Andrea Churna thought someone was trying to kill her when she called Redmond police for help the night of Sept. 20, 2020. Raised around cops, she did what she was asked to do when police arrived to find her armed with a handgun.

She put the weapon down, walked out of her apartment unarmed, clad in a T-shirt and yoga pants, hands up, and laid face down on the carpeted hallway floor outside her door — “proned out” as officers at the scene described it.

None of that kept police from killing her. An officer, just 18 months out of the police academy, shot the 39-year-old mother six times with a high-powered rifle as she lay on the floor 30 feet away. She had been in obvious distress and was asking for her ex-husband.

“She called them for help,” said an emotional Michael Thomas, Churna’s father, as he sat at the dining room table in his home in Port Orchard. “And they killed her for it. This is a nightmare for us. Where is the justice for my daughter?”

More than a year later, Thomas is dismissive of the process surrounding the investigation into his daughter’s death. He’s frustrated that nobody can tell him whether the officers involved will be held accountable for what he believes was an unnecessary and excessive use of force against an unarmed, mentally disturbed woman who had asked for help and was trying to surrender.

While any father would feel that way in his position, Thomas’ opinion carries a certain authority — he’s a retired Michigan State Police commander who in a distinguished 32-year career investigated or oversaw investigations into dozens of police shootings and homicides himself.

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“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Thomas. “Where are the charges? The facts are there. Andrea grew up in a law enforcement family. I feel guilty because her expectation was that if you called police, they would come and help.”

King County inquest process

King County’s charter requires an inquest jury review all deaths caused by police. In 2021, the process was expanded to include the appointment of an attorney to represent the families of those who died at the hands of police; a review of a department’s policies over use of force; and will, for the first time in more than 40 years, include questions about whether the death involved criminality. In addition, officers will be required to testify, something they haven’t always done in the past.

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The shooting was investigated by the King County Sheriff’s Office, whose detectives repeatedly expressed frustration over the lack of cooperation of the Redmond officers and interference by their union attorney, according to sheriff’s reports. They turned an admittedly incomplete investigation over to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office last spring. Prosecutors have declined to decide whether to pursue criminal charges against the officers pending a coroner’s inquest — a process stalled since 2017 and currently mired in procedural knots.

Fifteen months after the shooting, the officer who killed Churna, 26-year-old Daniel Mendoza, has declined to give a statement to sheriff’s investigators or be interviewed about why he pulled the trigger. Several other officers at the scene — the only witnesses since there were no civilians in the hallway, no surveillance cameras and none of the officers wore body cameras — were sent home that night without talking to investigators.

Police officers enjoy the same Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination as all citizens.

They were not admonished against talking to one another and most didn’t provide written statements for six days, after they had all consulted with the same guild attorney. Some written statements didn’t come in for months. Several officers there that night declined to sit for follow-up interviews or provide any additional information to outside investigators.

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“The statements that have been provided to us up to this point are not adequate or conducive for us to conduct a thorough investigation,” wrote King County sheriff’s Detective Sarah Gerlitz in an email to her supervisors Nov. 14, 2020, more than six weeks after the shooting.

In most criminal investigations, potential suspects are generally separated — as the sheriff’s detectives attempted here — or otherwise asked not to speak with one another to avoid collusion or dilution of recollection. In addition, the routine practice of delaying questioning of officers involved in using force also is controversial; additional time is rarely afforded citizens suspected of violent crimes.

“All of those statements are suspect,” said Kim Zak, an attorney hired by Churna’s parents, who are planning a lawsuit.

A review of several hundred pages of investigative reports, diagrams, crime-scene photographs and dispatch calls and logs obtained by The Seattle Times through a public disclosure request showed most of those officers continue their silence today.

This past September, after the sheriff’s criminal investigation was completed, Redmond Chief Darrell Lowe announced he was launching an internal investigation into the shooting, stating that he had employed the Force Science Institute out of Illinois to “provide an independent force review and analysis” of the shooting.

However, FSI has been denounced by civil rights attorneys, psychologists and the Department of Justice for its methods and conclusions. A 2015 New York Times investigation pointed out that foundation consultants, in hundreds of cases involving police shootings, almost universally sided with the officer, even when the suspect was unarmed.

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The results of the internal investigation are pending.

Chief Lowe, in a statement last week, stated that the Churna shooting will also be the subject of a coroner’s inquest. However, it rests at No. 43 in a list of 52 pending inquests into law enforcement-related deaths in King County since 2017, and it could be years before an inquest jury hears the case and the prosecutor’s office gets its recommendation.

