The three Bellevue police officers involved in the March 22 shooting death of Russell Smith were warranted in their use of deadly force, an inquest jury concluded Thursday.
Smith, 51, an armed-robbery suspect, was fatally shot by Bellevue SWAT officers in Columbia City after he attempted to run down officers with his car, police said. He was in his car at his brother’s house near South Hudson Street and 42nd Avenue South around 5 a.m. when officers arrived to serve a warrant. When officers approached the residence they noticed Smith in the driver’s seat of a Mercedes-Benz parked in the driveway.
Smith saw the officers, according to a Seattle Police Department news release issued after the incident, then put the car in reverse and backed up, striking a pickup and pushing it several yards into the street.
Bellevue officers gave numerous commands for the suspect to stop, but Smith switched the car into drive and stepped on the gas. Three Bellevue officers fired their weapons. The officers were afraid Smith would run them over, police said.
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Smith was pronounced dead later that morning at Harborview Medical Center.
The three officers were justified in their use of deadly force, the six-member jury concluded after a three-day inquest convened by King County. In a statement issued Thursday after the verdict, the Bellevue Police Department called Smith a “dangerous felon.”
“Instead of complying with police commands and surrendering, he tried to use his car as a deadly weapon against the officers,” the statement said. “Mr. Smith was shot as a result of his own decisions.”
The jury found that the three officers had reason to believe Smith presented an “imminent threat of death or bodily injury to himself or others” when they shot at him. The six members were unsure, however, of whether Smith would have known the people surrounding the car were SWAT officers.
That the jury was unsure raises a “significant policy question,” Smith’s family attorney Fred Diamondstone said.
“I believe that that type of an assault on a vehicle would provoke a flight-or-fight type of gut-level reaction,” Diamondstone said. “Mr. Smith’s reaction was to put his car in reverse and try to get out of there.”
Bellevue Police Chief Linda Pillo has ordered a Firearms Review Board to convene and determine if the officers’ actions followed department policy. The board is scheduled to meet early next week.
Paige Cornwell: 206-464-2530 or firstname.lastname@example.org