Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe also dismissed criticisms that an independent investigation into the shooting was incomplete.
EVERETT — Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe, who reviewed a Lynnwood police officer’s fatal shooting of a knife-wielding man after new witness statements raised questions about the officer’s actions, has reaffirmed the original decision of his office that the shooting was justified.
In an interview Monday, Roe also defended the independent investigation of the shooting conducted by the Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team, or SMART, calling it thorough and fair.
The 2017 shooting and investigation has come under sharp criticism by two attorneys representing the parents of Jeremy Dowell, a 36-year-old Mountlake Terrace man with mental-health issues.
The city of Lynnwood recently settled a federal civil-rights lawsuit brought by Dowell’s parents and his estate, agreeing to pay $1.75 million without admitting wrongdoing.
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Roe said he looked at criminal standards and that the civil case played no role in his review, which he began in May when Seattle attorneys Ed Budge and Erik Heipt included in the lawsuit 12 declarations from witnesses challenging the official version of the shooting.
While no one disputed that Dowell was carrying a knife, six people who said they saw the initial confrontation said Dowell never directly threatened the officer, Zachary Yates.
Ten of the witnesses said Yates continued to fire shots at a helpless, stumbling or severely injured Dowell. Five said some rounds were fired while Dowell was on the ground and half the witnesses described the shooting as a murder.
Some of the witnesses also complained that they weren’t contacted by detectives after giving statements at the scene.
The suit alleged Yates quickly jumped out of his patrol vehicle, pursued Dowell on foot and almost immediately began shooting him.
Yates had responded to the Jan. 30, 2017, incident after Dowell walked into a carpet business on Highway 99, where he reportedly accused the owner and an employee of wanting to kill him. The owner called 911, saying Dowell had been hostile and referred to ISIS, the extremist Islamic military group, before leaving the business.
Yates, in a written statement, said he saw Dowell bolt across Highway 99 toward a Costco parking lot, where he witnessed Dowell reach into a backpack.
Yates said he stopped his car and began chasing Dowell, coming within a few feet of him before deciding to end the chase when he saw Dowell was carrying a “large fixed blade knife.”
But as he stopped, Yates said, Dowell abruptly turned toward him, forcing Yates to backpedal.
Yates said he recalled ordering Dowell to drop the knife, along with other officers.
When Dowell ignored the orders, Yates said he fired once, thinking Dowell would fall. However, the officer said Dowell continued to move toward him after being shot two more times, Yates wrote.
Yates said he feared Dowell was moving toward another officer before Dowell dropped to the ground and attempted to get back up and come toward him again.
Dowell fell to his “knees/feet” but continued to ignore commands to drop the knife, Yates said, adding he feared Dowell would become mobile again.
“I fired several more rounds center mass” that knocked Dowell to the ground, wrote Yates, who fired 10 shots in all.
Roe said Yates reasonably responded to Dowell’s conduct throughout the incident to protect himself and the public, including the final shots.
“He was getting back up and he was moving,” Roe said of Dowell.
“I don’t fault what this officer did,” Roe added. “I think I would have done the same thing.”
Roe said the declarations reflect the different ways witnesses see an event, depending on their vantage point. He said witnesses also can be influenced by the shock of what they are seeing and their lack of knowledge about police procedures.
While Roe said he prefers that investigators follow up with witnesses, sometimes there is enough information to reach a conclusion.
The SMART team concluded the shooting fell within legal limits. The team is made up of investigators from various Snohomish County law-enforcement agencies and the Washington State Patrol, with the goal of ensuring public trust by carrying out professional investigations and keeping individual departments from conducting their own investigations into the use of deadly force.
Based on SMART’s findings, prosecutors declined to bring criminal charges against Yates.
Budge, one of the attorneys representing Dowell’s parents, responded to Roe’s decision: “By filing a civil lawsuit, which resulted in one of the largest excessive force settlements in the history of the state, the parents of Jeremy Dowell brought public attention to the unjustified shooting of their son and the poor investigation by the so-called SMART team. Under our system of justice, only the elected prosecutor can ultimately decide the question of criminal charges.”
Dowell’s parents, too, said they were disappointed that Roe did not change his mind.
“When police do not thoroughly and properly investigate other police, public confidence and trust is lost,” Robert and Suzette Dowell said in a statement. “While we cannot agree with the prosecutor, we are proud that our civil lawsuit brought public attention to the unjustified shooting of our son and the biased investigation into that shooting.”