Trying to rebuild

Andrea Churna had moved into the Modera Apartments in Redmond in August 2020 after moving out of her parent’s house in Port Orchard. A graduate of Vanderbilt University, she was a successful IT and tech recruiter who earned a six-figure salary. Churna was attempting to rebuild her life after a period where she struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and other emotional and psychological issues, according to her family and the sheriff’s investigation.

She remained close with her ex-husband, Timothy Churna, a senior attorney at Microsoft, who shared joint custody of their 7-year-old son. Tim Churna had been taking care of the boy while his mother got back on her feet after she returned to Washington after briefly living in California. While they had separated nearly six years earlier and divorced the previous year, Tim Churna said they spoke almost daily and texted frequently.

In California, Churna had been stalked by a former boyfriend, a mixed martial arts fighter, her ex-husband said. She would obsess over it. In irrational moments, according to police interviews with friends and family, she was convinced a “network” of people were attempting to kidnap her and her son and force them into sex slavery.

“The thing is, she recognized she might not be thinking clearly,” Tim Churna said. “She let me have our son full-time for a period so she could work through this. She was highly functional. She knew some of this was irrational.”

It was during one of those periods that she moved home with her parents. Thomas, her father, said she wanted to be able to protect herself and thought she might feel safer if she had a gun, so he helped her buy a 9-mm Smith & Wesson semiautomatic pistol and taught her to shoot it.

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After several months at home, feeling better and seeing a doctor, Churna moved from Port Orchard to the upscale Modera Apartments, settling into a small, one-bedroom unit on the fourth floor, with a balcony overlooking an enclosed courtyard.

The night of the shooting, Tim Churna said he had spoken with Andrea and felt “she was in crisis,” according to his statement to the Sheriff’s Office. He was already on his way to her apartment when she called him from her balcony.

The investigation would show that Churna a week earlier had been prescribed a stimulant similar to Adderall and possibly had ingested a month’s supply in just a few days. Friends who had spoken with her said she apparently hadn’t slept for days because she was worried about being kidnapped.

Called police

At 9:24 p.m. on Sept. 20, 2020, a dispatcher at the NORCOM 911 center took a call from a woman at Modera who said that “someone was trying to kill her in her apartment” and then hung up without giving an apartment number or details. Attempts by the dispatcher to call the number back failed, and a trio of officers from Redmond responded to the call.

Officers Brian Hood, Ty Tomlinson and Evan Barnard arrived just before 9:30 p.m., and a resident let them inside the building and used his key fob to give them access to the courtyard and elevator.

The trio of officers entered the courtyard and immediately saw a woman “scaling the outside rails of a balcony” on the fourth floor, according to Hood. She identified herself as “Andrea,” saying she had called police and was outside because she didn’t feel safe in her apartment.

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Barnard and Tomlinson took to the stairs to the fourth floor while Hood remained in the courtyard talking to Churna.

“I asked her if someone else was inside, and she said, ‘No, but I shot at someone,’ ” Hood wrote in a report. He immediately notified Tomlinson and Barnard, who were making their way upstairs. “I also advised she may be having mental health issues,” Hood said.

Hood asked Churna if she had access to a firearm. She responded “yeah” and, over the officer’s objections, ran back into the apartment. She returned to the balcony a moment later holding a black handgun.

Hood’s report states that she “leaned her arm over the rail and pointed the gun directly at me.” The officer said he feared for his life, but that the distance was too great for him to shoot at her, so he sought cover behind a wall. Churna did not fire.

Hood radioed to dispatch and said the woman was armed.

A neighbor on the third floor directly across the courtyard from Churna’s apartment, Joshi Pranav, later told King County sheriff’s detectives that he witnessed the exchange.

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“The officer asked if she had shot and she said [she] thought she shot at someone in the apartment,” Pranav said. When she came back out, Pranav was adamant that the woman’s actions “seemed consistent with ‘showing’ the officer she had a firearm,” the report said.

Hood told Churna to put down the gun, which she did. It was found later on a table on the balcony. Evidence at the scene indicated that Churna had fired a single shot into the door of her apartment before officers arrived and that the gun had malfunctioned, according to reports.

Hood explained to Churna that there were other officers in the building and told her it was important that she keep her hands visible at all times.

Tomlinson and Barnard, meantime, converged on apartment 450, the first apartment on the west side of the long leg of an interior hallway shaped like a “T,” with the top facing north.

