The afternoon of Jan. 25, 2017, Moises Radcliffe interrupted a car prowl in the parking lot of Beaver Lake Park in Sammamish. The son of a cop, the 22-year-old grabbed a handgun from his vehicle and confronted the thieves, shooting at them as they ran him down with their car and dragged him to death.
Two days later, King County sheriff’s detectives investigating Radcliffe’s homicide gunned down 17-year-old Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens on a dark Des Moines street in a hastily arranged sting operation. Another boy — Dajohntae Richard, a 16-year-old who was the actual target of the operation — fled, to be arrested by a SWAT team later that night.
Within hours, deputies would learn they had it all wrong. Neither boy, it turned out, had anything to do with Radcliffe’s death.
How the death of one young man, the son of a Seattle police officer, led to the death of another — a black teen killed by police — emerges through hundreds of pages of sheriff’s documents and interviews to reveal a troubling string of investigative missteps, discrepancies in the stories of the deputies who fired, and assumptions by investigators made in the face of evidence that they were on the wrong track.
Indeed, sheriff’s reports and records show that the day Dunlap-Gittens died, detectives had been following two teenage girls known to be involved in Radcliffe’s death. Fingerprints had linked them to stolen items at the scene, and a surveillance photograph from a Renton Fred Meyer taken an hour after the homicide clearly showed one of them using a credit card taken from the homicide scene. They and another girl would later plead guilty to crimes related to Radcliffe’s death.
Those same state crime-lab fingerprint reports specifically showed that Richard’s fingerprints were nowhere to be found.
Still, records show the team was pulled off surveillance of the girls to join in the misguided sting to arrest Richard that cost Dunlap-Gittens his life.
“They left the suspects they knew were involved to arrest someone they knew was not,” said lawyer Patricia Bosmans, a retired Des Moines city attorney who represents Dunlap-Gittens’ mother, Alexis Dunlap, in a $10 million claim filed in January against the county. Her attorney says she plans to file a federal civil-rights lawsuit if the county does not respond.
The shooting has also raised questions about detectives’ claims that Dunlap-Gittens pulled a gun on them; about “forensic evidence” that detectives were told tied Richard to the Radcliffe killing, when no such evidence existed; and about the supervision and oversight of an undercover operation that employed 15 deputies and detectives, a helicopter and a K-9 unit to arrest a 16-year-old boy.
The detectives have defended their actions and said the fact that the homicide victim was the son of a fellow police officer played no role in their response. Bosmans disagrees.
“They were primed,” she said.
Hunt for the killers
Sheriff’s Sgt. Todd Miller was among the first deputies on the scene at the park that afternoon. He pulled Moises Radcliffe’s limp body off the blacktop parking lot onto the grass and performed CPR and first aid on the dying young man.
Known as “Moe” to friends and family, Radcliffe had been adopted as an infant from a Guatemalan orphanage by Seattle police Officer Todd Radcliffe. He had graduated from Issaquah High School and was working as a cook.
Shell casings at the scene indicated he fired several rounds into the prowlers’ gold SUV as it bore down on him and dragged him through the parking lot as it sped away.
Minutes later, at 2:48 p.m., an alert of shots fired went out over police radios and computers. Two minutes after that, another alert went out stating the victim was the son of a Seattle officer. Miller, a 22-year sheriff’s veteran, had been on his way to another assignment with his plainclothes team when the calls came over.
As other officers arrived, Miller joined the hunt for Radcliffe’s killers.
Deputies found a discarded purse and other evidence at the scene and obtained fingerprints that were sent to the crime lab.
The sheriff’s office had already been looking for a car-prowl ring responsible for dozens of break-ins at Seattle-area dog parks. The M.O. was smash-and-grab: break a window, steal a purse and toss everything but credit cards and cash, then go to the nearest chain store and purchase several $500 gift cards.
Reports show that barely 45 minutes after Radcliffe was killed, two people were caught on a surveillance camera at a Fred Meyer store 20 miles away in Renton using a credit card stolen from Beaver Lake.
Police identified one of the two as a female because her face could be seen and she was wearing a distinctive jacket with a fur-lined hood.
But they had a harder time identifying the second suspect — a thin African American person wearing a flat-brimmed cap and a pink sweatshirt with the sleeves pulled over the hands. They debated whether the person was male or female. At least one detective thought it was a girl, based on the sleeve-tugging and the color of the hoodie.
