Two officers who shot and killed a man who was carrying a knife as he walked along Seattle’s waterfront last year failed to first try to defuse the situation or use other defensive strategies before resorting to using deadly force, Seattle’s police watchdog announced Tuesday.
In turn, the Office of Police Accountability recommended suspensions for each officer — identified by the Police Department as Cassidy Butler and Willard Jared — for violating the department’s “de-escalation” policy during the fatal encounter in February 2021 with 44-year-old Derek Hayden along Alaskan Way.
The officers “engaged in tactics and decision-making that increased the odds that force would be used and, more concerningly, failed to ensure time, distance, or shielding” between themselves and Hayden when they confronted him after responding to a scene where multiple officers already had arrived, according to a 12-page summary of the OPA investigation released Tuesday.
“This caused the breakdown of the plan employed by the (other) officers on scene and ultimately resulted in the fatal shooting of” Hayden, the summary says.
The OPA investigation stopped short of finding the officers broke any rules for shooting at Hayden, however, ruling the allegations they violated the department’s use-of-force policy as “non-sustained.”
Butler and Jared were not named in the OPA report made public. But both were identified in disciplinary records separately released by the department Tuesday that showed interim Chief Adrian Diaz upheld the OPA findings and recommendations, imposing a one-day suspension without pay against Butler and a three-day suspension without pay against Jared, the more senior officer.
In the records, known as Disciplinary Action Reports, or DARs, Diaz directly assessed each officer’s actions, finding both had “undercut the core component of de-escalation” by interceding in a large police response at the scene and emerging in front of Hayden with their weapons drawn.
“The Subject had not threatened anyone but himself,” Diaz wrote to each officer. “Time would have allowed the situation to evolve, it would have given the officers more opportunity to build a rapport with the Subject and to call in more resources.”
Mike Solan, president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild which represents the officers, declined to comment about the OPA investigation on Tuesday.
Friends and relatives of Hayden, who has been described as a well-liked, Seattle University graduate student who was studying computer science, have said they didn’t recognize his mental health troubles before his fatal encounter with police.
“It just really highlights the fact of how the system doesn’t always work right,” Jason Trammell, Hayden’s cousin, said at a vigil after his death. “I wish there were some warning signs or something that could have been done to end it differently. I think as a society we need to keep up with other ideas.”
Around 9:20 p.m. on Feb. 16, 2021, two Port of Seattle police officers encountered a man, later identified as Hayden, walking with a large butcher knife near Alaskan Way and Seneca Street, according to audio of the 911 call. The man approached the officers, put the knife to his own neck, and told them: “I need help, I need you to kill me,” according to the OPA summary.
After requesting assistance from Seattle police, five city officers responded and began developing a tactical plan while keeping a safe distance from Hayden, who had ambled toward Pier 55. As one of the Port officers was equipped with a 40 mm launcher that fires foam-tipped projectiles, Seattle police asked that officer to take the lead, the OPA summary states.
About that time, Jared and Butler, riding together in a squad car, arrived on scene and parked ahead of where Hayden was walking on the sidewalk, the summary says. Jared emerged from the car with his patrol rifle, Butler with her sidearm, and Jared ordered Hayden to stop. Instead, Hayden stepped off the sidewalk, walked toward the officers, raised the knife and said: “Do it, please, just shoot me,” the summary states.
Both officers fired at Hayden, though Butler “did not appear to hit the Subject with any of her shots,” the summary says. Jared fired at Hayden about five seconds after he started advancing toward the officers, the OPA found.
The department’s Force Investigation Team, which was called to the scene to investigate the shooting, later referred the case to OPA, alleging Jared and Butler “left the safety of their car, confronted the suspect and ultimately shot and killed him.”
“There was no exigency requiring immediate intervention by the officers, and no crime had occurred,” according to the referral, as recounted in the OPA summary. “The officers appear to have violated the de-escalation policy by failing to utilize time, distance and shielding to reduce the chance of using force.”
Both officers later told OPA investigators they feared Hayden was posing a danger to the public by brandishing a knife, despite the fact that no pedestrians or traffic were seen in the immediate vicinity. The officers also said they felt they’d stopped a safe distance away, but were forced to shoot when Hayden advanced aggressively and failed to heed their commands to stop.
After reviewing video footage and conducting multiple interviews, OPA concluded the officers “failed to engage in any planning or tactical discussions prior to using force.”
“When they came into the path of Mr. Hayden with firearms drawn, this eliminated time, which the investigation report refers to as the most crucial factor of de-escalation,” the OPA added in a statement Tuesday.
The investigation also concluded the officers were within policy to shoot Hayden in defense after he came toward them, knife raised.
The investigation summary cited another case — the May 2020 fatal shooting of Terry Caver, in which an internal investigation also found officers used inappropriate tactics and failed to de‑escalate an encounter with a man with a knife — in re‑issuing a policy recommendation aimed at reforming how police respond to individuals armed with knives.
The department, in a statement Tuesday, said it also has “supplemented its training and resources over the past year, including updated edged-weapon de-escalation training and, with the support of community and accountability partners, a program to equip officers with the BolaWrap, an additional tool for interrupting a threat of harm at a safer distance.” The device discharges a cord that restrains its target.
Other past fatal encounters between Seattle police and people with knives or other edged weapons include the 2010 shooting of John T. Williams, a First Nations woodcarver, whose case prompted federal oversight of the department that remains ongoing; and last month’s confrontation with a burglary suspect, who was shot to death on a Beacon Hill street after fatally stabbing a police dog unleashed on him by a pursuing officer.