In Day 5 of testimony in the inquest into the fatal shooting of the African American in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood, Officer Michael Spaulding says he believed Taylor was about to fire.
Testifying for the first time publicly, Seattle police officer Michael Spaulding told a King County inquest jury Friday that Che Taylor appeared to be drawing a handgun when Spaulding and another officer fired a volley of shots that killed Taylor during a confrontation in North Seattle last year.
Spaulding said he couldn’t see what he believed was the gun because it was on Taylor’s right hip, on the opposite side of Taylor’s body, away from his view.
But the other officer, Scott Miller, saw the gun in a holster shortly before he and Miller moved in on Taylor to arrest him as a felon in unlawful possession of a firearm, Spaulding said.
As they approached Taylor, who was standing next to an open car door, Taylor crouched and put his right hand to his hip as his elbow went up, Spaulding testified, demonstrating the move to the eight-member jury.
At that moment, Spaulding said, he was convinced Taylor was “going to shoot either Scott or I.”
Spaulding, 35, who joined the Police Department in 2008, said he had no choice but to quickly fire a rifle he was carrying. Miller, scheduled to testify next week, opened fire with a shotgun.
Spaulding’s testimony came on the fifth day of the fact-finding proceeding, in which jurors will answer a series of questions about the Feb. 21 encounter between Taylor, a 46-year-old African American, and the two white officers in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood.
Patrol-car video captured the confrontation, but the car blocked Taylor’s actions from being seen, making Spaulding’s testimony a crucial element of the inquest.
The two officers were conducting undercover surveillance of a building unit, seeking another man wanted on drug warrants, when Taylor unexpectedly arrived in a black car, Spaulding said.
Spaulding told jurors he recognized Taylor as a felon with a violent past, including rape and robbery.
He said that as he used his cellphone to find information on Taylor, Miller excitedly asked, “Did you see that?”
Miller said he saw a gun on Taylor’s right hip, Spaulding told jurors.
Taylor went to the building and then to a white car, Spaulding said.
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The original plan was to arrest Taylor out in the open as he left the white car to return to his car, the officer testified. But Taylor stopped as soon as he got out of the white car, Spaulding said.
As a marked patrol vehicle carrying two other officers began moving toward the area to get Taylor’s attention, Spaulding said he and Miller, wearing police markings over their plainclothes, began jogging toward the white car.
Spaulding said when he reached the rear of the car, he yelled “Che” and instructed him to show his hands and get on the ground.
Taylor responded, “What’s going on?” Spaulding testified.
Spaulding said he told Taylor to get on the ground and Taylor responded, “OK, OK, OK.”
Taylor brought his hands chest high and appeared to be obeying when he reached for the holster, Spaulding said.
Spaulding said he fired his rifle because he knew Taylor could fire in a “fraction of a second.”
As he fired, Spaulding added, he took a few paces back and stumbled on a walkway.
Another officer who was at the scene testified Friday that, after the shooting, under a front seat of the white car, he saw part of the barrel of a handgun, which police say was later recovered from the vehicle.
Under questioning by his attorney, Ted Buck, Spaulding said he had given similar commands in more than 100 arrests of violent offenders, and that they routinely complied — testimony aimed at rebutting suggestions by attorneys for Taylor’s family that Spaulding, Miller and other officers descending on the scene gave confusing, overlapping and conflicting commands.
With Buck demonstrating what Taylor could have done, Spaulding told the jury that Taylor could have pivoted, put his hands up and gone to the ground. Had Taylor done that, Spaulding said, “We wouldn’t be here today.”