City Attorney Pete Holmes says he'll decide any day now whether to charge a Seattle police officer involved in a case of apparent misconduct. In April, Detective Shandy Cobane was caught in a now-infamous video stomping on a Latino suspect (who turned out to be innocent) and saying, "I'm going to beat the fucking Mexican piss out of you, homie."
It's one of several controversial police incidents this year that the department's Office of Professional Accountability has placed under internal investigation (so many cases have cropped up that the ACLU recently requested a federal probe).
"We have a process for allegations of misconduct—a process that tests our patience and frustrates a lot of people," says Council Member Tim Burgess. He says he supports that deliberative process and the public "should be asking if it is working, by watching it go by like a tortoise."
However, the city's internal investigation—even a disciplinary action from inside the department—is not enough in this case. Holmes should prosecute Cobane.
The King County Prosecutor's Office had the chance to charge Cobane but declined in September—saying the offense didn't qualify as a felony hate crime under state law—so Chief John Diaz referred the case to the city's prosecutor. Now Holmes says he has "taken a long, careful look at the Cobane case" and "will make a final decision very soon."
Seattle's assault law, a misdemeanor instead of a felony, may be more conducive to convicting Cobane (threats of violence can be considered a crime). If convicted of misdemeanor assault, he could be punished by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. But even if the city loses, the simple act of prosecuting Cobane would be a victory for the public. After a rash of apparent misconduct cases, many Seattle residents want the city to deliver a deft blow of accountability to the police department, and they don't think the plodding internal reviews are working. "There hasn't been a single use-of-force... in the past couple of years that the SPD hasn't deemed sustained—as in it never really happened," James Bible, chapter president of the local NAACP, told The Stranger in September.
Prosecuting Cobane, and cases like his, may be difficult until the mayor and the police chief make changes, too, says Council Member Nick Licata. Police aren't always filling out use-of-force forms after violent incidents, he says, adding, "It is difficult for the city attorney to follow up on these incidents if there isn't a paper trail."