On the afternoon of December 6, in the middle of a Black Lives Matter march through downtown Seattle, a young man named John Raymond Loranger was tackled and arrested for allegedly kicking an officer in her shins. But if his case goes forward, he might not be the only one on trial.
The sole witness and arresting officer, Robert Mahoney, has left a long and problematic paper trail during his 16 years with the Seattle Police Department. During an investigation into allegations that he "forcibly" tongue-kissed a high-school senior who was part of the SPD's Explorer program—an investigation that nearly got Mahoney fired—the city attorney's office described Mahoney as "vindictive," "predatory," and "aggressive."
"Throughout the investigation," the city attorney wrote in 2009, "Mahoney has demonstrated a consistently reckless disregard for the truth." In other words, the city's key witness against a Black Lives Matter protester is an officer the city has had a hard time trusting. (Asked whether the SPD currently trusts Mahoney, spokesperson Sean Whitcomb would only say, "The employee in question is still performing his normal assignment.")
In her report about the December 6 demonstration, Officer Tabitha Sexton wrote that she was on bicycle patrol, riding alongside demonstrators, when she was separated from her team and jostled off her bicycle. After walking a short distance, she "felt someone push me from behind and then someone used their leg and kicked me across the shins from my left side." She couldn't see who'd kicked her, or whether the blow was an attack or an accident—according to officer reports and eyewitness accounts, it was a chaotic afternoon with police estimating between 2,000 and 3,000 demonstrators on the streets.
But Officer Robert Mahoney claims he saw the 26-year-old Loranger as he "violently soccer kicked" Sexton “across the shin." In his report, Mahoney wrote that he grabbed Loranger, who allegedly pulled away, and then tackled and arrested him. "I then heard Loranger say something to the effect of, 'Give me a break, you are fucking kidding me,'" Mahoney wrote, "as if he did not regard pushing and viciously kicking Officer Sexton as a 'big deal.' I told him I was not 'kidding.'"
If convicted, Loranger, a graduate of Whitman College who has worked for the Whitman admissions office as well as organic farms in the state, faces up to 364 days in jail. But, in preparation for Loranger's trial, attorney Neil Fox has amassed a substantial file on Mahoney's past credibility issues that might compromise his testimony. (Full disclosure: Last year, Fox represented The Stranger before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a case about grand-jury secrecy rules. The Stranger won that case.) Loranger's trial could become a deep dive into sticky professional and personal drama within the Seattle Police Department.
Among Fox's findings, which he compiled from publicly available records and shared with The Stranger: In 2006, Mahoney's ex-girlfriend, Siolotuma Thompson, and her fiancé sought a restraining order against Mahoney, claiming he had threatened to kill both of them and dislocated Thompson's shoulder during an argument. Several of Thompson's coworkers submitted legal declarations accusing Mahoney of abusive behavior, including repeated late-night phone calls while she was at work, making threats, and calling her "cunt," "slut," and "lying whore." Mahoney disputed all this in court, and called character witnesses such as Sergeant Alvin Little (more on him later) to vouch for his "high ethical standards and moral character." In the end, Mahoney settled for a "civil restraining" order that limited him to contacting his ex-girlfriend only via e-mail, and only regarding their son, but would allow him to keep his firearm rights so he could continue to work as a police officer.
In 2009, Officer Mahoney was suspended for 30 days without pay after the city determined he'd kissed the high-school student. According to the city attorney's office, Mahoney and the young woman in question were alone at an SPD training facility when he "kissed her twice near the mouth... Mahoney then asked her for a 'real kiss,' kissed her on the lips, and put his tongue into her mouth." Mahoney, the city attorney's office wrote, then "lied" about the incident "in all three OPA [Office of Professional Accountability] interviews." He called Officer Sexton, the one who was allegedly kicked at the Black Lives Matter march, as a character witness. He and Officer Susanna Monroe, who the city believes was his "then-undisclosed girlfriend," tried to discredit the high-school student as "manipulative, flirtatious, gossipy, and dramatic." (Officer Monroe now works in the OPA.)
Mahoney also framed the investigation as a conspiracy against him. He turned on Sergeant Little, who'd supported him during the restraining-order drama in 2006 but became involved in the 2008 kissing investigation when he forwarded the student's complaint to the OPA. During that process, Mahoney filed a complaint with the state Labor and Industries Office, accusing Little of "corruption" and claiming he'd made "a fraudulent L&I claim" for a torn Achilles tendon back in 2003—three years before the restraining-order drama and six years before the kissing investigation. Mahoney, the city attorney wrote, also "asserted that his captain in the training unit and Chief [Gil] Kerlikowske were retaliating against him because of unhappiness over Mahoney's advocacy of the use of force by police officers... Mahoney's unbelievable amalgamation of conspiracies is self-defeating and casts serious doubt on his fidelity to facts and truth."
A 2009 Seattle Times article reported that Chief Kerlikowske was planning to fire Mahoney, but settled on the 30-day suspension after the city attorney's office said it would be difficult to justify the firing because there were no independent witnesses to the kiss. (Though city attorneys stressed in multiple court briefs that they believed the high-school student's account, writing that throughout the process, she "was significantly more credible than Officer Mahoney.")
Last year, Mahoney became the lead plaintiff in an ongoing lawsuit against the SPD, the city, the mayor, US attorney general Eric Holder, and others, claiming that the department's new use-of-force policy—settled on after the Department of Justice investigation—infringes on his and other officers' "right to use force" under the Constitution. (Officer Sexton, who Loranger is accused of kicking at the protest, and who Mahoney called as a character witness during the kissing case, is a co-plaintiff.) A federal district court judge dismissed the suit as meritless in October, but Mahoney and around 100 other officers have appealed to the Ninth Circuit, where the case is still pending.
Throughout his career, Mahoney has been an advocate for force: He's worked as a defensive tactics trainer, accused Chief Kerlikowske of retaliation over his advocacy of force during the kissing investigation, and is now suing the department over use-of-force restrictions. During the December 6 march, Mahoney pepper-sprayed a legal observer for the National Lawyers Guild but justified himself in his use-of-force report, writing that the man's "self-proclaimed 'Legal Observer' status appears to be little more than a cover and ruse for committing and facilitating criminal activity during demonstrations... this particular 'observer' is a serious threat to officer safety." (There is footage of the pepper-spraying incident on YouTube. It's a brief clip, but the legal observer seems to be doing nothing besides filming officers with his phone when he's sprayed.) No trial date has been set for the Loranger case yet, but Fox is still digging for more discovery files on Officer Mahoney's past. The next hearing, at which municipal court judge Judith Hightower will decide how much more discovery Fox is entitled to, will take place in late August. "The city wants to stigmatize and punish Mr. Loranger because it claims he committed a crime during a protest against police violence," Fox wrote in one of his motions for discovery. "The main witness against Mr. Loranger—Officer Mahoney—may be exactly the type of officer against whom Mr. Loranger and others were protesting."
The Seattle Police Department did not respond to requests for comment from Mahoney, Sexton, Little, and Monroe. Citing a policy against commenting on ongoing legal matters, SPD spokesperson Whitcomb also declined to offer any statement about Mahoney or the Loranger case beyond his answer to the question of whether the SPD currently trusts Mahoney. That answer, again, was "The employee in question is still performing his normal assignment."