Seattle Police Shooting Likely Will Be Ruled Justified

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

dash-cam-spd-shooting-20150717On July 17th of this year a Seattle Police Officer used deadly force resulting in the death of man sought in an earlier felonious assault against another officer. It is the opinion of your author that this shooting will be held to be a justified use of force based on the circumstances made available to the public at this stage. It shows both an example of what constitutes a “Justifiable Homicide” by state law and how little time officers often have to make such decisions on its use.

Events leading to the shooting began at 03:55 AM with the suspect allegedly intentionally ramming a patrol car travelling southbound on Interstate Five, causing the officer inside to lose control and crash. The offending driver left the scene. The officer suffered minor injuries and was taken to hospital.

Investigators identified the suspect vehicle as a gray Mazda based upon debris and other evidence at the scene.

Based upon the SPD supplied dash-camera video some events are as follows:

At 04:37 a patrol unit discovered a possible matching vehicle parked in the 6500 block of Ravenna—a street about one mile from I-5.

04:38:08 Officer calls radio to advise he is out with a gray Mazda having a Washington license plate. It has passenger front end damage (from a collision).

04:38:51 Officer exits patrol car

04:38:53: Officer makes verbal contact with suspect, stating in a calm manner, “Morning, Officer [inaudible] Seattle Police Department. You are being audio and video recorded… Over there. [a statement directing the suspect to move to another location]” He finishes this statement at 04:38:56.

Less than one second after telling the suspect to move, the officer can be seen on the video reacting to something and begin to run to his right. He grasps his holstered pistol with his right hand to begin drawing. His left hand appears to be holding a flashlight. He continues to retreat away from the suspect and at the same time orders the suspect to “drop the knife.” The suspect holds what reportedly is a large knife in his right hand in an aggressive manner–held high consistent with an attack. He bears down on the officer. The officer continues to put distance between himself and the attacker who continues to rush the officer.

At approximately 04:38:59 the first shot is fired, two more shots continue in quick succession. The suspect drops to the street during which time the officer again orders “drop the knife”. Distances observed appear to be about ten feet.

The suspect died of his wounds at the scene. Police later identified him as twenty-seven-year-old Samuel Smith.

Here is a video release of both the collision on Interstate Five and the subsequent contact with Mr. Smith.

Analysis

From the information presented by Seattle Police Department through the news media your author has the following observations.

At the beginning of the case Suspect Smith committed what officers believe to be an intentional attack against another police officer. In Washington State, the use of a vehicle to unlawfully cause injury to another is considered a felony assault. Any criminal assault against a police officer is at least Assault in the Third Degree, a class C felony.

The shooting officer found a vehicle matching a description of the vehicle used in the assault on Interstate Five. He stated during his initial observation of the Mazda had front end damage on the passenger side. Front end damage would be consistent with the collision on I-5.

Seeing a person near this vehicle, the officer will have reasonable suspicion to detain that person for investigation of the crime occurring on I-5. During this time the officer may order an individual to move to a particular location and could exercise caution due to the possibility the detained might assault the officer as is the case with the previous incident.

The officer, evidenced by verbal statements and intonations, does not appear to be threatening Smith upon his initial contact, that is, prior to the attack upon the officer.

It is about one second after the officer completes his lawful order for Smith to move that Smith begins his assault against the officer. The officer’s speech changes immediately to that of heightened orders and are consistent with that of an officer being attacked. This causes the officer to retreat and at the same time begin drawing his firearm.

Once in view of the dash-camera, the suspect is holding out in his right hand what is later identified to be a large knife having a ten inch long blade. This type of weapon is intrinsically a deadly weapon when used against another person. The length and construction of such is sufficient to cease great bodily harm which under RCW 9A.04.110(c) is defined as:

“Great bodily harm” means bodily injury which creates a probability of death, or which causes significant serious permanent disfigurement, or which causes a significant permanent loss or impairment of the function of any bodily part or organ.

RCW 9A.04.110(6) by definition shows the knife, as well as the vehicle, to be a Deadly Weapon:

“Deadly weapon” means any explosive or loaded or unloaded firearm, and shall include any other weapon, device, instrument, article, or substance, including a “vehicle” as defined in this section, which, under the circumstances in which it is used, attempted to be used, or threatened to be used, is readily capable of causing death or substantial bodily harm.

