The city of Kent has agreed to pay $4.4 million to the family of Giovonn Joseph-McDade to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging police unnecessarily shot the unarmed 20-year-old Black man, killing him, following a brief chase and attempted traffic stop.

The family’s Seattle attorney, Craig Sims, confirmed the amount Wednesday and said the city also has agreed to install a memorial bench at the site of the shooting.

“Since I lost my son, I have fought and advocated for police reform and accountability,” said Sonia Joseph, the young man’s mother, who has joined with the parents of other mostly young Black men killed police to fight for reform in Olympia and King County. “I have dedicated my life to my kids and will continue to fight for justice on behalf of my son.”

The city, in a statement, defended the officer’s actions aslegal and within department policy. It said the settlement “is a step in the right direction to bring closure to the family, the officers involved and the city as a whole.”

“All loss of life is tragic regardless of the circumstances,” said Bailey Stober, the city’s communications manager, in a prepared statement. “Our thoughts and condolences remain with the Joseph-McDade family.”

Stober said the city’s mayor, Dana Ralph, was not available for comment.

Advertising

Stober said the city believes the officers acted within department policy and state laws and that the case was reviewed by an inquest jury, whose members determined the officer who fired his weapon had reason to fear for his life.

“This is a case that we were fully prepared to litigate and defend, but recognize in the best interest of the family, the officers involved and our community we need to resolve the matter and attempt to bring closure to those involved,” Stober said.

The settlement comes two months after the judge in the case said evidence presented by Joseph-McDade’s lawyers raised “serious disputes” with officers’ claims that Joseph-McDade posed a threat to their lives or the safety of the public when Officer William Davis fired into the car after cornering it in a cul-de-sac.

Sims said the family intends to hold a news conference Thursday at Canterbury Park in Kent. His parents, Sonia Joseph and Giovanni McDade, sued the city last year.

The settlement is one of the largest in a police use-of-force case reached in Washington in recent years, eclipsed only by $5 million paid by King County last month in the shooting death of Tommy Le by deputies and Tacoma’s $8 million settlement in December with Than Orn, who was shot and paralyzed by officers there in 2011.

Other recent seven-figure settlements in police shooting cases include $2.25 million paid by King County last May to the parents of Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens, a 17-year-old Des Moines high school student killed during a misguided sting operation, and $1.25 million paid by Seattle to the family of Che Taylor, killed by undercover officers in 2016.

Advertising

Kent Officer Matthew Rausch had initially stopped Joseph-McDade early on June 24, 2017, in the parking lot of a Kent convenience store for having an expired registration. In court documents, the officer said he had focused on the car, containing three young Black men, because, he said, one of the young men “appeared startled” when he saw the officer and exited the car.

Discovering the car had an expired registration, Rausch called for backup — classifying the call as “priority 2,” meaning there was little or no threat — and gave pursuit. Davis acknowledged the call and also responded, according to police reports.

Joseph-McDade, with a single passenger, drove away from Rausch, who said in sworn testimony that the young man “punched [the gas]” as he drove off. However, evidence cited in court motions show a computer-assisted dispatch report from the officer’s car indicates Joseph-McDade drove between 20 and 30 mph, under the speed limit of 35.

Rausch said he pursued the car and, at one point, unsuccessfully attempted a maneuver intended to make Joseph-McDade lose control of his car, according to court filings and police reports.

The use of that tactic, called a PIT maneuver, is dangerous and can be considered a use of deadly force, which Joseph-McDade’s lawyers argue wasn’t warranted for having expired registration.

The judge noted that even during the pursuit, Joseph-McDade used his turn signals and utilized turn lanes.

Advertising

Joseph-McDade, who was unarmed, drove into a cul-de-sac at about 10 mph, with the two police cars right behind him, according to court files. When he stopped, Davis exited his car, drew his handgun and stepped in front of Joseph-McDade’s car, where he ordered the two young men out of the vehicle.

Davis fired two rounds into the car after, he later said, he heard Joseph-McDade’s engine “rev up” and the car “launch directly” at him. Rausch, meantime, rammed his police cruiser into Joseph-McDade’s car. According to testimony and video of the incident, Joseph-McDade — curled into a ball in the driver’s seat — drove slowly past the officers, out of the cul-de-sac, then stopped. He was shot twice in the chest and died at the scene.

An autopsy and physical evidence showed, however, the shots were fired from an angle into the car, indicating Davis was standing off to the passenger side of Joseph-McDade’s car when he fired. Expert reports also indicate Rausch’s decision to ram the car actually pushed Joseph-McDade’s car toward Davis.

Two reports prepared by forensic experts hired by the family’s attorneys concluded the shots were fired when the front of Joseph-McDade’s Honda Civic was passing the officer, indicating he was in no danger of being struck.

Testifying at a coroner’s inquest, Davis said it seemed to him the car “was barreling towards me. It was coming at me at a high rate of speed … it seemed like the car was going 100 miles an hour.”

A defense accident-reconstruction expert, mechanical engineer Mark Erickson, examined video of the incident from three security cameras and other evidence, and concluded Joseph-McDade’s car was traveling no faster than 9 miles per hour when the shots were fired.

Three minutes passed between when Rausch approached the car at the convenience store and when the shots were fired, according to the court files and the judge’s order.