Iosia Faletogo was shot and killed during a struggle with Seattle police after a traffic stop on Aurora Avenue North on New Year's Eve.

Share story

Relatives of a 36-year-old man who was shot and killed by a Seattle police officer on New Year’s Eve are challenging the police account of the deadly encounter, questioning why officers did not try to de-escalate the situation.

“He did not deserve to be slaughtered like an animal in the street,” said Kerina Ngauamo, aunt of Iosia (yoh-see-a) Faletogo, who was killed after a traffic stop on Aurora Avenue North.

Speaking at a news conference on Friday morning, family members focused on the officer body-cam videos released by police on Thursday, which show police chasing Faletogo after he bolted from a traffic stop and his struggle with several officers before he was shot in the head. Some of the videos show a handgun in Faletogo’s hand at one point during the struggle, while others appear to show both of his hands empty, palms flat against the ground, at the time he was shot.

Relatives also repeatedly asked why it took so long for police to notify them of Faletogo’s death and why they had not yet been allowed to see or claim his body.

“They have not let his mother see him, touch his face or his skin,” said Ngauamo, who described her nephew as an up-and-coming Seattle musician and rap artist who addressed police violence in some of his videos. According to another relative, Faletogo had performed in Portland, Seattle and Florida.

“He was a go-getter,” said June Afalava. “He wasn’t the type of person who sat around.”

Afalava said her nephew had been a “hardheaded kid” who had been out running the streets but had paid his dues.

“He was a changed person,” she said, noting that becoming a father had given Faletogo new life and a new spirit, she said.

The Seattle Police Officers Guild, the union representing more than 1,300 officers and sergeants, issued a statement Friday, calling Faletogo a “convicted and violent felon” who repeatedly failed to comply with warnings from officers.

“His refusal to obey their commands escalated the situation and forced the officers to defend themselves,” the statement said.

 

Police said Faletogo was pulled over New Year’s Eve after a license-plate check on the car he was driving showed the registered owner had a suspended driver’s license, according to a source familiar with the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter is under review. They also saw the driver make an unsafe lane change, prompting them to stop the car, the source said.

Warning: Graphic content

No video or audio was released of what went on before the stop.

Faletogo ran from the car and was chased a short distance by officers before he was shot during a struggle.

Relatives questioned why Faletogo was shot in the back of the head when his hands appear to be empty and splayed on the ground in front of him. They also wonder why officers yelled they would shoot Faletogo as he fled, rather than attempt to de-escalate the situation. Why was lethal force, instead of a Taser, used for what started as a seemingly minor driving violation, they asked.

Among those who spoke at the gathering was Andrè Taylor, founder of Not This Time, an advocacy group involved in the passage of a new state law that removed a 32-year-old legal barrier that has made it virtually impossible to bring criminal charges against police officers believed to have wrongfully used deadly force. Initiative 940 also requires de-escalation and mental-health training for police and requires independent investigations into the use of deadly force.

Faletogo’s death is the first officer-involved shooting in King County since the initiative took effect in December, and Taylor said the community “will be watching closely” to see how it’s handled by King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg.

Taylor is the brother of Che Taylor, who was killed by police while they attempted to arrest him for being a felon in unlawful possession of a firearm in North Seattle in February 2016. The shooting was ruled justified by police.

“This is a department that shoots first and asks questions later,” Taylor said of Seattle police.

Before Faletogo was shot, it appears in the video that he had a gun in his hand during the pursuit and struggle. Officers can be heard yelling “drop the gun,” “you’re going to get shot” and “he’s reaching” while chasing and trying to subdue him.

The video shows that Faletogo went down on his hands and knees as the officers tried to take him into custody and that his hands were empty and fingers splayed out on the ground when the fatal shot was fired.

“It also sounds as if Faletogo said, “I’m not reaching” before he was shot, although the audio isn’t clear on the video.

The officer who fired the shot that killed Faletogo has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation into the shooting. He was identified as Jared Keller, who was hired in September 2015.

Keller was one of seven Seattle police officers who fired shots during a fatal confrontation with a man in Magnuson Park on Dec. 12, 2017. The confrontation with Kyle M. Gray, 24, occurred after he and a woman were reportedly involved in an armed robbery at the Northgate Mall, according to police.

During a series of events, Gray led officers on a car chase through North Seattle in which he fired shots before he got out of the car at the park, police said. Body-camera video released by police shows him not responding to commands to raise his hands before he was shot.

Faletogo had cash and drugs on him that was discovered after the shooting, police said, and officers said they recovered a loaded firearm at the scene.

But his family and Taylor said they are rejecting the police’s explanations, justifications and narratives about the shooting.

“Police lie to get out of trouble,” said Taylor.

City officials have said that the shooting will be investigated by the police department’s Force Investigation Team, but Taylor said that’s problematic. He and Faletogo’s relatives said objective findings are difficult to come by when officers are called upon to investigate one of their own.

U.S. District Court records in Alaska indicate that Faletogo was on probation after pleading guilty in June to a federal drug conspiracy out of Juneau.

According to federal court records, he pleaded guilty to importing and distributing heroin to a small community in Alaska, Petersburg, about 160 miles southwest of Juneau. A shipment seized by federal investigators in June 2014 was enough heroin to supply about half the town of 3,000 residents, the records show.

King County court records show he was convicted of assault at age 19 and served jail time.

Faletogo’s father, Mane Faletogo, said his son was not a perfect man, but he was a devoted father to two boys, 2 and 4, a beloved brother and valued member of the community. He sought to mentor, inspire and be an example to the people around him, Faletogo said.

“He doesn’t have a voice anymore, but we are his voice now,” said his cousin Kiana Keni. “and we are going to continue to speak for Iosia, and he deserves justice.”

Afalava, Faletogo’s aunt, said that as a felon, her nephew had had a hard time finding work.

“Because that felony on his record, he wasn’t able to get a decent job … get a decent roof (over) his head and provide for his kids the way he wanted to do,” she said. “He was doing whatever was necessary.”

The police guild, in its statement, 

encouraged the public to watch the video and “put yourself in the place of these brave officers,” who “did nothing wrong!” and had to “make a split second decision while fighting with an armed and violent suspect.”

Editor’s note: Due to the number of comments on this story that violated our Terms of Service, the comment thread has been removed.