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Excessive force, racial bias lawsuit against Tacoma police will end with $300K settlement

Tacoma Police and other law enforcement vehicles are shown near the site of a car crash in downtown Tacoma, Wash.
Ted S. Warren
The city of Tacoma has agreed to settle a federal lawsuit from a Black man who alleges police officers used excessive force and discriminated against him while searching for a suspect four years ago.

The city of Tacoma has agreed to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit from a Black man who alleged police officers used excessive force and discriminated against him while searching for a suspect four years ago.

In July 2020, Tacoma officers were searching Wright Park after a 911 caller reported that two men had threatened someone with weapons, according to court papers. One man was white and armed with a gun. The other was Black and had a knife.

That's when Zimmeri Contreraz said police singled him out while sitting alone at a picnic table and detained him, telling him he matched the description of the "buff" Black suspect.

While seated and talking with police, Contreraz alleged one officer, Christopher Bain, suddenly yanked him backward by his handcuffs, slamming his head onto the table behind him. Court papers show Bain claimed the force was necessary because Contreraz stood up and took a step toward the other officers.

The Tacoma officers eventually released Contreraz after talking with other people in the area and realizing he was not one of their suspects, according to the lawsuit. Contreraz also wore different-colored clothing from the suspect description and had on a backward ball cap, not a do-rag.

Contreraz said two witnesses waited with him to complain to Bain's supervisor, but he never heard back from the department.

Tacoma’s City Council is scheduled to formally approve a $300,000 settlement with Contreraz next week. Court papers show he previously settled public records violation claims with Pierce County's 911 dispatch center for an additional $50,000. A federal judge sanctioned the city for delaying the release of some public records for more than a year.

The city of Tacoma declined to comment on the settlement, saying the lawsuit was still active. A Tacoma Police Department spokesperson told KNKX that Bain, the accused officer, remains on the force and could not immediately answer whether he faced discipline.

Meanwhile, the city of Tacoma continues to fight a multimillion-dollar federal civil rights lawsuit from the family of Manny Ellis, a Black man who died in police custody in March 2020, a few months before Contreraz's encounter with Tacoma officers.

Attorneys representing the officers acquitted of killing Ellis—Matthew Collins, Christopher "Shane" Burbank and Timothy Rankine—have asked to pause proceedings until the Department of Justice completes its review of the state Attorney General's criminal investigation for federal civil rights violations.

After more than three years of paid leave, the city of Tacoma paid each officer $500,000 to resign when the police chief cleared them of wrongdoing under old policies in January.

Ellis' family previously settled claims against the Pierce County Sheriff's Department for $4 million in 2022.

Produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

Jared Brown is a Tacoma-based reporter for KNKX covering the intersections of policing, courts and power with a focus on accountability and solutions. He is currently a Poynter Media and Journalism Fellow. You can email him at