rengo had assaulted him. However, King County Superior Court Judge Joan DuBuque threw the case out, saying it was the most shoddy investigation she’d seen in 22 years on the bench. She criticized officers for failing to file reports or follow department protocol requiring the use of dash-cameras. She also criticized the gang unit for investigating an alleged assault against one of its own members.
These and other incidents were investigated in 2011 by the Department of Justice, which concluded that the police department engaged in a “pattern and practice” of unconstitutional policing involving the use of excessive force, often against restrained individuals and involving multiple officers. That finding led to the consent decree between the Department of Justice and the city.
Rengo’s attorneys filed a federal civil-rights complaint in 2012, arguing that his experience at the hands of police fit squarely into that pattern and that the case should be allowed to proceed to trial. U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly, however, did not make that connection and dismissed the lawsuit in 2014, just a few weeks before trial.
Rengo’s lawyer, Seattle defense attorney Peter Connick, appealed Zilly’s decision and during oral arguments in March, a three-member panel of judges on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals questioned Zilly’s conclusions, particularly about whether the DOJ’s findings should be considered by the trial court. The judges urged both sides to consider mediation.
“I think it was pretty clear that they were going to send the case back” to district court and revive the lawsuit, Connick said Tuesday.
The city attorney’s office provided a copy of the settlement agreement, but declined to further discuss its reasons for settling.