Evidence Photo of Knife Reportedly Used
Evidence Photo of Knife Reportedly Used

Here the shooting officer ordered the Smith to drop the knife. Smith did not do so and advanced on the officer in a manner consistent with an attack. It is reasonable to assume that given these immediate circumstances the officer would have a fear for his life as would any other person in the same situation.

The officer fired three shots in quick succession. Once the shots were fired the suspect dropped to the ground, ceasing at that time, according to the video shown, to threaten the officer. The officer did not continue firing at the suspect.

The use of the three shots is reasonable. Shots to a human are not always immediately incapacitating. In fact it is not uncommon for suspects to be hit with more shots than this and continue to commit furtive acts. Officers are trained, under many scenarios, to fire double-taps (two shots in succession) or under some training methods and schools of thought are to fire a double-tap to the center mass of the torso and one shot to the head per volley and repeat if not incapacitating. There also exists the possibility of the officer missing some of the shots.

Another issue to be examined is if other reasonable alternative to the use of deadly force appeared to exist in the mind of the officer at the time of the shooting.

The officer had a flashlight in his left hand. If the officer was to incorporate this flashlight, an ASP collapsible baton, or a Taser into his defense he very likely would have been unsuccessful with the latter two requiring him to engage in hand-to-hand combat with Smith in which the officer would be defending himself with non-lethal instruments against a deadly weapon. A Taser, being a less-than-lethal tool is not indicated for hand-to-hand or short distance defense against a deadly weapon due to the possibility of a failure to effectively impact the darts and incapacitate the offender. Because of this standard training made to law enforcement officers is to not use a Taser in a deadly force situation. It is unknown to your author if the officer was equipped with these tools but even if so they would have not been a safe choice for the officer in the assault against him.

There is also a statutory legal standard for which the officer’s actions may be justified in committing this homicide.

RCW 9A.16.040 codifies how a law enforcement officer, or person acting under his direction, may cause a “justifiable homicide” against another person.

(1) Homicide or the use of deadly force is justifiable in the following cases:

(a) When a public officer is acting in obedience to the judgment of a competent court; or

(b) When necessarily used by a peace officer to overcome actual resistance to the execution of the legal process, mandate, or order of a court or officer, or in the discharge of a legal duty.

(c) When necessarily used by a peace officer or person acting under the officer’s command and in the officer’s aid:

(i) To arrest or apprehend a person who the officer reasonably believes has committed, has attempted to commit, is committing, or is attempting to commit a felony;

(ii) To prevent the escape of a person from a federal or state correctional facility or in retaking a person who escapes from such a facility; or

(iii) To prevent the escape of a person from a county or city jail or holding facility if the person has been arrested for, charged with, or convicted of a felony; or

(iv) To lawfully suppress a riot if the actor or another participant is armed with a deadly weapon.

(2) In considering whether to use deadly force under subsection (1)(c) of this section, to arrest or apprehend any person for the commission of any crime, the peace officer must have probable cause to believe that the suspect, if not apprehended, poses a threat of serious physical harm to the officer or a threat of serious physical harm to others. Among the circumstances which may be considered by peace officers as a “threat of serious physical harm” are the following:

(a) The suspect threatens a peace officer with a weapon or displays a weapon in a manner that could reasonably be construed as threatening; or

(b) There is probable cause to believe that the suspect has committed any crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm.

Under these circumstances deadly force may also be used if necessary to prevent escape from the officer, where, if feasible, some warning is given.

(3) A public officer or peace officer shall not be held criminally liable for using deadly force without malice and with a good faith belief that such act is justifiable pursuant to this section.

(4) This section shall not be construed as:

(a) Affecting the permissible use of force by a person acting under the authority of RCW 9A.16.020 or 9A.16.050; or

(b) Preventing a law enforcement agency from adopting standards pertaining to its use of deadly force that are more restrictive than this section.

It could be argued that the officer did not know for certain that Smith was in fact the person who assaulted the officer on I-5 (your author does not have this information). We will then look at another section of the RCW that is applicable.

The officer is exercising a lawful duty and upon the assault by Smith against him he will, according to what is observed in the video, have probable cause to make an arrest against Smith for a felony assault against him.

In addressing section (2) having seen that Smith could have at least likely, in the mind of the officer at the time based upon his search for the driver of the I-5 crash, made a reasonable conclusion that had Smith escaped, he can show a propensity to commit another assault against other officers, especially in light of the clear and present assault against this officer. Had Smith successfully fled the area there is a dangerous possibility that further harm could have been inflicted against other officers or members of the public.