Their account comes from unsigned and undated written statements given to sheriff’s detectives by their attorney, Lisa Elliott, in March 2021, six months after the shooting. Tomlinson and Barnard refused to be interviewed by sheriff’s investigators.

Hood radioed to dispatch and the other officers that Churna had returned inside her apartment. Tomlinson, in his written statement, said he heard the front door open and a woman walk into the hallway with a gun in her hand. He said he retreated down the east hallway of the “T” intersection “when I saw her come into the hallway opening with the gun pointed directly at me.”

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Tomlinson opened fire with his 9-mm Glock service handgun, firing six shots at Churna. Barnard, meantime, had run down the west hallway and believed he had come under fire as Tomlinson’s rounds impacted. He fired twice toward the intersection.

Churna, uninjured, retreated back to the apartment.

Four of the rounds, apparently fired by Tomlinson, punched through a hallway wall, lodging in a closet and living room wall of an empty apartment. Another round hit a door of an occupied apartment, according to investigative reports. Evidence at the scene showed multiple bullet strikes, ricochets, shell cases and bullet fragments up and down the hallway.

The “shots fired” announcement sent at least six other Redmond officers and police from Kirkland roaring to the apartment complex.

Several were armed with M4 assault-style rifles and two carried “ballistic shields” designed to stop a small-arms bullet. Officer Mendoza, who had completed his field training just five months earlier, raced upstairs and took up a position at the intersection of the “T,” armed with a .223-caliber rifle loaded with a 30-round magazine.

Churna, meantime, returned to the balcony, now on a cellphone talking to her ex-husband, Tim, who was just arriving at the apartment complex.

Hood, still below in the courtyard, asked whether she had fired at the officers or if she was hurt.

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“No, they shot at me,” she said. Hood said he “pleaded” with her to stay on the balcony, but again she went inside. In his report, Hood noted in his report that when she returned to the balcony, she was unarmed and holding a cellphone. He broadcast over the radio that she told him the gun was inside.

In the hallway, at least five officers crowded at the intersection and were coming up with an arrest plan. Only one officer had a less-lethal option — Mendoza, who in addition to the rifle, also had a Taser.

Churna, who was 5-feet-3 and weighed 150 pounds, walked out of the apartment with her hands up. Officers ordered her to lie face down, head facing the other direction, and cross her ankles. She complied.

Several officers, using profanity, told her if she moved she would be “shot multiple times.” At least five officers were crowded at the top of the “T,” none more than 10 yards from where Churna lay waiting to be arrested.

“While waiting for additional officers and a shield to move up to the female, the female started to turn her head towards us and asked, ‘is my ex-husband here?’ ” Barnard wrote in his statement. He said she inched around nearly 90 degrees and was reaching for the door handle when Mendoza opened fire.

Barnard and at least one other officer wrote that they feared Churna was trying to retrieve the gun.

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Computer-assisted dispatch logs, time-stamped dispatch tapes and written officer statements indicated Churna was on the floor in the hallway for more than three minutes before shots were fired.

Churna was struck six times. An autopsy showed that four of the rounds tore through her left arm and shoulder and through her torso, resulting in “catastrophic” injuries to her arm, lungs, liver, heart, breast and spine. Officers handcuffed her and attempted first aid, but she died within minutes. The medical examiner said three of the six wounds were fatal.

One of the officers at the scene, a trainee who had been on the streets for just a few weeks, was so distraught and upset after trying to help her that his training officer took his firearms as a precaution.

Memorial balloon

Redmond police told the family and public that Churna “had confronted officers with a gun and was shot.”

Thomas, Churna’s father, 30 years as a cop, initially believed this account and expressed concern for the officers, knowing how traumatic shooting someone can be. After obtaining a copy of the sheriff’s investigation, he doesn’t feel that way anymore.

“Where was the de-escalation?” he asked. “They stood there and yelled obscenities at her and threatened her for nearly five minutes and then shot her. Why couldn’t they just walk down and put the cuffs on? They knew she didn’t have a gun.”

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Last Wednesday, on what would be his ex-wife’s 41st birthday, Timothy Churna and his son planned to launch a memorial balloon in her memory. Tim Churna said the boy, now 8, knows his mother’s death had something to do with her mental health, but he doesn’t know that police were involved.

The boy idolizes his ex-police detective grandfather, Michael, and nobody has quite figured out how to tell him what happened yet.

Michael Thomas broke down when the topic came up. “She was a holiday baby,” he said of his only daughter. His voice cracked and there were tears on his cheeks. “We brought her home in a Christmas stocking.” And he wept.