Politics & Government

Orting councilman under investigation after forwarding racially charged email

The city of Orting is investigating a mass email sent by a longtime City Council member and former mayor, after a black police officer complained about its content, which the city condemned as “offensive and deplorable.”

Councilman Guy “Sam” Colorossi told The News Tribune he didn’t intend to offend anyone with the email and was passing it along for informational purposes.

Colorossi, who lost his bid for re-election by three votes last month, sent the message to Police Department staff and fellow council members Nov. 30.

It included a link to a video titled “Dear White Cops: Do Not Put Your Lives & Careers On The Line Policing Savage Negros (sic).”

This was an inappropriate email from Councilmember Colorossi and should never have been sent.

Mayor Joachim Pestinger, in a response to Colorossi’s email.

In the 14-minute video, controversial YouTube personality Tommy “TJ” Sotomayor encourages white officers to avoid policing black communities. Using racially charged language, Sotomayor alludes to recent well-documented incidents in which white police officers have been held accountable after clashing with black citizens in communities around the country.

Sotomayor, a black man, has faced Internet backlash for his views on black mothers and gay men, among other topics.

Colorossi wrote in his email that he was “thunderstruck” by the message in the video.

“A lot of what he has to say is true,” the councilman wrote. “I hope I never see the day when anyone of our officers have to deal with unruly citizens as described in this video. It’s shocking.”

The email prompted immediate response from Orting Mayor Joachim Pestinger and Police Chief Bill Drake. Both officials emailed staff urging them not to open the message or watch the attached video.

“This was an inappropriate email from Councilmember Colorossi and should never have been sent,” Pestinger wrote in his response.

I don’t have racism in my heart.

Councilman Guy “Sam” Colorossi

The incident comes five months after a former police officer filed a $5 million civil rights lawsuit against the city, alleging he was the victim of racial discrimination, retaliation and defamation.

City Administrator Mark Bethune said the city is seeking an outside investigation into Colorossi’s email, which prompted a complaint from the city’s only black officer.

Although Colorossi is on his way out of office at the end of the year, Bethune said city officials still felt the incident required a strong response.

“The City of Orting condemns in the strongest possible terms the offensive and deplorable messages conveyed” in the video, according to a formal statement. “The City of Orting does not tolerate discrimination of any sort, including that endorsed by Mr. Colorossi and promoted in the video attached to his email.”

Although Pestinger said the email was “offensive and inappropriate,” the mayor stopped short of saying it perpetuated racism.

“I don’t believe that was the intent, but it could’ve been the result,” Pestinger told The News Tribune on Monday. “Therefore, we’re totally against it.”

Pestinger, who supported Colorossi’s opponent in last month’s general election, acknowledged that the longtime councilman has had a positive impact on the community.

Colorossi will depart in a few weeks after more than 50 years in Orting public office, including two stints as mayor (1967-1974 and 1990-2001). In an election that culminated with a hand recount, challenger Nicola McDonald defeated Colorossi for his Position 5 seat by three votes — 665 to 662.

“He’s done good things for the city,” Pestinger said. “I have a lot of respect for the good things he’s done.”

But it was time for a change, Pestinger noted.

Colorossi said Monday that he doesn’t think the video in his email was racist.

“It was information,” he said. “I did not mean to offend anybody.”

Colorossi said he’s concerned about the risks police officers are facing elsewhere in the country, but stopped short of identifying any specifics.

“I don’t want our Police Department to go into any neighborhood and become a victim,” Colorossi said.

The departing councilman noted that he didn’t watch the full video. He added that it was sent to him by a constituent and that he “didn’t go looking for it.”

“I don’t have racism in my heart,” Colorossi said.

Kari Plog: 253-597-8682, @KariPlog

See the video for yourself

Go online to youtube.com/watch?v=rNxbmyEVlXg. Warning: The video includes racially charged language, including expletives and other content that viewers may find offensive.