A Seattle police officer shot a 13-year-old twice in the leg early Sunday, and police said he had mistaken the boy's cellphone for a weapon...



A Seattle police officer shot a 13-year-old twice in the leg early Sunday, and police said he had mistaken the boy’s cellphone for a weapon.

The boy was in satisfactory condition at Harborview Medical Center on Sunday evening, hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg-Hanson said.

The officer was on routine patrol near the 2500 block of East Yesler Way around 3 a.m. when he saw two people acting suspiciously, Seattle police said.

The two people ran when they spotted the officer, and he chased them in his car south to South Washington Street and 26th Avenue South.

There, the officer shined a spotlight on them and ordered them to put their hands up, police said.

One suspect, a 14-year-old, complied. But the other acted “very agitated” and didn’t listen to the officer, who repeated his orders several times, said John Diaz, deputy chief of operations for the Seattle police.

According to police, the 13-year-old took off a large jacket and threw it on the ground, then lifted up his T-shirt, reached into a pocket and pulled out a black object. The boy was moving toward the officer, Seattle spokeswoman Deanna Nollette said. The officer, who had his gun drawn, believed the object was a weapon and shot twice, police said.

The boy was wounded once in the lower leg and once in the upper leg, Diaz said. The black object was later found to be a cellphone in a black case.

Police described the teen’s injuries as non-life-threatening. The department did not release the name of either boy, saying it was standard policy not to disclose a juvenile’s identity.

The 14-year-old told police that the teens were “tagging” and crossing out other graffiti tags that night, but they did not have paint with them, police said. The boys likely will not face charges, and both were released to their parents’ custody. Police don’t believe they have criminal records.

The officer, a three-year veteran of the force assigned to the East Precinct, was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation by the shooting-review board. Administrative leaves are routine after officer-involved shootings. Police said the officer has no prior shootings on his record.

“It is a tragic situation, tragic for the officer, tragic for the family and tragic for the kids,” Diaz said.

The 13-year-old’s parents are “understandably angry” about the situation, Diaz said, and the Police Department has offered the families victim support.

“We are very thankful he [the boy] wasn’t hurt more seriously,” Diaz said.

In the past, some community members have expressed concern that police were unfairly targeting minorities in the Central District. The issue came to a head in the 2001 death of Aaron Roberts, an African American shot by a white officer. The death triggered protest marches and calls for the officer’s firing.

In Sunday’s shooting, the officer was white. The wounded teen was part Asian and part white, police said; the other boy was white.

When the shooting occurred, Michael Ybarra was in his house across the street, still awake after going out with his wife for a late movie and dinner, he said. The 44-year-old heard gunfire and “everybody hit the floor,” he said. He said he then heard a voice command, “Stay down.”

Ybarra, who has lived in the house since 1989, said he glimpsed the boy as he was moved in a stretcher, and didn’t recognize him.

“I feel real bad for those kids,” he said. But he noted they were out in the middle of the night. “They put themselves in that situation.”

Officers are trained to try to keep situations from escalating, and an encounter with two teens in the middle of the night might have resolved itself fairly quickly, said Dr. Norman Mar, a Seattle psychologist and consultant to law enforcement.

But if someone flees, fails to respond to commands and reaches into his waistband for something, an officer is faced with the possibility that person is armed and poses a danger, Mar said.

“If there are basic no-nos that we should teach our children, it’s if you’re confronted by a law officer, never reach into your waistband,” said Mar, who was not involved in this case as a psychologist.

Officers are trained to shoot at the center of the body. Nollette said the officer may have squeezed the trigger too fast and shot low, or shot at the perceived threat, the cellphone.

Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150 or ntsong@seattletimes.com