With regard to the Warning under section (2), the shooting officer ordered Smith to drop the knife.

Outside the statutory provisions of RCW 9A.16.040, there would also be a common law provision of self-defense in the ordinary manner.

It should also be noted for the purpose of the use of force, the standard is the “amount of force necessary to overcome resistance.” It does not mean that the officer must only match the level of force threatening them, but is authorized to reasonably use greater amounts of force than that used against him.

While the facts presented by the Seattle Police certainly do not constitute the entirety of those that will be presented in the final report, given the totality of the circumstances the shooting will most likely be held to be justified.

By Darren Smith

Sources:

Seattle Police Department
KOMO News

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

88 thoughts on “Seattle Police Shooting Likely Will Be Ruled Justified”

  1. Off Topic, I. Annie, I recently watched a 2 hour documentary, on the Nat Geo channel, about USAF para medics (PJ’s) and what they endured in dealing with trauma defies what I could do, by far. My rage would be unmanageable. As you know I revere all medics, corpsmen (& women), and PJ’s who see the ugliest aspects of battle. I do not know how your daughter can do it, but she does, which makes her a notch or two above most of the rest of us.

    Sorry all for that minor interruption.

  2. I. Annie … I may have misunderstood your point & question, if so I apologize. I doubt Darren’s opinion of your citation would be different than mine, repeated below.

    Any time a suspect is shot in the back requires detailed investigation, perhaps by a 3rd party organization if local analysis is suspect…there are a few instances where where it is justified, but those require a serious assessment that the suspect fleeing is a danger to the community at large (for example, the recent non-fatal shooting of Mr Sweat, a known killer, of the NY prison break)…or a clearly perceived murderer who has killed someone just before and is running away to avoid capture.

    I have several police friends, now most retired, who have been through such investigations successfully, but they are really good cops…one rising to Deputy Chief of Detroit PD in an era where a tough Irish white guy usually won’t be considered (the 70’s – 90’s in Detroit)…he’s likely the best officer I’ve ever known and I’d trust him implicitly…he was always the calm but deliberate one even in gun fights. Oddly in the era of very liberal black mayors and prosecutors, he was the one always selected to make announcements and public relations efforts…because he was that good and trusted by all sides, black or white. During his rise to the top he was appointed head of Internal Affairs as well, which here covers both police and city officials…all considered that was something that surprised all of us given those days and times. We see each other infrequently now, usually at funerals for other officers, since he moved to Arizona to be away from here…but we keep in touch regularly by email or phone. I value his insights and answers when I have a question. Mayor Coleman Young of 1974+ did as well….and if you know of Coleman Young’s history, that was a real accomplishment, given he revealed considerable corruption in the city official offices. Yet & still he was next appointed Deputy Chief.

  3. IMHO, This is not even close to a close call. Officer was more than justified. This officer should get nothing but praise and an award or two for his actions. He took a criminal off the streets and the public is safer for it. Frankly, though it sounds callous, he also saved the taxpayers a lot of money by killing the guy. Job well done.

    Put a citizen in the officer’s shoes and he/she too would be justified in shooting this guy. No question.

    While Darren’s analysis is thorough, it would be much more interesting in a closer call situation.

  4. Aridog, I’m offering no comparison at all. I am asking Darren’s opinion on the shooting I linked to. Don’t read something into my posting that’s not there.

  5. I. Annie … you pose a straw man comparison, since the man in your scenario was NOT moving toward the officer….as witnessed by the shots to the back. That circumstance certainly requires investigation. Face to face with an oncoming assailant is an entirely different matter. As I said above, this officer in Darren’s citation defied the Tueller Drill specifications by reacting with success inside of 10 feet. I will grant you that some experience in combat helps inform one and I grant you that you’ve not had that, so it might sound similar, but it is not. A non-sequitur at best.

  6. This officer was very fortunate to be able to drop a man moving toward him with a big knife….at a distance of a mere 10 feet. The Tueller Drill designed to calculate the distance required to fend off such an attack is 21 feet for people in youth to middle age. At my age of 72 the last time I took that drill the distance for safe response has expanded to 30 feet or so. One must know their limitations and this officer had one very fortunate response.

