A juror says unanswered questions made deliberations difficult and limited the jury’s ability to accurately answer questions on why police shot and killed Che Taylor.
ON Feb. 21, 2016, Che Taylor was killed by two Seattle police officers. Almost one year after his death, seven fellow jurors and I were tasked with answering 55 questions regarding events that led to Taylor’s death. I had no idea how much this would affect my life.
As a white woman, I lead a privileged life. I own a business, I have a house, two dogs, a car and enough to pay my bills and take a vacation once a year. My business is in Rainier Beach, one of the most culture-rich and diverse neighborhoods in Seattle. I have daily contact and close relationships with many black, Muslim, Asian and Hispanic families, so I’m keenly aware of the numbers of black people who have been killed by police officers. I have seen firsthand the hate and racism that still exist in our community, city and state.
When selected for the jury, I took immediate notice that of the eight jury members, none of us were black. Similar to the circumstances surrounding Taylor’s tragic death, it felt, again, like he and his family were at an extreme disadvantage.
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Since the inquest, I’ve had a lot of time to review the details of the case and reflect on my own experience and opinions. Something specific stands out for me. At the end of each witness’ testimony, the jurors had the opportunity to submit questions for the witness to the judge. Many of our questions focused on Seattle Police Department policies and procedures. However, it seemed that most policy or training questions we asked were excluded by the judge, leaving us in the dark about a topic we felt was very relevant.
Seattle Police Department policies and procedures were never introduced during the inquest. In fact, it seemed to be off-limits completely, and none of us understood why. The jury was left with many unanswered questions. When are police officers trained to use lethal force? Do they receive training in how to diffuse situations? When is it appropriate for police officers to use a shotgun, as opposed to the pistol they normally carry? Are there procedures officers are required to follow when making an arrest, regarding verbal communication, arrest locations and safety of the suspect?
Left unanswered, these questions made our deliberations more difficult and limited our ability to accurately answer the questions concerning Taylor’s death. We took our role as jurors seriously. We sat through eight days of testimony and spent two days deliberating. A man had been killed by police, and we were asked to consider the evidence and determine the facts and circumstances surrounding his death.
I believe that Taylor’s death and the outcome of the inquest hinged in large part on the choices the officers made about when, where and how to arrest Taylor. Consequently, it would have made sense for us to know when, where and how they are trained to arrest suspects.
After hearing the King County prosecuting attorney’s recent announcement confirming he will not seek charges against the officers who killed Taylor, I’m concerned.
Based on the number of questions that went unanswered during the inquest, our answers may have been different and therefore resulted in a different outcome. As members of the inquest jury, we were chosen to serve as the voice of the people. However, because police-department policy and training were not addressed in witness testimony and because many of the questions we asked didn’t get answered, our findings told an incomplete story. Che Taylor and his family deserve more than that.