Report: City could spend up to $300K defending Kshama Sawant in defamation suits

by: KIRO 7 News Staff Updated:

SEATTLE - Some of Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant’s fiery and passionate rhetoric has resulted in two defamation suits. 

One lawsuit centers around her calling two police officers, who were never charged with a crime in a fatal shooting, “murderers.” And in the other lawsuit, a landlord claims the councilwoman called him a “notorious slumlord.” 

The city could spend about $300,000 in litigation costs if they decide to defend her, The Seattle Times reports

Per city charter, council president Bruce Harrell will be the one to recommend whether the city should defend Sawant, who is known for speaking at protests and leading progressive movements in the city. 

Council president Bruce Harrell, can recommend the city defend Sawant on the lawsuit, per city charter. Harrell told The Times he does not have any comment in the meantime.  

Here’s what we know about the two defamation lawsuits now. 

Sawant sued for defamation by Seattle police officers involved in shooting

Two Seattle police officers involved in a fatal shooting of a suspect last year in North Seattle filed a defamation lawsuit in September against Sawant, who they said referred to them as "murders in the case that did not bring criminal charges.

Scott Miller and Michael Spaulding shot Che Taylor, a repeat felon with a history of rape, on February 21, 2016. Officers who were conducting an undercover drug operation said Taylor was reaching for a gun and not complying with commands when they shot him.

The complaint, filed August 17 in King County Superior Court, states the officers “do not want one red cent of public money” and specifies that the complaint is against Sawant as an individual, not the city or city council.

An inquest jury concluded that officers Miller and Spaulding feared for their lives when they encountered Taylor, whom they knew as a convicted felon, and believed he was going for a gun.

But like many critics, Sawant sees the case differently.


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“Che Taylor was painted as a criminal, even though he was murdered by the police, even before any investigation results were released," Sawant said at a council briefing in January.
The officer's lawsuit claims Sawant also called Taylor's death a "brutal murder" and the product of "racial profiling."

That "constitutes defamation," the lawsuit says.

“Sawant continued defaming the officers, with particular emphasis immediately before their inquest hearing, and does so even to this day – despite the officers having been cleared by an impartial jury,” the complaint states.

“Che Taylor was painted as a criminal, even though he was murdered by the police, even before any investigation results were released," Sawant said at a council briefing in January.
The officer's lawsuit claims Sawant also called Taylor's death a "brutal murder" and the product of "racial profiling."

That "constitutes defamation" the lawsuit says.

“Sawant continued defaming the officers, with particular emphasis immediately before their inquest hearing, and does so even to this day – despite the officers having been cleared by an impartial jury,” the complaint states.

Landlord sues Sawant after rent-related law passed 

A Seattle man who filed a $25 million defamation lawsuit against the Seattle City Council plans to file a separate lawsuit against Councilmember Kshama Sawant, his attorney told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson in August.

The man, Carl Haglund, became the center of a high-profile argument for tenant rights after he raised the rent at his 13-room apartment building by hundreds of dollars. Haglund was accused of curtailing tenant relocation assistance from the property, which was in dire need of repairs. 

After city inspectors found the building was in violation of more than 200 housing code regulations, Sawant introduced a law prohibiting landlords from raising rents for buildings that do not meet basic maintenance standards. The council unanimously passed the legislation in June 2016.

“The city council has the responsibility to make every legal avenue possible for tenants to defend their rights,” Councilmember Sawant said at the time.

“This really is the Carl Haglund law.”

Brad Andersen, who represents Carl Haglund, said Haglund is a private citizen who did not ask to be a part of the legislation and is being painted as a villain. Haglund gave 60 days’ notice of the rent hike, and Andersen noted the building passed a previous inspection. Andersen believes his client’s privacy rights have been violated both by the council and by Sawant.

“The fact is that every private citizen has a right to their name, their identity,” Andersen said.

“It’s a privacy right. And Carl Haglund is a private person. He’s in the real estate business, and he has a right to continue to be a private person. But the reason we are bringing the claim against the city is because the city has chosen to use Carl Haglund, and refer to him as the ‘notorious slumlord,’ which we don’t agree with. But they’re using his identity to pursue their own agenda without his consent.”

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