Sgt. Cynthia Sampson, the Major Crimes Unit detective assigned to the case, wasn’t convinced. A bulletin to law enforcement issued that evening under her name contained the photograph and asked for help in “attempting to identify the black male suspect on the left, and the black female on the right …”
The next day, Jan. 26, the prints came back as those of 22-year-old Ka’Deirdre Rials and 17-year-old Tatiana Dickey — the young woman in the fur-lined coat in the surveillance photo.
A team of as many as eight undercover detectives began following them Jan. 27 but did not stop or arrest the young women, who spent the day hopping from one south-end store to another. Still, detectives believed a third person was involved, and the search for the “male” in the photograph continued.
Mike Garske, a 27-year veteran sheriff’s office vice and intelligence detective, believed he knew a teenage girl from a previous case who might have information about the car-prowl ring, according to reports and his inquest testimony.
Garske has worked human trafficking and vice for more than a decade and was close to then-Sheriff John Urquhart, having been partners when Urquhart was a vice detective. Urquhart was in Garske’s wedding party, according to the former sheriff. Garske’s career has raised eyebrows over the years: In 2014, he drew attention when he allowed an 18-year-old prostitute during a sting in Vancouver to massage him and perform a sex act in front of a mirror before arresting her.
According to sheriff’s reports, detectives arranged for the teenager to be caught in a prostitution sting at a south-end motel. They then questioned her about the photograph, but on Sampson’s orders did not mention the Radcliffe homicide or why they were trying to identify the two people in the photo.
The woman identified the teenager with the fur hood as Dickey. The one in the pink sweatshirt, she said, “looked like” Dajohntae Richard, whom both she and her sister knew, according to the report, which did not elaborate on why she believed that.
Garske and Sampson concluded, based on that identification, that they had cause to arrest Richard for possession of stolen property — the credit card from Beaver Lake used at the Fred Meyer.
This point is important, says Bosmans, who retired from a career as a city attorney both for Des Moines and Tacoma, and knows about police work and defending officers. She doubts the girl’s lone, equivocal statement was sufficient to justify Richard’s arrest and that the entire sting was based on a flimsy identification and violated Fourth Amendment protections against illegal arrests and seizures.
Neither Sampson nor Garske returned telephone messages seeking comment. Liz Rocca, the chief of staff for Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht, said the sheriff could not comment because the office expects to be sued.
Garske, as a vice and human trafficking detective, maintained several phony social- media accounts. He used one on Facebook to try to lure Richard out.
That night, Richard had come into several bottles of liquor and was trying to sell them on his Facebook account. Transcripts of the account show Garske, posing as a 15-year-old prostitute, ordered five bottles for $100 — three bottles of Grey Goose vodka and two 0f Remy Martin cognac.
Richard was cagey about exactly where he would be, but eventually provided an address on 29th Avenue Southeast in Des Moines — the home of his close friend, Dunlap-Gittens.
Garske called a hasty meeting in a parking lot in SeaTac and assembled more than a dozen deputies. He pulled in the detectives who had been watching the girls they knew to be involved, and came up with an arrest plan based off the ruse he had begun on social media.
A female undercover detective, Valerie Kelly, would play the part of the prostitute and contact Richard by phone. She would sit in the passenger seat of an unmarked van driven by another plainclothes detective.
In the back would be an arrest team consisting of three plainclothes officers. Two of them, Joe Eshom and Reed Jones, had been following the female suspects much of the day. The third would be Miller, who just the day before tried to save Radcliffe.
Garske set several cars around the perimeter of the area. Guardian One, the sheriff’s helicopter, would hover just out of earshot, and a K-9 officer was on hand in case they needed a tracking dog.
Garske said he expected Richard to run, that his criminal history included possession of a firearm, and that he might have gang affiliations. The plan was to lure him as close to the van as they could, then the arrest team would spring out of the back and subdue him.
He told the detectives to be vigilant of a “rip” — a robbery — either by Richard or someone else in that tough neighborhood.
And Garske told the team that Richard had been tied to the Radcliffe homicide through “forensic evidence.” In a later sworn statement, Jones — one of the deputies on the arrest team — said his understanding was that Richard “was believed to be the driver of the vehicle involved in the Sammamish homicide.”
In several reports on the incident, deputies — including Miller — refer to the victim by his nickname, “Moe,” and to his girlfriend by her first name. The implied familiarity has led Bosmans, the attorney for Dunlap-Gittens’ mother, to conclude that the deputies may have had revenge on their minds when they climbed into the back of that nondescript silver Toyota van.
Dunlap-Gittens, who went by “Chance,” was at his mother’s apartment with Richard as the family was packing to move to Federal Way. Alexis Dunlap, Chance’s mother, said her son had done his laundry, folded his clothes and finished the packing she’d asked him to do.
