Seattle, WA – A federal judge determined that two Seattle police officers could not sue a city councilmember who labeled them “racist murderers.”
Seattle Police Officer Michael Spaulding and Detective Scott Miller filed the defamation lawsuit against Kshama Sawant after the elected official called them murderers and said an officer-involved shooting was the result of “racial profiling.”
The officers initially filed suit only against Sawant as an individual, but later amended their complaint to include the City of Seattle in their lawsuit after the city took sides.
Det. Miller and Officer Spaulding alleged city officials had retaliated against them by re-opening an internal affairs investigation into the shooting after they filed their lawsuit against Sawant, the Seattle Times reported.
A jury inquest had already determined the shooting of 46-year-old Che Taylor was justified.
“Councilmember Sawant did not identify Officers Miller and Spaulding by name, nor did she provide any information that would even remotely allow listeners to ascertain their identities,” U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman ruled on Friday.
“Finally, Councilmember Sawant’s statements referred broadly to ‘the police,’ the ‘Seattle Police Department,’ and ‘systematic police brutality and racial profiling,'” but she never specifically identified Officer Spaulding and Det. Miller in her statements, the judge said.
However, Sawant was specifically addressing the shooting of Taylor, a shooting involving Officers Miller and Spaulding.
Pechman tossed out the defamation claims against Sawant, concluding that the officers couldn’t prove the councilmember had been talking about them, even though no other officers were involve in the shooting of Taylor.
She also ruled that the suit cannot be refiled, according to the Seattle Times.
However, the judge has allowed the lawsuit against the city to continue to go forward.
Det. Miller and Officer Spaulding claimed in the suit that the city “resolutely backed Sawant” and even paid the councilmember’s legal bills, the Seattle Times reported.
“[The city] attributed her defamatory comments to ‘advocacy’ and confirmed emphatically that she was acting within the scope of her official governmental duties,” the lawsuit said.
The shooting Sawant has said was racially-motivated occurred on Feb. 21, 2016 when Officer Spaulding and Det. Miller were called to serve a high-risk warrant on Taylor.
Taylor had just been released from a 23-year sentence for a home invasion and rape, and was the active suspect in a murder where the victim had been beaten to death with a hammer.
The officers located Taylor, who was carrying a visible gun on his hip, which itself was a crime due to his prior felony conviction.
The officers called for backup and stayed hidden while Taylor tried to pimp out a female in a trailer park.
The arrest team arrived and moved to take down Taylor, who at first appeared to be complying.
But then he knelt down and drew his gun, forcing officers to fatally shoot him.
The shooting was captured on dash camera, but Taylor was not visible once he ducked beside his car. The moment he drew his gun was not captured on camera.
About five days after the shooting, while it was still under investigation, Kshama Sawant appeared before the media to discuss the shooting. She implied that she had special inside information on the shooting and declared the shooting to have been a "brutal murder" as a product of "racial profiling."
But the officers were cleared of any wrongdoing.
A King County inquest jury found that Det. Miller and Officer Spaulding believed Taylor posed a threat of death or serious injury when they shot him, the Seattle Time reported.
Then in 2018, a Seattle police review board determined that the shooting fell within department policy.
King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg determined that the shooting was legally justified.