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Officers who fatally shot Che Taylor sue Kshama Sawant for defamation

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant
KUOW Photo/Deborah Wang
Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant

Two Seattle police officers who shot and killed Che Taylor, an African-American man, last year are suing City Councilmember Kshama Sawant for defamation.

Scott Miller and Michael Spaulding say Sawant defamed them when she called Taylor's death a "brutal murder" and the product of racial profiling.

The officers have since been cleared of misconduct in the case and the King County prosecutor has declined to bring criminal charges against them. 

The lawsuit states that Sawant addressed the public and the media shortly after the shooting and publicly called the officers racist murderers.

“The statements were not in any way qualified or couched as opinion. Sawant did not acknowledge that the investigation was ongoing. She, instead, tried and convicted the officers herself in the court of public opinion,” the suit states.

Filed with King County Superior Court last week, the suit targets Sawant as an individual, specifically stating:

“This is not a complaint against the City of Seattle or its City Council. The plaintiffs do not want one red cent of public money. This is a complaint seeking damages against one individual who, acting in her own capacity and only on her own behalf, defamed two good men.”

Spaulding and Miller are seeking legal costs and unspecified damages.

The lawsuit states that prior to filing they asked Sawant to retract her statements but got no response.

Sawant did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Taylor was fatally shot in the Wedgwood neighborhood last year. A review board subsequently found that the shooting fell within department policy.

A King County inquest jury found earlier this year that Taylor posed a threat to Spaulding and Miller when they shot him. No criminal charges were filed against the officers.

Spaulding and Miller were conducting undercover surveillance at an apartment complex in February 2016 when they recognized Taylor. Miller testified that he saw a holstered gun on Taylor’s hip. Because Taylor had recently been released from prison, it was illegal for him to be in possession of a firearm.

The officers radioed for backup. About 45 minutes later Taylor emerged from an apartment and the officers moved in to arrest him for possession of a firearm.

They approached with long guns drawn as Taylor was standing next to the open passenger door of a car.

The officers told Taylor to raise his hands and get on the ground. Taylor brought his hands to chest height and moved toward the ground. As he did so, the officers say he leaned towards the car and moved his arm as if to draw a weapon.

No gun was found in Taylor’s hand after he was shot. A gun was found in the car near where Taylor fell. The Taylor family has questioned whether or not he was armed when he was shot.

The lawsuit against Sawant states that, despite the findings of the inquest jury, Sawant continues to "refer to the shooting as a 'murder' and publicly asserts that the officers avoided 'accountability' (touting the implicit – if not explicit – factual premise that this was a race-based murder).”

The documents filed with the court say Sawant has 20 days to respond to the lawsuit or she risks a default judgment. 

Year started with KUOW: 2015