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City of Seattle
Ed Murray, Mayor

SUBJECT: Judge tosses use-of-force claim against SPD

7/22/2014  1:30:00 PM
Kimberly Mills  (206) 684-8602

A man who screamed “I’m rich, I’m white …and I’m getting paid” during an alleged choking by a Seattle police officer has failed to collect a dime from the City of Seattle.

On Monday U.S. District Judge Thomas S. Zilly granted the City’s motion for summary judgment on the remaining claims in Rengo v. City of Seattle. Plaintiff David Rengo had claimed that Officer Shandy Cobane choked him repeatedly in the back of a patrol car while he was handcuffed. As captured on the in-car video, it was during the alleged choking, that Rengo is heard screaming “I’m rich, I’m white…and I’m getting paid.”

The incident arose in April 2010 when Cobane and a Gang Unit detective observed Rengo and another man assaulting a third man outside a nightclub in Belltown. Cobane and the detective intervened, and Rengo pushed Cobane so hard that he lost his grip on the other suspect. Ultimately, Rengo was arrested for assaulting an officer. Rengo then sued the City, Cobane and other defendants for a host of claims, including excessive force, false arrest and negligence.

The City moved for summary judgment in 2013, arguing that the claims lacked merit and that in-car video and GPS data conclusively showed that Cobane was not with Rengo when the alleged choking occurred. In response, Rengo then alleged that another officer, Camilo DePina, was the one who choked him.

On Monday Judge Zilly granted summary judgment on the last remaining claims – municipal liability based upon a pattern or practice of excessive force, and outrage. “…Plaintiff provides no evidence that Officer DePina’s alleged unlawful use of force occurred or was caused by the pattern identified by the DOJ (Department of Justice) report. This Court recently held that merely referencing the DOJ report is insufficient to establish municipal liability,” Zilly wrote, mentioning Lawson v. City of Seattle. “Similarly here, Plaintiff has presented no evidence to establish a causal link between any City policy or custom and the alleged injury, and his section 1983 [federal] claim must fail as a matter of law.”

Rengo’s other remaining claim -- that the “actions of the City were extreme, outrageous and beyond all bounds of decency” -- failed as well. “Plaintiff’s outrage claim suffers from the same deficiency identified in his section 1983 claim,” Zilly held. There was no evidence “establishing a causal link between any City policy or custom and any alleged injury to Plaintiff and therefore he has failed to prove that he personally was the subject of outrageous conduct by the City,” the judge concluded.

City Attorney Pete Holmes praised Assistant City Attorney Sarah Morehead, a member of the office’s Police Action Team, for her work on the Rengo case and noted an important benefit of no longer outsourcing the defense of police officers to one private firm. “Since bringing the police action work inhouse, we have developed a closer working relationship with individual officers and provide them cutting-edge legal expertise. When officers are unjustly accused, as was the case in Rengo, we will defend them vigorously,” Holmes said.

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