Seattle police Detective Shandy Cobane expressed relief Thursday after he was suspended, but not fired, for threatening to beat the "Mexican piss" out of a Latino man during a robbery investigation last year.
Seattle police Detective Shandy Cobane expressed relief Thursday after he was suspended, but not fired, for threatening to beat the “Mexican piss” out of a Latino man during a robbery investigation last year.
“I am grateful for a second chance,” said an emotional Cobane, reading from a prepared statement at Seattle police headquarters.
Cobane spoke to reporters minutes after Chief John Diaz announced he had suspended the 17-year officer without pay for 30 days — the most severe punishment allowed short of firing.
As part of the discipline, Cobane — who also was demoted — has agreed not to appeal his suspension, and promised to meet with Latino groups to mend fences and to speak to other officers about the importance of racial and ethnic sensitivity.
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He will undergo additional training and has accepted a “last-chance” agreement with the department, under which he would be fired for engaging in any other serious misconduct.
Diaz also said that if officers use such language in the future, they will be fired.
While Diaz characterized Cobane’s punishment as extremely severe, a Latino legal group criticized the decision, saying he should have been fired.
Cobane sparked a public outcry last May when video emerged of an April 17, 2010, incident in which he was seen telling the prone Latino man he was going to “beat the [expletive] Mexican piss out of you, homey. You feel me?”
Cobane, who was working as a gang detective, drew condemnation from civil-rights and minority organizations.
Last May, the Seattle chapter of the NAACP and other civil-rights groups urged county prosecutors to prosecute Cobane, and a coalition of minority organizations formed after the incident pressed for his firing.
The incident was one of several that prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to open a broad civil-rights investigation in March into whether Seattle police have engaged in a pattern of unnecessary force and biased policing.
Diaz spelled out the disciplinary steps during a news conference Thursday at police headquarters, referring to his own Latino heritage and saying “the use of those comments … will not be tolerated by this department.”
After serving his suspension, Cobane will be assigned to patrol duty and will no longer hold the gang-unit detective position he coveted, Diaz said.
Cobane, a decorated officer with a previously spotless record, earned $92,143 in base pay last year and $8,823 in overtime pay.
Diaz called Cobane a “good officer” who made “a huge mistake.”
Sgt. Rich O’Neill, president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, praised Diaz’s decision, striking a conciliatory tone that stood in marked contrast to combative words he has exchanged with city officials over some of the police incidents.
“Today is a rebuilding day,” O’Neill said, acknowledging the incident involving Cobane “has hurt” the department.
“This is an opportunity for the healing to begin,” O’Neill added, accepting the chief’s edict that the use of racially or ethnically offensive language by officers would lead to dismissal.
Cobane, 45, who had been on reassignment since last May, pledged during his brief statement to exceed the requirements imposed on him.
Diaz began his final disciplinary deliberations about six weeks ago, taking into account results of an internal investigation as well as a personal meeting with Cobane.
Struggle to decide
At the news conference, Diaz candidly discussed how he struggled over his decision, revealing that he would have fired Cobane if not for legal advice that the action would be overturned.
That concern was based on past disciplinary decisions in which officers were suspended for similar conduct, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Diaz’s decision came against the backdrop of high-profile, use-of-force incidents in the past year, as well as the filing of a misdemeanor charge last month against veteran Officer James J. Lee, who was accused of fourth-degree assault arising from the repeated kicking of a teenage African-American suspect inside a convenience store in October.
Cobane was among several officers who detained three men suspected in what King County prosecutors have determined to be two armed robberies earlier that evening. In the video, Cobane directed his ethnically inflamed remarks to a Latino man, identified as Martin Monetti, 21, of Seattle, who was lying on a sidewalk in the area of Westlake Avenue North.
After the man moved a hand to his face, Cobane is seen apparently trying to stop the movement with his boot.
Moments later, Officer Mary Woollum is seen stomping on the back of the man’s leg or knee.
Two of the three men, including Monetti, were later freed. The third man and another suspect identified nearby were arrested on armed-robbery charges.
Monetti was present during the alleged robberies but didn’t actively participate, according to a statement from the Prosecutor’s Office.
Monetti has filed a claim against the city for more than $750,000, said his lawyer, Lorena González. The claim alleges Monetti suffered physical pain and suffering, lost wages and medical costs, among other things. If a settlement isn’t reached by Monday, Monetti has a right to file a lawsuit, González said.
After video of the incident was first broadcast, Cobane issued a tearful public apology a day later.
In September, prosecutors announced they would not charge Cobane with the felony of malicious harassment, the state’s hate-crime law. Prosecutors said that although Cobane used offensive language about Monetti’s ethnicity, “such language is not in and of itself a crime.”
In December, the Seattle City Attorney’s Office said it would not seek misdemeanor assault charges against Cobane or Woollum because they used reasonable force under state law to gain compliance from a suspect who wasn’t following police commands.
The investigation then returned to the department’s Office of Professional Accountability.
Woollum will be disciplined for failing to report what she saw, and a sergeant who was at the scene will be suspended, Diaz said without elaborating.
Fe Lopez, president of the Latina/o Bar Association of Washington, said Thursday she was disappointed that Cobane wasn’t fired.
Lopez — whose group was listed among the 34 who joined the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington in calling for the Justice Department investigation, said she was pleased Diaz put his officers on notice that the use of racial epithets or inflammatory language will be a firing offense.
But the fact that their use has not been punishable by termination up until now underscores the problem, Lopez said.
“This is a cultural thing that the department must address once and for all,” she said. “You can’t move forward if you protect and support officers who have or show a racial bias. You need to be willing to say no.”
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Reporters Mike Carter and Jennifer Sullivan contributed to this report, which includes information from Times archives.