The city of Arlington will pay $1.55 million to a woman who, two years ago at age 17, was shot multiple times by police officers responding to reports that she was in distress.
The settlement, agreed to last week, stems from a federal civil-rights lawsuit filed on Nina Semone Robinson’s behalf in February. It alleged officers Peter J. Barrett and Justin C. Olson used excessive force and “radically escalated the severity of the crisis” after finding Robinson in the middle of a street in February 2017, distraught and talking about harming herself.
Her attorneys and those for the city agree that after Robinson locked herself in a car and produced a pocketknife, officers broke a car window and used a Taser twice on Robinson before firing nine rounds at her, five of which struck her. Robinson was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where she underwent surgery and was placed in the intensive-care unit.
Attorneys for Robinson and the officers disagree on whether Robinson was moving away or toward police when she was shot, and whether she was still holding the knife. Under the settlement, the city does not admit to wrongdoing.
“Ms. Robinson is a very sympathetic young lady,” said the city’s attorney Richard Jolly. “While we were confident the facts would demonstrate that officers did nothing wrong, there’s always both expense and risk involved in going to trial.”
Robinson’s attorneys said their client wanted to put the case behind her, but they hope the department will improve how officers respond to people in crisis, particularly teenagers.
“They’re (the officers) armed with knives, they’re armed with guns, they’re armed with mace and Tasers. And they’re afraid of a 17-year-old girl with a little pocketknife?” said one of Robinson’s attorneys, Braden Pence. “I don’t think this is really justice. I don’t know that the police are coming away from this with an understanding that they made a mistake here.”
An independent investigation by the Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team (SMART) found the officers’ use of force justified. Their attorneys rejected the lawsuit’s claim that the officers had not been trained on the department’s crisis-intervention policy, which suggests a calm, nonthreatening and nonaggressive approach to people who pose a threat to themselves.
Officers found Robinson sobbing in the middle of a busy street after a fight with her boyfriend.
Robinson walked to her car parked 100 feet away and locked herself in. She held a pocketknife and made threatening gestures at herself and the officers and told them to leave her alone, according to court documents filed by her lawyers. They argued that officers then escalated their response by giving her conflicting orders — which officers denied — and by breaking a window of the car.
Robinson’s attorneys said officers pulled her, still holding the knife, out of the car by her hair. But they said she was walking away, no longer holding the knife, when officers shot her. The officers’ attorneys said Robinson got out of the car and was moving toward an officer while holding the knife.
The city’s attorneys have also pointed to Robinson’s guilty plea to assault in the fourth degree in connection to the case, which Pence said is an unfair attempt to discredit her. The plea was an Alford plea, allowing her to maintain her innocence while acknowledging a jury would likely find her guilty of the charges of assaulting an officer. Pence said he tried to discourage Robinson from the plea, but she didn’t want to face the stress and risk of a trial.
“The city turned around and gave her a million-and-a-half dollars,” Pence said. “If they thought their case was so strong, why didn’t they want to go to trial?”
Pence said Robinson no longer felt safe in Arlington and moved out of the city.
Staff reporter Mike Carter contributed to this report.