Seattle police officers assigned to federal law enforcement task forces will now be required to wear and activate body-worn cameras during arrests, in line with the Seattle Police Department’s body-worn camera policy.
Interim police Chief Adrian Diaz updated the agency’s policy after an SPD detective was one of three law enforcement officers who fatally shot California homicide suspect Marshall Jones III last week in Kent while trying to arrest him in the January disappearance and presumed death of his ex-girlfriend, 24-year-old Alexis Gabe.
The updated policy, Diaz said, will ensure encounters with suspects are captured on video — and provide consistency for Seattle officers working with federal and state agencies.
Seattle Detective Matthew Lilje, a Snohomish County sheriff’s detective and a deputy U.S. marshal — all assigned to the Pacific Northwest Violent Offender Task Force — opened fire on Jones last Wednesday when he charged the officers with a knife, according to Seattle police.
But because Lilje was working on a task force led by a federal agency — in this case, the U.S. Marshals Service — he wasn’t required to wear or activate a body-worn camera. That’s due to an exemption in the Seattle Police Department’s policy for use of the cameras by such officers, Diaz said Monday.
As a result, there was no body-worn camera footage to release. However, in keeping with a 5-year-old SPD policy to publicly release available video, surveillance footage and 911 calls within 72 hours of a major incident, police on Saturday released video one officer recorded with his cellphone.
Task force members can be heard on the video knocking on a first-floor apartment door, identifying themselves as police, calling Jones’ name and announcing they had a warrant for his arrest.
“Open the door, open the door slowly,” one officer says as a dog barks.
“Open the door — do it now,” another officer says, according to the video. “You’re under arrest — do it now.”
The sound of gunfire quickly follows.
The footage is then slowed down, and Jones can be seen lunging out of the door holding what turned out to be a serrated kitchen knife with an 8-inch blade, according to police. A quick series of gunshots ring out, and Jones falls forward before the camera pans to the ground.
“None of the federal agencies have body-worn cameras,” Diaz told The Seattle Times. “There’s been a level of reluctance in having things videotaped during operations.”
That reluctance is because of fears of jeopardizing investigations — such as by recording an interview with a confidential informant, Diaz said.
Diaz said he rescinded the exemption for Seattle police officers serving on federal task forces when they are making arrests — and that the eight to 10 Seattle officers who serve on such interagency teams will now be required to wear and activate the cameras in those situations.
He pointed to an executive order President Joe Biden issued May 25 that mandates federal law enforcement agencies adopt policies on body-worn cameras and require their officers to activate the cameras during arrests and searches. The policies must also “provide for the expedited public release of footage following incidents involving serious bodily injury or deaths in custody,” the order says.
Similar rules have been standard for SPD over the past five years.
Seattle police introduced in-car video cameras in the early 2000s. And under former Chief Kathleen O’Toole, the department in 2017 became a national leader in the quick release of patrol-car video after police shootings. That year, O’Toole ordered available video to be publicly released within 72 hours — a policy that has remained in effect even after the department in 2018 became one of the first police agencies in the state to equip officers with body-worn cameras.
“When you’re not providing information about an incident or you don’t see a video, it leaves a lot of questions for the community. And when you have those questions, you’ve seen in other cities, people will riot because they don’t have all the information,” Diaz said. “That doesn’t mean the video gives you all the information, but it does provide a glimpse of what initially occurred.”
In some instances, Seattle police have released video of police shootings in less than 24 hours — such as after police fatally shot Gregory Taylor, a Black man, outside the Northwest African American Museum in February 2021.
Taylor, who shot and killed a young woman in the museum’s parking lot for no apparent reason, shot at arriving officers and was killed when they returned fire.
The officers’ cameras captured the sound of gunshots before Taylor walked into view, and Diaz said the prompt release of the footage staved off potential criticism or outrage.
“When you put the whole incident together, how short of a timeline, hearing the shots fired, the officers hearing the shots fired, it gives an accurate depiction of what actually occurred,” said Diaz. “It’s important for the community to know and to actually be able to understand that dynamic.”
Information from Seattle Times’ archives is included in this story.