The man fatally shot by a Seattle police officer in Sodo on Monday night was carrying a realistic “replica” handgun, interim Seattle Police Chief Harry Bailey said Wednesday.
But Officer Jason Atofau didn’t know that when he shot Andrew Law, 36, who later died from his wounds. Atofau and other officers were called to the Sodo area on a report of a man stumbling around waving a gun at a bus stop.
When officers arrived Law pointed the replica gun at them, and Atofau fired, police said.
It was the second shooting involving a Seattle officer in two days.
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Speaking at a news conference, Bailey held up photos of the replica gun held by Law and a
real handgun he said was pointed at officers in Belltown by a 27-year-old man in a separate incident early Sunday morning.
An officer also fired at that man, identified as Mohamed Abdi Jarato, who remains hospitalized.
Bailey, and later Seattle Police Officers’ Guild President Rich O’Neill, defended Atofau’s actions, saying that it would be tough for anyone to tell the difference between a real and replica handgun at night.
“It’s nearly impossible to ascertain in the seconds you have to determine whether the weapon is a real weapon or a toy weapon,” O’Neill said several hours after the news conference. “A reasonable mind would think he’s going to shoot the officer.”
“Both of these incidents were alcohol-related,” Bailey said during the news conference, noting that both men had been drinking before their encounters with police.
The two shootings are considered a testing ground for the department’s new use-of-force policy. The policy, among other things, calls for a representative from the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), the Police Department’s civilian-led internal-investigations unit, to be dispatched to the scene of every police shooting. The policy went into effect Jan. 1.
The policy, negotiated between the Police Department and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), was crafted in response to the findings of a 2011 DOJ investigation that concluded Seattle police resort to force too quickly and routinely use too much when they do. The DOJ also found disturbing but inconclusive evidence of biased policing.
Bailey emphasized the department’s push to be more transparent and said it is following the reform mandates.
The department’s Firearms Review Board will convene to determine whether Atofau and Detective Jon Huber, who was identified as the officer who shot the man in Belltown, used appropriate force.
The first shooting happened early Sunday, when officers were dispatched to a Belltown parking lot on a report of a fight.
When officers arrived they found a man pointing a gun at another man, said Assistant Police Chief Carmen Best. The suspect, Jarato, pointed the weapon at police before turning and running.
Officers told the man to put down his weapon; when he didn’t, Huber fired, police said. The man was struck in the buttocks, police said.
Bailey commended Huber for taking the appropriate action after having a gun pointed at him. He said Jarato is “an extremely lucky man” to be alive.
Around 9:40 on Monday night, officers were called to the Sodo neighborhood for a report of a man stumbling around waving a gun at a bus stop. When officers arrived Law pointed the phony gun at them, according to police.
Best said that before Law was shot, officers ordered him to put down his weapon.
Huber and Atofau are on paid administrative leave while the Seattle police investigate.
This was Atofau’s first officer-involved shooting and Huber’s third, police said.
Police did not release details of Huber’s other shootings. However, one of them involved a wanted felon who was fatally shot in North Seattle in January 2007. In that case, Robert Sullivan, 28, shot at Huber and Officer Troy Swanson, wounding Swanson.
The officers returned fire and killed Sullivan.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan