The decision comes after an inquest jury found last month that the two white officers believed Che Taylor posed a threat of death or serious injury before he was shot. Taylor's family, unhappy with the decision, repeated its call to change the law on when police can be charged.
The family of an African-American man fatally shot by two Seattle police officers last year say they are “insulted” by the decision by prosecutors not to file charges against the officers.
“I’m very irate these officers are not being charged with assassinating my husband,” said Brenda Taylor, the widow of Che Taylor, who was killed during the encounter.
At a news conference Tuesday, Taylor’s family criticized the decision and the state law that makes it nearly impossible to bring criminal charges against police who use deadly force.
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The law requires proof of malice to convict police of wrongful shootings. A legislative task force has recommended changes to the deadly-force law, but a compromise bill making some modifications recently stalled in the Legislature.
Andrè Taylor, Che Taylor’s brother, said lawmakers were complicit in his brother’s death for failing to change the law.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg announced his decision not to file charges at a news conference earlier in the day, although it hardly came as a surprise. An inquest jury last month found the two white officers, Michael Spaulding and Scott Miller, believed Taylor posed a threat of death or serious injury when he was shot.
Earlier, a Seattle police review board found the shooting fell within department policy.
Satterberg said the officers had perceived their lives were in danger as they tried to arrest Taylor for being a felon in unlawful possession of a handgun.
Although the jury unanimously agreed Taylor showed his hands and moved downward after officers gave him commands, six of eight jurors also found Spaulding had reason to believe Taylor was drawing a gun.
Inquest jurors answered a series of questions to determine factual issues involved in the shooting and were not asked to determine civil or criminal liability.
“In light of the investigative materials, the video evidence, the testimony of the witnesses at the inquest and the jurors’ answers to the court’s interrogatories, there is insufficient evidence to overcome this complete defense as defined by the statute,” Satterberg said in a statement.
The two officers were conducting an undercover operation in search of another man when Taylor arrived in a car on Feb. 21, 2016, jurors were told. The officers testified that they recognized Taylor and were aware of his criminal history, which included convictions for rape and robbery. As a result, Taylor was barred from legally possessing firearms.
Miller testified that he saw a handgun in a holster on Taylor’s right hip as Taylor climbed out of the car. The officers said they confronted Taylor, who crouched and reached to his right hip, with his elbow bent in a motion consistent with drawing a gun. They said he ignored commands to get on the ground.
Both officers said Taylor’s body blocked their view of his hip, but they were convinced he was reaching for a gun.
The officers opened fire, killing Taylor, 47. A handgun was later found inside the car, near where Taylor fell.
Satterberg said he would have reached the decision to not charge the officers even if the malice standard in state law was not in place.
“This is not, as a legal question, a close case,” he said.
Taylor’s relatives, during the news conference, said they plan to pursue a civil lawsuit.
Andrè Taylor accused police of escalating the situation when they approached Che Taylor and tried to arrest him. He said he isn’t sure what his brother could have done differently under the circumstances.
Attorneys for the family also have questioned whether Taylor was armed at the time of the shooting and whether he was given confusing commands by police.
A 2015 investigation by The Seattle Times into the genesis of the state’s law-enforcement deadly-force statute found that of 213 fatal police shootings between 2005 and 2014, only a single officer has been charged with a crime.
Satterberg has said he would support a change in the statute.
Lisa Daugaard, director of The Public Defender Association, also spoke during the Taylor family’s news conference, calling for “profound change” in how law enforcement uses force and in the inquest procedure.
“They (inquests) seem to operate to provide excuses and cover for nonaction,” she said. “Inquest proceedings become a shield anytime anyone advocates change or reform.”