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Force Claim Against Seattle Police Dismissed

A federal judge has thrown out a civil-rights lawsuit brought by a man who alleged he was choked while being arrested by a Seattle police officer.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly on Monday granted the city of Seattle's motion to dismiss remaining claims brought by David Rengo.

While in a patrol car, Rengo was recorded on video yelling, "I'm getting paid" and "I'm rich, I'm white," the City Attorney's Office said in announcing the judge's decision.

The incident occurred April 24, 2010, when two officers tried to stop Rengo and another man from fighting a third man in the Belltown neighborhood.

Rengo was charged with assaulting Officer Shandy Cobane, then working as a gang detective, but the charge was thrown out in 2011 by King County judge who called the case the most "poorly investigated" she had seen in her 22 years on the bench.

Then-Superior Court Judge Joan DuBuque criticized Seattle police for a lack of officer and witness statements and for failure to follow department protocol requiring all patrol cars to activate their dashboard cameras when they stop to investigate the alleged assault, the King County Prosecutor's Office said at the time.

She also criticized Seattle gang detectives for investigating the case when a member of the gang unit was the alleged victim.

Rengo filed a lawsuit naming Cobane and the city in 2012, accusing Cobane of choking him in the back of the patrol car and using excessive force.

When video showed Cobane had been mistakenly identified, Rengo alleged it was another officer who had choked him.

Rengo alleged the other officer used excessive force as part of accepted city practice, citing a 2011 Department of Justice (DOJ) report that the Police Department had engaged in a pattern of using unnecessary force.

The DOJ finding led to a settlement in which the city agreed to adopt reforms.

Zilly, who earlier had dismissed other claims, found no evidence that the officer's alleged action was caused by the pattern and that "merely referencing the DOJ report is insufficient to establish municipal liability."

The judge also dismissed Rengo's allegation of outrageous conduct, finding Rengo had failed to make clear which actions he was attempting to tie to the city.

Rengo's attorney, Peter Connick, said Wednesday he planned to ask Zilly to reconsider his decision. If that fails, Connick said, he will appeal to a federal appeals court.

Connick said that if the officer's conduct was not a violation of his client's civil rights and related to the DOJ report, then "I don't know what is."

He said Rengo's comments in the patrol car occurred amid a mix of remarks during which his handcuffed client also complained he was being choked and couldn't breathe.

Rengo can also be heard on the in-car video threatening to sue and saying he had committed no crime.

In a news release, City Attorney Pete Holmes praised the work of his office in the lawsuit, noting the benefit of his past decision to no longer hire one private law firm to defend officers.

"When officers are unjustly accused, as was the case in Rengo, we will defend them vigorously," Holmes said.

Cobane had sparked a public outcry over an April 17, 2010, incident, captured on video, during which he threatened to beat the "Mexican piss" out of a Latino man being held on the ground. Cobane was later suspended for 30 days without pay.

Copyright 2014 - The Seattle Times

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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