King County has agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a 23-year-old pregnant Muckleshoot woman shot to death by sheriff’s deputies in 2016.
Renee Davis’ death, which occurred while deputies were supposed to be checking on her well-being, has been a focal point of public and tribal outrage over police violence and accountability. The shooting spawned protests, marches and new legislation, as well as a rare reversal in the Washington Court of Appeals that set the stage for all of it.
The county and Davis’ family settled the claim last week following mediation.
“The Davis family is eternally grateful to the King County community for supporting their quest for truth and justice,” Seattle lawyer Gabe Galanda said in a statement Wednesday. He noted that groups ranging from the Seattle Seahawks, who wore her name on their helmets, to political and tribal officials throughout the county “made a difference.”
Rose Davis, Renee’s sister, said the tragedy “has actually blossomed into an incredible journey, where I have seen and realized a lot of support and sincerity.” She said she and Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht, who was involved in the mediation, shared a “heartfelt moment, despite the circumstances.”
A message seeking comment from the King County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday afternoon did not get an immediate response.
This is the third seven-figure settlement King County has reached in lawsuits filed over shootings by county deputies in the past two years. In March, the county paid $5 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of Tommy Le, shot by deputies in 2017. In May 2020, the county paid the parents of Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens $2.25 million to settle their lawsuit over his killing during a misguided King County sting operation.
Renee Davis was troubled and in crisis, making suicidal statements to her boyfriend in her home on the Muckleshoot reservation the night of Oct. 21, 2016, according to court documents and police reports. He became so concerned that he sought out King County Sheriff’s Deputy Nicholas Pritchett, who was parked near the tribe’s powwow grounds. The Muckleshoot tribe contracts with the sheriff’s office for law enforcement services.
Pritchett called for backup and he and Deputy Timothy Lewis responded to Lewis’ home in the Skopabsh Village neighborhood on the reservation.
According to the lawsuit, filed in 2018, the officers did little to inform themselves about Davis or her situation and approached the home knowing two young children were inside and that she owned at least one firearm.
According to the complaint and evidence produced at a King County coroner’s inquest, the officers pounded on the front door, entered the home and kicked down the door to Davis’ bedroom home while her children, ages 2 and 3, stood in the hallway. The deputies said Davis pointed a handgun at them while lying in bed, but the lawsuit alleged there was no evidence for that outside of the deputies’ “self-serving” statements.
The two officers fired a total of eight rounds, striking Davis three times in the abdomen, chest and leg. According to the complaint, she was four months pregnant.
Statements by the deputies and evidence introduced at an inquest said they recovered a handgun, but that it was not loaded. Moreover, the lawsuit alleges another officer arrived just after the shooting, and he found Pritchett and Lewis “standing around” while Davis lay bleeding on the floor. The third deputy said he saw a handgun in the woman’s hand, which contradicted statements by Pritchett that Davis dropped the gun on the bed and fell to the floor after the gunfire.
The lawsuit alleges that “one of the deputies placed the pistol in Renee’s hand on the floor” before the third officer arrived. The deputies denied moving the gun.
A six-member inquest jury in May found the deputies had reason to fear for their lives, though the panel was divided on whether the deputies showed concern for Davis’ welfare when they acted.
Ted Buck, a Seattle attorney who represented the two officers, said the decision to settle the lawsuit was made by the county and that his clients would have liked to see the case to go trial.
“However, it was the county’s decision, and the deputies respect that,” Buck said. Both will be dismissed as defendants when the settlement is finalized, he said.
He acknowledged it was “a very unusual case,” which shows “the remarkable no-win situation that police officers walk into every day.”
“Imagine the public outcry had those deputies not gone into that house to check on her and then she had hurt herself,” Buck said. “But they do go in, and she had a pistol which she pointed at them. You just can’t do that.”
The Davis shooting is one of several used as examples by a group “De-Escalate Washington” when it submitted signatures for the eventual passage of a state initiative, I-940, that changed the state’s deadly force law as it applied to law enforcement and made significant changes to police training and accountability laws.
More importantly, it was the impetus for the passage of a state Senate bill sponsored by Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, that changed a state law that prohibits people who were engaged in the commission of a felony from filing state personal injury claims. The deputies claimed Davis intended to assault them with the handgun when they killed her. The new law, signed by Gov. Jay Inslee in May, requires additional proof for officers to meet that defense.
That issue was at the heart of a decision by a King County Superior Court judge to dismiss the case, and an initial decision by Division One of the Washington Court of Appeals to uphold that ruling. However, the appeals court reversed itself and reinstated the lawsuit, saying the jury should decide whether Davis actually intended to assault the deputies, given her mental state and the fact that her gun was unloaded.
“We’re extremely pleased with this outcome, given that this case was on life support just a year ago,” said Galanda, the plaintiff’s lawyer. “The family is feeling a lot of gratitude.”