An appeals court decision will allow two Seattle police officers to proceed with their lawsuit against City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who publicly referred to their 2016 fatal shooting of Che Taylor as "a blatant murder at the hands of police." The officers claim that Sawant defamed them when she publicly referred to the shooting as "a blatant murder at the hands of police."
An appeals court panel of three judges from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has overturned an earlier dismissal of the case, reinstated the claims of officers Michael Spaulding and Scott Miller, and remanded the case back to a federal district court in Seattle for further consideration.
Spaulding and Miller's third amended complaint was dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman in December 2020, after ruling that the complaint failed to adequately allege that Sawant's remarks were "of and concerning" them.
Pechman based his dismissal on Sawant's failure to identify the officers by name when the council member decried the shooting at a rally outside the Seattle Police Department five days after the incident occurred.
As stated in a 28-page opinion issued Wednesday, the appeals court panel overturned Pechman's decision, stating that "Sawant's own words suggested that her remarks were directed not only toward law enforcement as a whole, but also toward specific officers who were involved in the shooting."
In spite of the fact that Sawant didn't mention them by name, a panel of judges found that their family members, friends, colleagues, and members of the public "were aware that Plaintiffs were the officers involved in the shooting" and "Plausibly understood that Sawant's remarks were directed" at them.
Following the ruling's publication, the officers' request to have the case assigned to another judge was denied, and the case was returned to Pechman's court for further consideration.
Both Sawant and the city attorney's office were unavailable for comment over the weekend, despite the fact that Sawant is named as a co-defendant along with the city of Seattle.
A statement from Daniel Brown, an attorney representing the officers, said they were "very pleased with the ruling from the 9th Circuit Panel, which was the correct decision, and they look forward to having their day in court and finally having Ms. Sawant respond to the claims asserted against her in this matter."
In February 2016, the two officers were surveilling a Wedgwood home in search of another man when Taylor arrived in a car, according to police and testimony at an inquest hearing into his death. Taylor died as a result of his injuries.
Taylor was carrying a handgun on his hip, according to one of the officers.
Taylor left the area, but when he returned later, the officers, who were dressed in plain clothes and armed with a shotgun and a rifle, approached him after he had exited a car. Taylor was taken into custody without incident.
Taylor was going to be arrested for being a felon in possession of a firearm, according to the officers.
According to the officers, they shot him when they observed him reaching for what they believed to be a gun.
Following the inquest and subsequent civil lawsuit filed by Taylor's family, questions were raised about whether Taylor was armed and why he would have been reaching for a gun that was not in his possession.
Previous investigations by the Seattle Police Department determined that the shooting was within department policy, and King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg declined to file criminal charges against Spaulding and Miller on the grounds that they believed their lives were in danger while attempting to apprehend Tyler.
When Taylor was shot, the two white officers believed he posed a threat of death or serious injury, according to the findings of an inquest jury. Taylor was African-American.
In the beginning, the case was filed in state court, but it was re-filed in federal court the following year.
The officers' third amended complaint was dismissed by Pechman last year, who stated in her order that the officers had been given four opportunities to prove their allegations, including through amended pleadings and a previous appeal to the 9th Circuit appeals court, but they had failed to do so.
The judge ruled that any further efforts would be detrimental to Sawant.