The lawsuit alleges that the two officers failed to implement the department's Crisis Intervention Training policy when they encountered the distraught teen two years ago. It also claims neither officer had received such training.
A federal civil-rights lawsuit filed Thursday alleges two Arlington police officers used excessive force when they shot and critically injured a suicidal 17-year-old girl who refused to get out of her car and held a 3-inch pocketknife to her throat.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Nina Semone Robinson, alleges the officers “radically escalated the severity of the crisis” by resorting to force to remove the distraught teenager from her vehicle, breaking a window and pulling her out by her hair. In the ensuing struggle, the officers used a Taser twice on the teenager before firing a total of nine rounds at her.
Robinson was struck five times by bullets that pierced her ribs, lung, liver, shoulder and buttocks, nearly killing her, the lawsuit says. She spent more than 10 days in the pediatric intensive-care unit at Harborview Medical Center, according to the lawsuit.
Police had earlier said the girl was “advancing” on the officers with the knife when they fired.
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The lawsuit alleges that the Arlington Police Department had failed to implement a Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) policy that has been on its books for years and that neither officer — Peter Barrett and Justin Olson — had received CIT training as required by the policy.
The department issued a statement Saturday saying it had not yet been served with the lawsuit. The statement added that an independent investigation by the Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team (SMART) and a subsequent review by the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office “cleared both officers in the use of force.”
“At the time of the shooting, the involved officers were trained in crisis intervention techniques to the standard required by state law,” the statement said. “The independent investigation showed that the officers repeatedly attempted to deescalate the situation, including the deployment of a Taser to prevent injury to the plaintiff, the officers, and bystanders. The plaintiff pled guilty to two counts of Assault on a Police Officer in connection with the case, admitting she attempted to assault the officers to force a `suicide by cop’ scenario.”
Arlington Police Chief Jonathan Ventura added in the statement: “this is an unfortunate situation for the plaintiff and we empathize with her and her family.”
Residents called 911 early on Feb. 14, 2017, to report a female weeping in the middle of the street at North Olympic Avenue and East Division Street, a busy intersection. Officer Olson was dispatched and arrived first, and according to the lawsuit, heard Robinson was in crisis and threatening to harm herself, and decided she needed to be committed to a hospital for treatment. However, the lawsuit alleges Olson waited until Officer Barrett arrived and ordered the teenager out of the middle of the street under threat of arrest.
Instead of taking her into custody, the lawsuit said the officers followed her about 100 feet to her car, where she locked herself inside and continued to threaten to harm herself, at one point displaying a small folding knife and holding it to her throat. The officers variously described her in statements as “wailing” and “very emotionally upset” over an incident involving her boyfriend the night before. The Arlington Police Department’s crisis-intervention policy, which is quoted in the lawsuit, suggests a calm, nonthreatening and nonaggressive approach to suicidal suspects.
According to the lawsuit, the officers shouted conflicting orders at Robinson. When she displayed the knife, Barrett used his baton to smash the passenger-side window of the vehicle, spraying glass throughout the car, and reached in to grab her by the hair and pull her out of the car onto the ground, the lawsuit alleges. Rather than detaining her, however, the officers allowed her to get up and start walking across a parking lot, the lawsuit alleges. Robinson said later she was going to walk to her mother’s house, a few blocks away.
The lawsuit alleges the officers fired a Taser at Robinson twice, but that it failed to incapacitate her. That’s when the officers shot her, firing nine times and hitting her with five rounds, according to court documents. The lawsuit also alleges that one of the officers twisted Robinson’s injured arm so hard while handcuffing her after she had been shot that it caused a spiral fracture in her upper arm.
“At the moment Defendants Olson and Barrett deployed deadly force, Plaintiff Robinson was unarmed and posed no immediate threat to either officer and no reasonable officer under the circumstances would have perceived her as such,” said the lawsuit, which states that the knife was found more than 40 feet from where she fell.
At the time, police said the girl was “advancing” on the officers with the knife when they fired. The lawsuit alleges hospital records show her wounds were “posterior-lateral,” meaning they traveled from back to front and side to the middle.
The lawsuit alleges that the city never conducted an internal review of the shooting and that the officers were allowed to return to work within 30 days.
Seattle Times staff writer Lewis Kamb contributed to this story.