She said Chance was a good son with a big heart. He was poised to graduate from Federal Way High School and had big plans for college and, eventually, law school. He wrote poetry and made people laugh, she said.
He and Dajohntae had been friends since grade school, and while Chance had never been in any trouble, Dajohntae was in it all the time, she said. Chance was a loyal friend, though, and that night he and Dajohntae had been partying and trying to come up with money to go to Red Robin for burgers.
She doesn’t know where Dajohntae got the liquor, and she wasn’t home when the shooting occurred. But she knows now that Dajohntae didn’t think he could carry five bottles of alcohol himself, so he asked Chance to come along. Chance picked up three, according to Richard’s later testimony and evidence at the scene, and Richard had two in his arms and was talking on the phone to the undercover detective when they left the apartment.
Dajohntae would later testify that he had a gun because he was afraid of being robbed. He said Chance had tucked a gun in his sweatshirt. His parents both say they didn’t know he had one.
The detectives had only expected to arrest Richard, but now Jones, in the back of the van, spotted two people coming from an apartment. He thought they looked suspicious and was concerned, saying in a sworn statement that their hands were concealed and they “had tension in their shoulders.” He does not mention any bottles.
Miller sprang the trap when the pair was just a few feet away. He slid the door wide, began to move out of the van and says he yelled “Police!”
The sergeant said he saw Richard look startled and immediately reach for his waistband, and then Miller said his attention was pulled to Dunlap-Gittens, who he said was raising a handgun. Miller said he yelled “drop the gun,” drew his .45 and fired once from the hip.
All of this happened, he said, in less than a second.
Jones, who was behind Miller and whose view was partially blocked, heard the shot and saw the muzzle flash illuminate Miller, who he thought had been shot, according to his written statement of the incident.
Eshom said he saw the gun in Dunlap-Gittens’ hands as soon as the van door slid back. Both men testified they were sitting ducks in the back of the van in a gunfight, and they jumped out behind Miller.
The detectives said both suspects were running at this point. Richard had bolted around a corner and was gone, the report said. Dunlap-Gittens headed back up the inclined driveway as Jones and Eshom continued to fire at him until he fell.
Both detectives said he was carrying the gun and looking back, and they worried that if he crested the incline he would be above them and have a tactical advantage.
In all, the detectives fired 12 rounds as Chance tried to run back toward his home. Miller fired once, Eshom three times and Jones eight times. Chance was struck in the right buttock, the backs of both legs, in the groin and in the back of the head — an ultimately fatal wound fired by Eshom. Four of the wounds came from behind, the medical examiner said.
Eshom, a 15-year law-enforcement veteran with nearly 13 years with King County, had been singled out previously for statements he reportedly made in a 2009 use-of-force incident that ending up costing King County $10 million. He and his partner — neither clearly identified as police officers — chased a man for several blocks in downtown Seattle before his partner shoved the man into a wall, resulting in a catastrophic brain injury. According to sworn testimony, a paramedic said Eshom told him the man ran into the wall head-first and injured himself. Surveillance video surfaced showing Eshom’s partner pushing the man hard and intentionally into the wall. The county settled the lawsuit. The victim died in 2015 from his injuries.
The rounds that didn’t hit their target carried on into the apartment complex. Two bullets tore through the living room wall of an apartment occupied by two women.
The sound of gunshots brought every deputy in the area. Among the first to arrive was Deputy Eric Gagnon, a trained medic who immediately began to try to control Dunlap-Gittens’ bleeding. Broken liquor bottles lay scattered around the scene. Gagnon later said he knelt in broken glass and smelled alcohol as he applied tourniquets to both legs and tried to staunch the groin wound. There was nothing to be done about the head wound.
As he approached the injured boy, Gagnon said he noticed a small black handgun down the driveway, about “eight to 10 feet” from where Chance had fallen, according to his report and inquest testimony.
Eshom and Miller said the gun was at Dunlap-Gittens’ feet, “three or four” feet away. Jones said he never saw it. Garske said it was as close as two feet away.
According to reports and testimony, there were no photographs orienting the gun to the crime scene, and Dunlap-Gittens’ body was moved before anyone took pictures.
Neighbor Dan Stevenson, 62, was watching television when he heard gunshots. In a recorded statement that night, Stevenson said he went to his window and saw Dunlap-Gittens on the ground receiving aid. He said he also believes he saw an officer pick up a gun and move it closer to the body.
