Steve Miletich, Seattle Times, May 12, 2011
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.
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?”
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’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.
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.
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.
“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.”