Following a U.S. appeals court ruling that allows Seattle police officers to proceed with a defamation lawsuit against a City Council member, their attorney signaled on Monday that they will proceed with it.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last week issued a ruling that reversed a federal judge’s dismissal of the case, sending it back to a federal court in Seattle.
Seattle officers Michael Spaulding and Scott Miller alleged that City Councilmember Kshama Sawant made defamatory statements when she publicly said their shooting of a man in 2016 is “a blatant murder at the hands of police” and urged the department to be held responsible “for their … individual actions.”
In their opinion issued on Nov. 10, the court panel concluded that “Sawant’s own words suggested that her remarks were directed not only at the police generally, but also at the individual officers involved in the shooting.”
Sawant didn’t name the officers in question, but the panel conceded that the members of the public as well as the officers’ family, friends, colleagues, and others knew that the plaintiffs were the officers involved in the 2016 shooting. They also “plausibly” could understand “that Sawant’s remarks were directed” at them, according to the ruling.
The appeals court panel also said it “disagreed with the district court’s conclusion that no reasonable person could conclude that Sawant’s remarks concerned the individual officers but rather spoke to broader issues of police accountability.”
However, the panel judges denied Spaulding’s and Miller’s request to assign the case to another judge. Instead, it sent the officers’ lawsuit back to U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman, who previously dismissed it in December 2020.
Speaking to the Seattle Times in an interview published Monday, the officers’ attorney, Daniel Brown, said the plaintiffs are “very pleased” with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s ruling.
“They look forward to having their day in court and having Ms. Sawant finally answer to the claims asserted against her in this matter,” he told the paper.
Miller and Spaulding filed their lawsuit against Sawant—a member of the Socialist Alternative party—in 2017, saying her comments damaged their reputations.
Last year, the City of Seattle announced it would pay the family of Che Taylor, the man the two officers had shot in 2016, $1.5 million as part of a settlement. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg had declined to file criminal charges against Spaulding and Miller.
Amid the 2020 protests and riots in Seattle, Sawant drew criticism from Mayor Jenny Durkan, who asked the City Council to investigate the councilmember for “disorderly or otherwise contemptuous behavior,” saying she had participated in a march to Durkan’s home.
Months later, an individual submitted a petition to the King County Elections Office to recall Sawant, which was allowed to proceed after a Washington Supreme Court ruling in April 2021.
The Epoch Times has contacted Sawant’s office for comment.