“I thought I heard him say, ‘He dropped his gun,’ and then I saw one officer come down the driveway and pick something up that looked like a revolver, then walk back up the driveway,” he said.
Bosmans questions how someone could display a gun when their hands were full with liquor bottles. The detectives say Dunlap-Gittens had a small semi-automatic handgun in his right hand when they fired. His mother, a longtime Metro bus driver, says her son was left-handed.
According to documents from the state crime laboratory, the weapon police said was found at the 17-year-old’s feet did not have a round in the chamber and had not been fired. Investigators did not find Dunlap-Gittens’ DNA on the weapon. It was never checked for fingerprints, according to reports.
The King County Sheriff’s Office does not require its deputies to wear body cameras, and its cars are not equipped with dash cameras or audio recorders.
Dunlap-Gittens was taken in gravely critical condition to Harborview Medical Center as deputies and a SWAT team flooded the area looking for Richard, who had gotten away.
A neighbor called Alexis Dunlap, and she rushed to the hospital.
“It still doesn’t feel real,” she said recently while sitting in her new Federal Way apartment, which she, Chance and her daughters had been packing to move to that night.
It wasn’t until she’d been at the hospital for hours that she learned police had shot her son, and then she was told he had fired on the officers.
“So those police made a mistake, and they go home. They still have their jobs,” she said, disbelief in her tone. “My son, a teenage boy, was called out of his home and down his driveway and lost his life for nothing.”
Her intention to sue the county, she said, isn’t about money. “It’s about accountability,” she said.
“I will never stop fighting for him,” she said.
Chance’s father, Frank Gittens, a car sales manager, said the death of his son has darkened his life. His living room contains a large oil painting of him and Chance together — painted from their last photograph. Beneath it is a blue plaster cast of his son’s hand, taken by a nurse just before he and Alexis turned off his life support.
“He did not deserve to die like that,” Gittens said. “Yeah, I know it’s the gun. But sometimes it’s about the approach, too — the way police approach things.”
“If Chance had a gun, then that was a mistake,” he added. “Like all fathers, I would like to have had the opportunity to talk to him about it.”
“Our kids deserve to be able to make mistakes and not die for them,” he said.
A sheriff’s Use of Force Review Board cleared the deputies of any wrongdoing. Nonetheless, it acknowledged that the shooting has resulted in “internal differences of opinion” on the tactics used and whether Miller, who’d responded to the original scene, should have been on the arrest team. It reaffirmed that all of the detectives denied they treated the case differently because the victim was an officer’s son.
Miller, a former SWAT sniper and firearms instructor, told sheriff’s use-of-force investigators that he “was not traumatized by the homicide, that it was part of his job” and played no role in his reaction as leader of the team.
However, a separate administrative review of the tactics employed that night and the policies overseeing them made 19 separate “observations” critical of the sting and included recommendations to clarify the department’s undercover policies.
The review found that some of the tactics used that night may have contributed to confusion, possible misidentification and evidence-gathering problems afterward. Among the findings: The arrest team wore inconsistent clothing, although all wore protective vests labeled “sheriff.” The review called the uniform issue significant because it raised the question of whether they were “immediately identifiable as police under those particular circumstances and lighting.” Four members of a six-member inquest jury found that the arrest team members were not adequately identified as police.
The inquest jury unanimously found Chance pulled out “what appeared to be a gun” and that all of the deputies feared for their safety when they fired.
But the startled response to three armed men jumping out of an unmarked van “could confuse people involved … and raises the question whether the suspects knew the people coming out of the van were police or bad guys,” Capt. Jose Marenco wrote in the September 2017 review.
The Sheriff’s Office can’t say whether any of the recommendations in the review have been implemented more than 15 months after the shooting.
Rocca, the sheriff’s chief of staff, said the incident occurred under the previous sheriff, Urquhart, and responded that “it has been challenging to find information about things that occurred during transition between the prior administration and this one.
“So far, I am unable to locate details on specific changes resulted from the (administrative review),” Rocca said.
Officials in the county’s independent civilian-led Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) — the agency responsible for reviewing sheriff’s cases and ensuring public trust in the department — have expressed concern over Miller’s involvement in the arrest team.
Deborah Jacobs, OLEO’s civilian director, said a review by her office remains pending 15 months after the shooting.
“We are still working with the sheriff’s office to obtain the complete file,” Jacobs said in a March 25 email.
CORRECTION: Detective Mike Garske was misidentified as a sergeant in an earlier version of this story. Joe Eshom has 15 years in law enforcement; an earlier version of the story stated otherwise.