The city of Seattle will pay the family of Che Taylor $1.5 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit stemming from Taylor’s fatal shooting by two police officers outside a Wedgwood home in 2016.
The settlement comes two months after a federal judge ordered the case to trial, saying it had developed into a case of “they said, he’s dead” after evidence raised questions about whether Taylor was actually armed when he was gunned down by two plainclothes officers who had been watching the home.
The money will be distributed to Taylor’s mother and two children, according to the court documents.
The police department found the Feb. 21, 2016, shooting fell within department policy and King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg declined to file criminal charges against the plainclothes officers, Michael Spaulding and Scott Miller, saying they perceived their lives were in danger as they tried to arrest Taylor for being a felon in unlawful possession of a handgun.
An inquest jury also found the two white officers believed Taylor, who was Black, posed a threat of death or serious injury when he was shot.
However, Taylor’s family has publicly criticized the police and prosecutor and successfully backed efforts to change both the inquest process and the state’s deadly force law. His brother, Andre Taylor, driven by outrage over the shooting, went on to form the anti-police violence group Not This Time.
Moreover, evidence that came out during the inquest and was developed by defense attorneys raised questions about whether Taylor was in possession of a gun when the officers shot him.
The Seattle Police Department referred a request for comment Monday to the city attorney’s office, where spokesperson Dan Nolte said, “We hope that this resolution will lead to closure for the parties in this matter.”
The two officers were conducting an undercover operation in search of another man when Taylor arrived in a car, according to police and testimony at an inquest hearing into Taylor’s death.
Spaulding and Miller said they recognized the 47-year-old Taylor as a known felon and career criminal with convictions for rape and robbery. As a felon, he was barred from having a gun, but Miller told Spaulding he had seen a handgun in a holster on Taylor’s hip when Taylor exited the car.
However, a ruling in September issued by U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly noted the officers said they lost track of Taylor for as long as a half-hour before they saw him return, riding in the front seat of another car. As Taylor got out of that vehicle, the two officers — Miller armed with a shotgun and Spaulding with a rifle — approached and ordered Taylor simultaneously to show his hands and get on the ground, according to the court file.
According to Zilly’s ruling, five seconds elapsed from when the officers first approached Taylor to when the fatal shots were fired.
Both officers said they believed they saw Taylor reaching for a gun on his hip, where they had seen the holster.
However, the only weapon found — a semiautomatic handgun — was under the passenger seat of the car Taylor had left, beneath debris and with the barrel pointing forward, making it difficult to grab, the judge concluded.
And the only holster logged as evidence was found in the street, although Zilly notes that SPD Detective Lisa Haakenstad’s report “seems to suggest that the holster was found attached to Taylor’s belt at the right hip.”
“The key issue is whether the officers involved had probable cause to believe Taylor had a gun at the time” they shot him, Zilly said. Taylor’s lawyers had contended the officers were acting on “stale” information and that their probable cause was dated. Zilly found that argument compelling.
Before setting a trial date, however, the judge urged the parties into mediation, where the settlement was reached late last week, according to the court document and James Bible, one of Taylor’s attorneys. According to the settlement, $500,000 will go to Taylor’s mother, Joyce Dorsey, with the remaining $1 million split between his son and young daughter.
Che Taylor’s sister, DeVitta Briscoe, the named executor of his estate, said Monday that the family was pleased with the settlement, which assures Taylor’s family will be taken care of.
“No amount of money can compensate my mother for her grief,” she said. “I’m just thankful for our legal team, who took this case when a lot of others wouldn’t.
“This is not justice for our family, but we want to give hope to other families who are seeking accountability and liability,” she said.
Andre Taylor said his brother’s death had an impact on police accountability, and while the settlement agreement says the city is not admitting liability, he said that the $1.5 million “seems like an admission of guilt to me.”