Two Seattle police officers fatally shot the 46-year-old in February 2016 while attempting to arrest him for being a felon in unlawful possession of a firearm. His widow and mother claim police violated Taylor’s civil rights.
A federal lawsuit was filed this week alleging Seattle police violated Che Taylor’s civil rights when two officers fatally shot him on a residential street in the Wedgwood neighborhood two years ago.
Filed on behalf of Taylor’s widow, Brenda Taylor, and mother, Joyce Dorsey, the suit asserts claims of assault, excessive force, false arrest, unlawful seizure, negligence and violation of the state’s anti-discrimination statute.
Officers Michael Spaulding and Scott Miller — who both fired at Taylor — are named as defendants, as are two patrol officers whose dashboard camera captured audio and video footage of the shooting, and the city of Seattle.
Brenda Taylor and Dorsey are represented by Seattle attorneys James Bible and Shakespear Feyissa. A phone message left at their law office Wednesday was not returned.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court on Tuesday, one day shy of the second anniversary of the fatal police shooting. The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages, but don’t indicate an amount.
“We obviously need to review and assess the case and aren’t in a position to comment,” Deputy Seattle City Attorney John Schochet said Wednesday.
A Seattle Police Department review board found the Feb. 21, 2016 shooting fell within department policy and King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg declined to file criminal charges against Spaulding and Miller, saying 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.
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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.
Taylor’s family has publicly criticized the police and prosecutor and has backed efforts to change both the inquest process and the state’s deadly-force law, which now requires proof of malice to convict police officers of wrongful shootings.
The family has previously suggested police planted a gun at the scene where Taylor was shot, but the lawsuit makes no mention of the Springfield Armory XDS .45-caliber pistol police say Taylor was reaching for when the officers opened fire.
The lawsuit alleges multiple officers yelled simultaneous, conflicting commands at Taylor, who attempted to comply but was shot “within seconds” of Spaulding and Miller approaching him. It also contends “critical minutes lapsed” between the time Taylor was shot and officers allowed medics to render aid.
Taylor was shot as he stood inside the open, front passenger-side door of a parked car and according to the suit, officers did not shoot a white female passenger when she failed to comply with officer commands directing her to exit the vehicle through the rear, driver’s-side door. She exited on the passenger side instead. It also says the officers “paid little to no attention” to the actions and movements of the white male driver.
There is no evidence the passenger or driver was armed.
According to inquest testimony and information previously released by Seattle police:
Spaulding and Miller were conducting undercover surveillance of a building unit, looking for another man wanted on drug warrants, when Taylor, 46, unexpectedly arrived in a black car.
The officers recognized Taylor, who had done prison time for rape and robbery and who allegedly was a major player involved in prostitution and drug trafficking on Aurora Avenue North. One of the officers spotted a holstered gun on Taylor’s right hip — which police said made him subject to immediate arrest for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The officers watched Taylor as he went to the building, then to a white car parked on the street.
The dashcam footage shows the officers approach Taylor with long guns and order him to get down on the ground and to put his hands up. Police say that as the officers got closer to Taylor, who was standing next to an open car door, Taylor appeared to comply but then crouched and put his right hand to his hip as his elbow went up — a body movement consistent with someone drawing a gun out of a holster. Both officers fired.
On the video, the view of Taylor is blocked by the car, but police say a handgun was found under the front passenger seat, where Taylor had crouched before he was shot.
Taylor, who was taken to Harborview Medical Center, where he died, was found to be carrying about six ounces of suspected crack cocaine and black tar heroin, according to police.