The City of Seattle defends Indian-American councilmember in defamation lawsuit

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Council President Bruce Harrell of Seattle’s city council, has decided that the city will help defend Indian American Councilmember Kshama Sawant in a defamation lawsuit brought against her by two Seattle police officers.

According to a Seattle Times report, the lawsuit claims that Officers Scott Miller and Michael Spaulding were defamed when Sawant falsely declared they had committed a “brutal murder” in last year’s fatal shooting of Che Taylor.

The allegation was not supported later by an inquest jury and by the city charter so Harrell had to decide whether or not Sawant had made the alleged statement “within the course and scope of employment” according to the rules. He concluded in Sawant’s favor that it had been.

The city is already representing Sawant in a second defamation lawsuit, which was brought by Carl Haglund, a landlord who said that Sawant was referring to him “as a ‘slumlord’” and that too, a ‘notorious’ one.

Joe Groshong, an assistant city attorney and the city’s torts section director, told the Seattle Times that he “wouldn’t be surprised if total litigation costs exceeded $300,000,” referring to both of the lawsuits.

The Seattle Times reported that in a seven-page letter, Harrell explained his reasoning on why Sawant “was speaking about issues important to her constituents” and therefore, allowed the city to defend her.

Harrell wrote; “My goal was to make sure this decision has nothing to do with politics but rather a review of the pertinent facts and application of the law. I suspect my decision may be unpopular in the views of many but I believe the decision that I have reached and the process that I used to make this decision was logical; performed in good faith; has well-considered factual basis and is consistent with applicable law.”

Upon hearing the decision, Dmitri Iglitzin, Sawant’s attorney, told the Seattle Times that “it’s extremely important that public officials in trying to perform their duties shouldn’t fear personal liability. There is a lot of intimidation and fear in our political system now.”

Adam Rosenberg, the attorney for the officers, could not be reached for comment by The Seattle Times. The newspaper reported that the officers sued Sawant and not the city, saying they did not want “one red cent of public money.” They are asking for damages “to be proven at trial,” and a public retraction of Sawant’s alleged statements, the report said.

Rosenberg did write to the city earlier saying that if the city did decide to defend Sawant, “we would have no choice but to amend our complaint to add Seattle to the litigation.”

The controversy centers around the Feb. 25, 2016, shooting of Che Taylor.
A Facebook video shows Sawant using a megaphone at a downtown protest where one can hear words like “the brutal murder of Che Taylor, the blatant murder at the hands of the police … I am here as an elected official … I am completely committed to holding the Seattle Police Department accountable …”

Harrell, in his letter contended that “Sawant described the shooting as a ‘murder’ within a longer speech that she was giving regarding the need for police reform and accountability …” He also said that there is “not sufficient evidence” to support the contention that Sawant “was acting dishonestly, fraudulently, criminally, or maliciously.” Her statements, Harrel stressed, were “consistent with policy positions that she has taken on behalf of her constituents.”