The Police Department’s Office of Professional Accountability will examine whether alternative tactics or de-escalation measures could have been used.
The Seattle Police Department’s internal-review unit has opened an investigation into Sunday’s officer-involved shooting, focused on whether policy was followed during a domestic-violence call in which an armed man was wounded.
Pierce Murphy, the civilian director of the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), said Friday that based on a preliminary review of the circumstances, he determined his office should examine whether alternative tactics or de-escalation measures could have been used in lieu of potentially deadly force.
“It doesn’t mean we’ve jumped to any conclusions,” Murphy said, adding that his office will wait for the Police Department’s Force Investigation Team (FIT) to complete its work before moving forward.
Murphy said OPA notified the officer who fired, the officer’s captain and the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild of the investigation.
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It is rare for the OPA to investigate the use of potential deadly force, with the last time having occurred after a 2014 incident.
Detective Ron Smith, president of the police guild, said Friday he was outraged Murphy took the action while the FIT investigation is just beginning, noting the department’s Force Review Board will look at the shooting and has the authority to refer the matter to OPA.
“I think it’s pure harassment of my members,” Smith said.
Sunday’s incident led the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office on Wednesday to charge a Seattle man, Michael Uivary, with two counts of second-degree assault for allegedly threatening his husband and the officer with large kitchen knives before he was shot.
Uivary, 55, who remained in serious condition Friday at Harborview Medical Center, was shot outside a house on South Dearborn Street he shares with his 52-year-old husband, according to charging documents.
Uivary has a history of mental-health problems and suicide attempts, and his husband has had Uivary involuntary committed in the past, the documents say. Uivary also takes medication for anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and sleep issues, according to the charges.
The officer who shot and wounded Uivary was identified in the documents as Sarah Velling, who has been placed on routine paid administrative leave pending the Police Department’s review of the shooting, which was captured on patrol-car video.
One aspect to be examined by the Force Review Board is Velling’s decision to fire her service weapon rather than attempt to subdue Uivary with a Taser, which she had on her utility belt.
According to the charging documents, Uivary’s husband returned home Sunday and found Uivary lying on a couch with two pill bottles nearby containing Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication, and a sleep aid similar to Ambien. He tried to wake Uivary, who was incoherent and slurring his words.
He asked Uivary if he was taking the medication to overdose, and Uivary admitted he had been taking a dose of each, every hour, for the past six hours, according to the documents.
Uivary’s husband took the pills, but left the pill bottles behind, the documents say. After waking sometime later, Uivary stumbled down the stairs and yelled at his husband to return the pills. He went back upstairs, dressed and then told his husband he planned “to drive himself into a tree and kill himself,” the documents say.
After a brief struggle, Uivary’s husband took Uivary’s keys away, according to the documents. As the husband was on the phone with a 911 operator, Uivary grabbed a kitchen knife and followed his husband as he fled out the back door and around to the front of their house.
Uivary then threw the knife at his husband, but it missed, the documents say. As officers were arriving at the scene, Uivary went back inside and came out armed with a carving knife and a large bread knife, each with about 8-inch blades, according to the documents.
Uivary approached his husband and at least two uniformed officers while armed with the knives, the documents say. Velling repeatedly yelled for Uivary to stop and put the knives down, placing herself between Uivary and his husband as Uivary “continued to march toward her, a knife in each hand pointed at her.”
Uivary was about 15 feet away when Velling first saw him, a senior prosecutor wrote in the documents. The officer fired when Uivary was 5 to 6 feet from her and still advancing, the prosecutor wrote.
The husband recounted that officers ordered Uivary to stop and put the knives down, and warned him he would be tased, according to the documents.
Murphy, the OPA director — citing the totality of the circumstances, the proximity of a second officer to the one who fired, and the distance — said his office was obligated to examine whether policies were followed, including a requirement that officers, when safe and reasonable, attempt de-escalation to avoid use of potentially lethal force.
In making his decision, Murphy said he viewed two other patrol-car videos beyond the one that has been publicly released.
Smith, the union president, said Uivary was warned eight times to drop the knife.
“I think she had no other choice but to protect that victim,” Smith said of Velling.
In order to deploy her Taser, she would have required time to discuss a plan with the other officer and have lethal cover, Smith said.