More than two years after a Seattle police officer was accused of using a racial slur during the arrest of Black Lives Matter activist Jorge Torres, the city has agreed to settle a civil rights lawsuit filed by the activist for a sum of $85,000.
As former Stranger writer Ansel Herz reported here, Torres led a series of Black Lives Matter protests in 2014. During a protest at the end of the year, police arrested Torres on charges of "reckless endangerment" and "pedestrian interference." Prosecutors later dropped the charges in the "interests of justice."
Torres' arrest occurred just two years after the police department entered into a consent decree with the US Department of Justice over findings of unconstitutional and biased policing. In October of last year, the Department of Justice told a federal judge that Seattle police had fulfilled their court-ordered reforms as part of the consent decree agreement.
But Torres' case didn't end after prosecutors dropped charges. Shortly before Torres' arrest, dash cam video recorded a Seattle police officer commanding others to go "just get that fucking wet-ahh" in the pursuit of Torres. Torres, his lawyer, and the Community Policing Commission alleged that the video showed that the officer had just stopped short of calling Torres a "wetback." Another dash cam recording captured an officer saying, "If we can get him for pedestrian interference or something along those lines, we'll deny them their leader... A small Hispanic male—he's got a megaphone who appears to be the leader of the group at this time."
At the end of 2016, Torres and lawyer James Bible filed a federal civil rights suit against the city of Seattle, additionally claiming that officers assaulted Torres, used excessive force, intentionally inflicted emotional distress, and falsely arrested him.
The complaint described a bike officer quickly riding toward Torres as he crossed a pedestrian intersection before the officer dismounted and "slammed Mr. Torres on to the ground."
"Several more officers jumped on top of Mr. Torres," the complaint continued. "One of the officers placed Mr. Torres' legs in a hogtie type position. One of the police officers forced Mr. Torres' head into the pavement."
In the City Attorney's response to the complaint, Seattle Police said that they didn't have enough information to assess the truth of Torres' claim.
The Seattle Police Department later conducted an internal investigation into Torres' arrest, but concluded that the officer who said "wet-ahh" didn't engage in biased policing, use a slur, or violate the SPD's professionalism code.
Despite that finding, the City Attorney's office confirmed that both parties had reached the $85,000 agreement and were working to formalize the settlement documents.