A pair of Seattle police officers whose defamation lawsuit against Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant was dismissed by a federal judge earlier this month have filed a notice that they intend to challenge that decision in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The lawsuit filed last year alleged Sawant defamed officers Scott Miller and Michael Spaulding when she publicly called the 2016 officer-involved shooting of Che Taylor a racially motivated “brutal murder.” The officers shot and killed Taylor while trying to arrest him for being a felon in possession of a gun.
In a ruling issued March 1, U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman threw out defamation claims against Sawant as an individual and said they could not be refiled. Pechman concluded the officers could not show that Sawant was talking about them specifically when she condemned the shooting, even though they had been identified in the media as the officers involved. Sawant never mentioned the officers by name.
It was the second defamation lawsuit that has targeted the fiery and outspoken socialist council member. An earlier lawsuit was filed by Seattle landlord Carl Haglund, who took offense when then-candidate Sawant displayed a poster showing a photograph of a large rat and referred to Haglund as a “slumlord.”
That lawsuit, also before Judge Pechman, was dismissed last spring after costing taxpayers more than $250,000 to defend.
Costs for the defense against the Miller-Spaulding lawsuit were not immediately available from the city attorney’s office, although they promise to be significant. Both Sawant and the City of Seattle — which is also named in the lawsuit — are represented by private counsel.
When they initially filed the lawsuit in King County Superior Court, the officers named Sawant only, and said they were not interested in seeking monetary damages from the city. However, in an amended complaint filed in October after the case moved to federal court, they added the city as a defendant and included a claim alleging city officials retaliated against them by reopening an internal investigation into the shooting after they sued.
The city, they said, also paid Sawant’s legal bills and “resolutely backed Sawant.”
The shooting of Che Taylor, who was black, came at a time of heightened scrutiny nationwide into the police use of deadly force against African-American males. The president of the Seattle King County NAACP called the shooting a “coldblooded murder.”
A King County inquest jury found that the officers believed Taylor, 46, posed a threat of death or serious injury when Miller and Spaulding shot him on Feb. 21, 2016, while trying to arrest him as a felon in unlawful possession of a firearm. A Seattle police review board found last year the shooting fell within department policy and, after the inquest, King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg declined to bring criminal charges against Spaulding and Miller.
The two officers, who are white, were conducting an undercover operation in search of another man wanted on a drug warrant when Taylor arrived in a car, jurors were told during the fact-finding inquest proceeding.
Lawyers for Taylor’s family have questioned whether Taylor was armed when he was confronted and whether a gun found in the car had been there before the shooting. They also questioned whether Taylor was given conflicting, confusing and overlapping commands from Spaulding and Miller and other officers backing them. The family has since filed a federal lawsuit against the city and the two officers in a case that is ongoing.