Yes, it was some bad police work. Perhaps you’ve seen the video, first broadcast on Seattle’s KIRO television news last week, of police detective kicking and using some colorful and indeed offensive language on one of three men being detained as possible robbery suspects. Though the video was only recently made public, the incident occurred in the early morning hours of April 17, when Seattle officers responded to a report of an armed robbery outside a nightclub.
In the story broadcast by KIRO, about six police officers can be seen standing near three men lying prone on the pavement. One of the detained men is handcuffed, the other two are not. One of the officers, identified later as Detective Shandy Cobane, leans over one of the two who are not handcuffed and says in a loud voice, “You got me? I will beat the f***ing Mexican piss out of you, homey! You feel me?” Shortly thereafter, the man Cobane had thus addressed moves his right arm, apparently to scratch or wipe his face. Cobane responds by stepping on the man’s arm, possibly making contact with his head as he did so. A few seconds later, a female officer standing nearby, reacting to something that can’t be seen on the video, walks over and stomps on the same man’s leg.
Like I said, some bad police work. Detective Cobane admitted as much when he appeared before reporters and issued an emotional apology last Friday. Cobane will surely face serious discipline for his conduct and may even be fired. The female officer will likewise take a hit, though I doubt her job is in jeopardy.
And it all could have been avoided had the officers simply followed some of the most basic procedures in law enforcement.
First, let’s address the officers’ decision to detain the three men, which some have described as an example of “racial profiling.” Officers were responding to a reported armed robbery, the suspects in which were described as Hispanic. To say the officers were racially profiling the Hispanic men they found nearby is to strip the term of any real meaning. And in the KIRO report, one of the three men — though not the one who was kicked — was said to be arrested, so it seems clear that there was sufficient reasonable suspicion to stop and detain them for the time it took to determine if they were involved in the robbery.
But this is where things started to go wrong. If all three were detained as robbery suspects, why was only one placed in handcuffs? I’m assuming that Detective Cobane and the female officer will offer a defense that they believed the man may have been attempting to get up from the pavement, prompting their reactions to prevent him from doing so. (If it seems farfetched that someone might try to get up and run away while surrounded by six cops, all I can say is I’ve seen it happen.) Which is why all three of the men should have been handcuffed and searched immediately after they were stopped.
We now move on to Detective Cobane’s troubling choice of words. There is a place for what we might call “tactical profanity,” though this wasn’t it. Some suspects will attempt to feign innocence or a lack of understanding when being stopped, allowing them an extra moment to run away or even pull a weapon. In these circumstances an officer is well within his rights to tell a suspect very clearly what might happen to him if he fails to obey the officer’s lawful commands, and in conveying this message it is sometimes necessary to use language that might be unfit for polite company but is sure to be understood. But in this instance the man was already lying prone and in effect in custody when Cobane felt the need to intimidate him. Again, if the man had been handcuffed, there would have been no need for Cobane to frighten him into compliance, just as there would have been no need for the female officer to step on the man’s leg. And Cobane’s injection of race into his intimidating language was unnecessary and unprofessional.
It’s bad enough when an officer discredits himself and his colleagues in public, but now that news reports on the incident have been shown across the country, all police officers in Seattle will be carrying an added burden for some time to come. Cobane himself knows this. “To my brother detectives,” he said at his press appearance, “I offer my sincerest apology as I know that my comments have made your jobs more difficult”
And they’ll make his own job a lot more difficult if he’s lucky enough to keep it. But those calling for Cobane to be fired and even prosecuted are presuming that his conduct during this one incident is typical for him. If that’s shown to be true, by all means the city of Seattle would be better off without him. But published reports have described Cobane, a 15-year veteran of the department, as an exemplary officer, and his decision to accept responsibility and offer a public apology speaks well of him.
But regardless of what happens to Shandy Cobane, how regrettable it is that his name will soon be more familiar in Seattle and across the country than those of Timothy Brenton, Gregory Richards, Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens, Mark Renninger, and Walter Mundell. And who are they? They are the six police officers from in and around Seattle who were murdered last year. What a shame you had to ask.