Officers Scott Miller and Michael Spaulding claim they were defamed when Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant falsely declared they had committed a “brutal murder” in last year’s fatal shooting of Che Taylor.
The city will defend Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant in the defamation lawsuit brought against her by two Seattle police officers, Council President Bruce Harrell decided.
In that lawsuit, Officers Scott Miller and Michael Spaulding claim they were defamed when she falsely declared they had committed a “brutal murder” in last year’s fatal shooting of Che Taylor — an allegation not supported by a later inquest jury.
By city charter, Harrell had to decide if Sawant made the alleged statement “within the course and scope of employment.” He concluded it was.
The city already is representing Sawant in a second defamation lawsuit, this one brought by Carl Haglund, a landlord who took issue with Sawant referring to him “as a ‘slumlord’ and as a ‘notorious slumlord.’”
Joe Groshong, an assistant city attorney and the city’s torts section director, has said that “I wouldn’t be surprised if total litigation costs exceeded $300,000” in both lawsuits.
In a seven-page letter, Harrell went into great length to explain his reasoning that Sawant “was speaking about issues important to her constituents” and thus entitled to defense by the city.
Harrell wrote, “My goal was to make sure this decision has nothing to do with politics but rather a review of the pertinent facts and application of the law. I suspect my decision may be unpopular in the views of many but I believe the decision that I have reached and the process that I used to make this decision was logical; performed in good faith; has well-considered factual basis and is consistent with applicable law.”
Dmitri Iglitzin, Sawant’s attorney, said about the decision:
“It’s extremely important that public officials in trying to perform their duties shouldn’t fear personal liability. There is a lot of intimidation and fear in our political system now.
“We have a commander in chief who routinely attacks political opponents through his tweets and people here in Puget Sound trying to silence political opponents through lawsuits. The city has to stand up for elected officials so they don’t have to be afraid of personal bankruptcy for doing their jobs.”
Adam Rosenberg, the attorney for the officers, could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.
The officers sued Sawant, and not the city, saying they did not want “one red cent of public money.” They’re asking for damages “to be proven at trial,” and a public retraction of Sawant’s alleged statements.
Earlier, Rosenberg wrote to the city and said that if the city did decide to defend Sawant, “we would have no choice but to amend our complaint to add Seattle to the litigation.”
In the letter explaining his decision, Harrell said the lawsuit from the officers “basically centers around once incident,” and that was on Feb. 25, 2016, five days after Che Taylor was shot.
In a Facebook video, Sawant is seen at a downtown protest using a megaphone. One can hear talk about “the brutal murder of Che Taylor, the blatant murder at the hands of the police … I am here as an elected official … I am completely committed to holding the Seattle Police Department accountable …”
Harrell notes that the video has “a member of the public stating ‘at least somebody came down to talk to us,’” and that “another member of the public remarked during her speech — ‘that’s right — that’s why she got elected.’”
Harrell wrote that “Sawant described the shooting as a ‘murder’ within a longer speech that she was giving regarding the need for police reform and accountability …”
Harrell concluded his letter by writing there “is not sufficient evidence to support” that Sawant “was acting dishonestly, fraudulently, criminally, or maliciously.”
Her statements that day, he said, “are consistent with policy positions that she has taken on behalf of her constituents.”