Che Taylor was shot and killed during a confrontation with two Seattle police officers a year ago, at a time of heightened scrutiny nationwide into the police use of deadly force against African-American males.
Two Seattle police officers believed Che Taylor posed a threat of death or serious injury when they shot and killed Taylor last year, a King County inquest jury found Friday.
Seven of the eight jurors voted “yes” and one voted “unknown” when asked about Officer Michael Spaulding’s belief when he opened fire on Taylor.
The vote was six for “yes” and one for “no” and one for “unknown” on whether the second officer, Scott Miller, also believed Taylor posed a threat when he fired.
The jury, which began deliberations Thursday morning, answered 55 questions “yes,” “no” or “unknown” about the case that generated community controversy.
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The key questions dealt with the level of danger officers Spaulding and Miller thought they faced during the Feb. 21 confrontation with Taylor, 46, in the Wedgwood neighborhood of North Seattle as they tried to arrest Taylor as a felon in unlawful possession of a firearm.
Both left the Seattle courtroom without commenting after the lengthy verdict was read.
The two officers, who are white, were conducting an undercover operation in search of another man wanted on a drug warrant when Taylor, an African American, arrived in a car, jurors were told during the nine-day, fact-finding proceeding.
The officers testified that they recognized Taylor and knew of his criminal history. Taylor had served a lengthy prison sentence, with convictions for rape and robbery.
Miller, 39, testified that he saw a handgun in a holster on Taylor’s right hip as Taylor left the car. Miller said he then informed Spaulding, 35.
When they confronted Taylor while wearing plainclothes with outer garments reading “police,” the officers testified, Taylor crouched and reached to his right hip, with his elbow bent in a motion consistent with drawing a gun.
Both officers said Taylor’s body blocked their view of his hip, but they were convinced he was reaching for a gun.
Jurors unanimously agreed that Taylor showed his hands and moved downward after the officers gave him commands.
They also found Spaulding had reason to believe Taylor was drawing a gun, and six jurors concluded Miller thought Taylor was drawing a gun, while two answered “unknown.”
Spaulding fired six times with a rifle, and Miller fired once with a shotgun, jurors were told.
Taylor, who was standing next to another car, had ignored commands to get on the ground, the officers said.
Taylor fell into an open door of the car after being shot, the officers testified.
Miller told jurors at that point he saw part of a handgun under the car’s seat.
All eight jurors found that handgun was later recovered from under the seat.
The shooting was partially captured on police dashboard-camera video, but Taylor’s actions were obscured by the car.
Lawyers for Taylor’s family raised questions about whether Taylor was armed when he was confronted and whether the gun in the car had been there before the shooting. They also questioned whether Taylor was given conflicting, confusing and overlapping commands from Spaulding and Miller and other officers backing them.
The shooting came at a time of heightened scrutiny nationwide into the police use of deadly force against African-American males. The president of the Seattle King County NAACP called the shooting “coldblooded murder” shortly after the incident.
With the inquest completed, King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg will review the case to determine if Spaulding and Miller should face criminal charges.
The jury made no findings on criminal or civil liability.
James Bible, an attorney for the Taylor family, said a civil lawsuit was possible and that jurors weren’t asked if the officers created their own fear.
He said jurors found that Taylor complied with commands.
Spaulding’s attorney, Ted Buck, said the jury’s findings should throw a “damp towel” on a lawsuit.
“The answers came back the way that we expected them to,” Buck said. “These officers faced a person who was a proven, very violent felon who was illegally holding a firearm at the time. He threatened their lives. They had to act; they get a chance to go home at the end of the shift.”
Buck said there was a question of whether Taylor drew the gun to shoot the officers or get rid it to avoid a felon-in-possession arrest. But no one will ever know, he said, adding that Spaulding and Miller had every reason to believe their lives were in danger.
A Seattle police review board found last year the shooting fell within department policy.
Juror Meghan Pelley said the officers’ belief that Taylor had a gun played a major role in the outcome, as well as their testimony about Taylor’s elbow moving, or “breaking the plane.”
“We believed that that’s what they (the officers) believed,” Pelley said, without knowing what actually happened.
No one on the jury thought the gun was planted in the car, said Pelley and fellow juror John Griffin.
Taylor’s brother, André Taylor, said the officers’ actions were reflective of, in history, a general fear of black people.
“We can’t continually use that as an excuse to kill someone,” he said.