The family of a man killed by Seattle police is calling for a federal investigation of the shooting. They also want to overturn a state law that makes it difficult to prosecute police officers who use unjustified deadly force.
The family of a man killed by Seattle police in February is calling for an investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice, claiming new evidence supports their suspicions that the gun found in the car where Che Taylor was killed was planted by police.
They were joined at a raucous news conference Wednesday at Seattle City Hall by relatives of several others who have been shot and killed by police to announce a coalition to push an initiative that would change state law and make it easier to criminally prosecute police officers who kill in the line of duty.
That law was the focus of a Seattle Times special project, “Shielded by the Law,” which examined 213 police killings statewide, and use-of-force statutes around the country. The investigation concluded Washington has the most restrictive statute governing police use of deadly force in the U.S., and requires a prosecutor to prove malice and a lack of good faith by the officer in order to charge.
Initiative 873 is named the “John T. Williams Bill” in memory of the First Nations woodcarver killed by a Seattle police officer in 2011 while carrying a pocketknife. The officer, Ian Birk, resigned and was never prosecuted, with King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg saying Washington’s law stood in his way.
Prosecutors have been ambivalent about any need to change the law, and police have opposed it. A bill that would have included much of the same language as Wednesday’s announced initiative was diverted for study at the state Legislature in the face of stiff opposition by police.
The group said it must gather roughly 250,000 signatures by Dec. 30 to place the initiative on the ballot. The coalition claims widespread support from communities from Pasco, where officers shot and killed Antonio Zambrano-Montes in February 2015 for throwing rocks, to Olympia, where two black men were shot by a white officer after he said they assaulted him with a skateboard.
Lisa Hayes, an organizer and activist who drafted the initiative language, said she does not expect difficulty gathering the needed signatures considering the depth of concern in communities of color about police bias and the belief that officers cannot be held accountable.
In the three decades since the law was passed, only one police officer has been criminally charged in state courts with the illegal use of deadly force on the job. In that case, former Everett police Officer Troy Meade was acquitted of second-degree murder in 2010.
If the initiative is successful, Hayes said, the group will look at implementing broader police reforms — such as independent civilian investigations of allegations of police misconduct — through the initiative process.
“This is a movement built on heartache,” said James Bible, a Seattle lawyer who said he will be representing the Taylor family at an inquest into the shooting.
Andrè Taylor, the brother of Che Taylor, used the news conference to sharpen his family’s criticism of police. A Seattle Times story revealing that a .45-caliber handgun reportedly found in the car Taylor had been sitting in was first purchased by a former King County sheriff’s deputy “only deepens my suspicions” that the gun was planted by police, he said.
Neither Taylor nor Bible would say they had uncovered any connection between the ex-deputy and the officers involved in shooting Taylor.
The handgun allegedly carried by Taylor when he was fatally shot by police Feb. 21 appears to have been originally purchased by former deputy Daniel J. Murphy in 2013, according to Seattle police records and law-enforcement officials.
Murphy was fired by the Sheriff’s Office last year as a result of an unrelated domestic dispute. He has strongly disputed the claim, saying through an attorney he is the victim of mistaken identity.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is investigating how a gun apparently purchased by the onetime law-enforcement officer ended up in the hands of Taylor, a felon prohibited from owning a firearm.
The Sheriff’s Office has also opened an internal investigation into the matter.
Taylor, 46, was shot during a confrontation in Northeast Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood, captured on a patrol-car video.
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The two officers who fired the shots told investigators they feared for their lives when they saw Taylor reach toward what they believed was a handgun in a holster, according to police records.
The two officers, Michael Spaulding and Scott Miller, in recorded statements, said that shortly before the confrontation, they had seen Taylor carrying the handgun in the holster while they were conducting surveillance on the home of another man suspected of narcotics dealing.
They moved to arrest Taylor after he got out of a parked car occupied by a woman and a man. Taylor was shot at close range as he stood by the car.
Detectives with a warrant later recovered the loaded Springfield Armory XDS .45-caliber pistol from the floorboard of the car after it was impounded, according to police.