Activists behind Seattle council member Kshama Sawant are urging the city not to settle a claim of damages filed by the cops who killed Che Taylor.
Two Seattle police officers, Scott Miller and Michael Spaulding, in February filed a damages claim with the city shortly after they dropped a defamation lawsuit against Sawant.
Now, the Office of Risk Management Services has until Tuesday to decide whether to settle. And activists—which included Nikkita Oliver, Democratic Socialists of America's Shaun Scott, De-Escalate Washington's Andre Taylor, and Socialists Alternative members—said the claim was an attempt to chill free speech in a court of public opinion.
"I fear that I'm next. I fear that the average citizen is next," said Andre Taylor, the brother of Che Taylor, a black 46-year-old man killed by police in 2016. "We cannot afford for Seattle to cave into the demands of police officers' hurt feelings."
Back in August, the two police officers sued Sawant alleging defamation for accusing them of "brutal murder" and "racial profiling" at a press conference following Che Taylor's death in 2016. (First Amendment lawyers had told media that such defamation cases are notoriously difficult to win.) By January, they dropped the lawsuit.
“I think it would be naïve to think that the public right now is not heavily focused on the use of force and racial profiling,” Seattle First Amendment lawyer Michelle Earl-Hubbard told PubliCola months earlier, and said the court would understand the chilling effect it could have on not only elected officials' free speech but potential candidates running for office.
On February 2, after filing the claim, attorney Dan Brown representing the officers instead sent a letter to council president Bruce Harrell asking for a quiet mediation to resolve "what would otherwise be a very public and costly dispute." The claim didn't specify an amount.
If the city doesn't settle the claim, the officers could then file another lawsuit. Brown's letter had asked the city to respond within two weeks; Finance and Administrative Services and Brown didn't respond to a request for comment Wednesday.