Criminal investigation opened into officer stomping

Criminal investigation opened into officer stomping »Play Video
Civil rights leaders speak at a news conference on Tuesday, May 18, 2010.
SEATTLE -- Civil rights groups continued to pressure the city of Seattle and its police force Tuesday to take action against officers seen on a video stomping young Latino man, and police announced that they have opened a criminal investigation into the incident.

"This is not an isolated incident, and this is just a bigger issue than a few officers," said Fe Lopez with the Latina/o Bar Association of Washington.

Several groups, including the ACLU and Latino advocacy group El Centro de la Raza, have joined forces and asked that Seattle police Detective Shandy Cobane and Officer Mary Woollum be immediately removed from the force.

"The Latino community, joined by other communities of color and people of good will is appalled at the actions of the Seattle Police Department officers who were shown on videotape using racial slurs and assaulting a young Latino male," said Estela Ortega, the executive director of El Centro de la Raza.

They are also asking that the supervisor who witnessed the abuse and remained silent be placed on unpaid leave pending an administrative investigation, and that the other officers seen in the video be suspended for two weeks without pay and then assigned to desk duty pending an investigation.

"We believe there is an insidious culture of tolerance within the Seattle Police Department that causes officers, including supervisors, to be silent even when there is criminal wrongdoing on the part of their colleagues," Ortega said.

Finally, they want city and police officials to pledge to work with the recently established law enforcement accountability coalition to ensure there is a zero tolerance policy in regard to discrimination, racist remarks, racial profiling and use of undue force.

"It's far too common that a scared and intimidated victim's word against those of police authority is easily ignored," Ortega said.

Outside the city hall building where Ortega spoke, a handful of people were on hand carrying signs in support of police officers, saying they aren't racist and shouldn't be prosecuted criminally.

"I've had nuns that have hit me over the hand on the knuckles; given me a shot against the head, and it's no different with the police," said a protestor named Gary. "They've got to get the guy's attention when he doesn't comply."

Meanwhile, Interim Police Chief John Diaz said Tuesday a criminal investigation has been opened into the incident.

"A criminal case detective will put the file together and submit it over to the prosecutor's office," Diaz said. "They will make that determination at the end of this on whether to file the case criminally... You've seen that we've terminated officers when we felt we had enough information, and I feel confident that they are going to put together a very detailed investigation."

Victim Martin Monetti was stopped around 1:30 a.m. on April 17 by police who were searching for several robbery suspects - including one carrying a machete.

In the now-infamous video, which has spread across the world via the Internet and broadcast media, Monetti can be seen lying face down without handcuffs and not under arrest.

It appears a Seattle police officer threatens him - then kicks him in the head - while another officer kicks him in the leg.

On the video, shot by a freelance photographer, Detective Shandy Cobane can be heard telling the man: "You got me? I'm going to beat the (expletive) Mexican piss out of you homey. You feel me?"

Seconds later, the man moves his hand, appearing to wipe his eye. The officer kicks him in the head as he wipes his boot on his hand. A female officer, identified as Mary Woollum by police sources, stomps on his leg.

Police realize they detained the wrong man, lift him up, and let him go.

Cobane later apologized for his actions that night, saying he is "truly, truly sorry and ... I am committed to do everything I can do to right this terrible wrong."

Cobane and officer Wollum are on administrative reassignment while Seattle police conduct their investigation. The FBI has also launched its own routine investigation, and said it will forward any findings to the Civil Rights Section of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.

"We must demand accountability and get accountability from those we whom we entrust and pay to protect the public," Ortega said.

Monetti's lawyer is preparing to file a claim against the city of Seattle.