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Appeals Court Says Seattle Cops Can Sue Councilwoman Who Called Them Murderers

Seattle, WA – A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that two Seattle police officers will be allowed to proceed with their defamation lawsuit against Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant.

Seattle Police Officer Scott Miller and Officer Michael Spaulding filed a lawsuit against Sawant and the City of Seattle in 2017 after she allegedly defamed them by publicly declaring a justified shooting they were involved in was a “blatant murder at the hands of police,” The Seattle Times reported.

U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman dismissed their case in December of 2020 after determining the officers failed to prove Sawant was talking specifically about them when she made the disparaging comments.

Although the city councilmember never mentioned them by name, she levied her allegations about the officer-involved shooting being a “blatant murder” while speaking at a rally outside the Seattle Police Department five days after the incident occurred, The Seattle Times reported.

A U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit panel of three judges issued a 28-page ruling on Nov. 10, reversing Pechman’s dismissal and sending the case back to her court.

The officers had asked the appeals court to assign the case to a different judge, but that request was denied, The Seattle Times reported.

The panel ruled that “Sawant’s own words suggested that her remarks were directed not only at the police generally, but also at the individual officers involved in the shooting,” according to the paper.

Although she didn’t specifically name Officer Spaulding or Officer Miller, members of the public and the officers’ friends, family members, and colleagues all “knew that Plaintiffs were the officers involved in the shooting” and “plausibly…understood that Sawant’s remarks were directed” at the two officers, according to the ruling.

The officers’ attorney, Daniel Brown, said his clients were pleased with the appeal courts’ ruling and that they are looking forward to “having their day in court and having Ms. Sawant finally answer to the claims asserted against her in this matter,” The Seattle Times reported.

According to the lawsuit, Sawant also called the officers “racist murderers” and claimed the shooting was the result of “racial profiling,” despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, KUOW reported.

The officer-involved shooting took place on Feb. 21, 2016, after Officer Miller and Officer Spaulding were called to serve a high-risk warrant on Che Taylor.

Taylor has 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 criminal history.

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. 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 and the moment he drew his gun was not captured on camera.

Around five days after the shooting, while it was still under investigation, Kshama Sawant appeared before the media implying that she had special inside information on the shooting and declared it to be a “brutal murder” as a product of “racial profiling.”

The officers were cleared of any wrongdoing at a jury inquest hearing.

Taylor’s family received a $1.5 million payout from the city in December of 2020, The Seattle Times reported.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

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Written by Holly Matkin

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