Community representatives for the Capital Metro Independent Investigations Team believed the police officer involved in the March 2022 shooting incident complied with the use-of-force policy.
At the Olympia City Council meeting held Tuesday, Lt. Dan Smith of Olympia Police District gave a briefing to the city council on the investigation of the March 31, 2022, shooting incident involving a police officer.
Smith said the investigation was completed on February 2 this year. He noted that the team was comprised of highly trained and experienced detectives from Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater, and Yelm police departments.
He added that the investigation was staffed with 18 investigators and evidence technicians.
Citing the Pierce County prosecutor's office, Smith said the review of the investigation reveals that it "complied with the statutory requirements and appeared independent and fair. The officer's use of force was justified and lawful."
Smith said the detailed 100-page report could be accessed with a public disclosure request through the Lacey Police Department.
Smith recounted what occurred on March 31, 2022, wherein officers were dispatched to an apartment complex at 1309 Fern Street, where a neighbor reported a suspect had set fire to his porch, attempting to spray the neighbor with pepper spray because the latter was trying to put out the fire.
He added that the officers were very familiar with the suspect, who was known with mental health issues. Smith said police officers had responded numerous times to his residents to provide mental health assistance.
Smith said they deployed crisis responders on the night of the incident. "Officers investigating develop probable cause to arrest the suspect for reckless burning and assault."
As the officers knocked on the door, the suspect exited and sprayed on one of the officers, and he went back into the apartment.
A search warrant was obtained authorizing law enforcement to enter the home to arrest him and search for evidence.
"Officers use multiple tactics to de-escalate the situation and avoid using force partly because of their knowledge of the suspect – his mental health condition. We tried using a mental health professional to convince the suspect to leave his apartment peacefully," Smith told the councilmembers.
According to Smith, the suspect was armed with a machete and assaulted the first officer to enter the bedroom.
"The machete attack immediately injured two officers. At that point, it was clear that the suspect threatened serious physical harm to the officers. Under these circumstances, there is no reasonable, effective alternative to using deadly force to stop the suspect from further assaultive behavior," Smith said.
Three community representatives also appeared at the council chambers and shared their inputs on the independent investigation.
Garrett Cooper is a non-law enforcement community representative (NLECR) of the CMIIT assigned to observe the critical incident. He is a retired Army soldier, a noncommissioned officer specializing in logistics.
Cooper said he was called to the incident on the night of March 31. "We were told how things went, how they proceeded with the use-of-force policies. The apartment manager filmed it all," Cooper said.
According to Cooper, the officers had every right to use force in the way they did. "Because the first officer got injured as well as the second. So to me, the shooting was as righteous as it happened."
"We need more crisis responders to work on any incident dealing with somebody who has issues. That should be the first option in every incident where we have somebody in crisis – mental or whatever crisis may be," Cooper recommended.
Reiko Callner, another community representative assigned to observe the use-of-force incident, agreed with Cooper that the responding officers "did the things that the law wants them to do."
When Callner arrived at the scene, she learned that two officers were badly injured, which could have resulted in death. She described that the whole scene was "very grim."
According to Smith, the passage of I-940 created the independent investigative team. He said WAC139-12 establishes rules and criteria to determine what qualifies as an independent investigation of the police use of deadly force. The IIT will review the incident completely independent of the agency.
Since the WAC law took effect in January 2020, this is the first critical incident in which the city has used community representatives.
"The new protocol would be a great benefit to the success of legislation if there were a statewide collation of experiences to derive the best practices for dealing with these situations," Callner said.
She said establishing standard operation procedures (SOP) would be helpful to make sure people have minimum best practice standards and help them with what to do.
Callner added that SOP would be helpful in what information the agencies could pass on to them. "Very early on, I was asking how the suspect was doing and asked questions about how the officers were doing. The people I spoke to weren't sure what they were allowed to tell us."
Callner added that the availability of information would help achieve the legislation's intent of earning and delivering community trust and confidence in how the police are doing their job.
"I think, just because of lack of familiarity, and we haven't done this that often, there's a relative lack of transparency with the public," Callner commented.
She said the press release issued to the public did not offer much information. "If the point of the exercise in large part is to be transparent and communicate with the community about, 'what happened here?' 'Why did the officers have to use their weapons?' 'Why were people almost killed?' That information that can be released should be released sooner, as possible."
Callner described the incident as a 'straightforward case,' which helps determine whether the protocol delivers on the legislative intent. "This is a good one to examine and see if we can learn any messages from it."
Callner is an active, licensed attorney specializing in judicial ethics. She is a current member of the Civil Service Commission.
According to Anna Held, they conducted a two-day hearing at the council chambers and heard testimony from all the officers involved in the use of force incident.
Held serves on the internal review board of the Olympia Police Department. She is a licensed attorney in Washington State and Oregon, specializing in administrative and constitutional law.
She said the purpose of the internal review board is to determine whether an officer who used force complies with the internal policies set by the police department.
"The testimony of the officers determined that the use of force was in compliance with the policy," Held said.
The board also recommended that officers undergo training, particularly on dealing with small spaces.
"The training might be necessary, [but] this is not to say that any officers made mistakes that needed to be corrected…we want improvements even if no one made any mistakes," Held said.
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Common sense. Thank you for our police.
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