  7. Reviewed the video a few times. That cop would have gotten neck, upper chest injury or head chopped off.

    Saw an up close knife fight. Nice Eskimo guy gets drunk on Ft. Bragg, NC EM club. He’s 82nd airborne and picks fight with visiting 100 1st airborne guy.
    It took 10 MP’s to put him down, but they didn’t shoot……It was a close call.

  8. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/08/06/an-unarmed-white-teen-was-shot-dead-by-police-his-family-asks-where-is-the-outrage/

    White young man shot in back and killed by police according to reports.

    “Zachary Hammond was on a first date when he was fatally shot by a police officer in his car during a drug bust in South Carolina, his family says.

    Morton, 23, was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana — all 10 grams of it — which, according to police, was the reason undercover agents set up the drug buy.

    The official police report never mentioned the two gunshots that killed Hammond on July 26 in a Hardees parking lot. Seneca police say a second report — which has not been released to the public — details the officer’s account of the shooting.

    On Wednesday, Hammond’s family released the results of a private autopsy, which concluded that both bullets entered Hammond’s body from the back. According to the autopsy, the second bullet proved to be fatal, entering from the back of Hammond’s left side and passing through his chest, piercing his lungs and heart.”

    ****************
    I’d be interested in hearing Darren’s view on this shooting if he is so inclined.

  9. The bigger problem of course is that a long history of persecution/discrimination has influenced the responses of the black population to police.

    This guy who was attacking the police appears to be white. What is your excuse for HIM?

    Good summation Darren. 10 seconds from an initial contact to attacking the policeman. The amount of time need to make a life or death decision is incredibly small.

    That the entire thing was videoed and has audio would seem to diminish the claims of police misconduct or brutality or racism by people like Fiver. Would seem. But it doesn’t because the narrative is too strong to give up when faced with facts.

  10. Very thorough analysis. I’d be interested in similar such analyses from you in other high profile shootings. While I personally am often critical of police shootings which do not seem truly necessary to me, I very much appreciate the insight of an experienced police officer whose opinion I always value, even if I do not always agree with, such as yours.

  11. While not questioning any specific action, I wonder if police officers are no longer equipped with batons and/or are not trained in using them in self defense for non-firearm situations. I’ve read where two or three officers were attacked by one man with a knife and a “justified shooting” resulted.

    It used to be that police officers drew their weapons only when threatened by a firearm. If threatened by a knife they felt they should be able to disarm the attacker by superior training and use of a baton. Now they immediately pull a gun and shoot the guy dead. All of which is easy for me to say, not being a policeman, but…

    Many years ago, in the 1060’s, I was visiting with a guy who had moved here from Poland. I asked him what most impressed him about America and he replied, “You don’t have to be afraid of the police.” I’m not sure he would say that today.

  12. There doesn’t seem to be much that is questionable about this situation. The bigger problem of course is that a long history of persecution/discrimination has influenced the responses of the black population to police. Hiring as policemen those who have been taught, paid, and glorified in the military for terrorizing others, is the second major problem.

  13. “Black lives matter.” This guy looks Anglo. So what’s the problem?

  14. From the information presented by Seattle Police Department through the news media….

    That’s a major problem here. You simply can’t trust the Seattle Police Department (or anyone else, for that matter) to objectively investigate itself.

    When the Gambino’s investigate John Gotti and proudly exonerate him, nobody is surprised. We just wonder why the Gambinos were doing the investigation in the first place.

  15. Good column. On a somewhat related issue, I wonder if there is a “typical” or “average” time frame for determinations of justifiable deadly force by police.
    Specifically, there was a fatal shooting of a Mexican national in Pasco, WA. 6 months ago. The short cell phone video that went viral at the time shows only the last c.15 second of the confrontation.
    I happen to be familiar with that area of Pasco, I watched coverage of the incident and subsequent demonstrations…….then, no news at all for months.
    So I can’t tell if the media just”dropped” the story, or if the investigations are just dragging on and on.
    The reporting indicated that the guy killed had been in the country as an illegal alien for ten years, and that he had a previous conviction, and served a six month sentence for assaulting a police officer.
    No reports that I saw dealt with the issue of whether PASCO is a sanctuary city, whether a felony conviction should result in deportation of an illegal alien, etc.
    Those issues/questions seemed to be beyond the scope and capabilities of the “journalists” who “covered” this story.
    If Darren or any others have an updates to/insight into this story, I’d be interested . ….I don’t count on the media providing any real, comprehensive coverage.

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