On January 15, 2018, The Suburban Times shared an article published by the Tacoma News Tribune titled, TNT: Judge upholds verdict against Lakewood in shooting of unarmed man.
The court ruling has to do with a May 23, 2013, officer-involved shooting (OIS) incident in Fife, Washington and the Pierce County Metro SWAT Team led by Mike Zaro. Mike Zaro now serves as Lakewood’s police chief.
The lower court, the jury, and the appeals court judge paint a bleak picture of what took place during this incident, and I realize the three entities may be entirely correct. It is also highly possible one or all entities are incorrect.
Right? Wrong? If wrong, then we have a $15,000,000 travesty of justice.
Before I share my comments, let me first tell you what I am not. I am not an insider. I was not on scene during the incident. I was not at the trial where the family of a man killed by a SWAT sharpshooter brought suit against the Pierce County Metro SWAT Team. I was not in the jury room when the jury made their decisions.
Because of all things I am not, I wish to be careful in disclosing that I am not the last word on this matter.
Alternatively, I am in a position to share my reactions, thoughts, opinions, and experience so that thoughtful citizens may arm themselves with crucial issues to consider.
In fairness to the truth, if any part of what I have to say is not correct, that fact will not, of itself, negate the balance of my written opinion.
I am going to break my comments into topics or incident components.
JUDGES – Most judges found in our courtrooms across our great nation are intelligent, honest, and learned men and women. They serve our system in a completely unbiased manner in full support of our system of fair justice including honoring our US Constitution.
Conversely, judges are people. People have the potential for error, bias, stupidity, and evil along with hidden agendas. Examples are everywhere.
I base my opinion on my personal experiences and observations.
Example 1: I observed a hanging judge in Seattle who instead of listening to the cases brought before him, spent great energy prosecuting the defendants. He prosecuted witnesses too. Although prosecuting was the prosecutor’s job, the judge would not allow the prosecutor to speak. The prosecutor, run over by the judge, was left stuttering and stammering. Judges are people too, and they are not always correct.
Example 2: Police arrested a judge for DUI. Judges are people too, and they are not always correct.
Example 3: A judge was forced to resign because of inappropriate sexual behavior. Judges are people too, and they are not always correct.
Example 4: A judge was arrested for hit and run. Judges are people too, and they are not always correct.
Example 5: In the South, judges imprisoned and hung innocent African Americans because the white judge dared not go against white society even when all evidence pointed to the defendant’s innocence. Judges are people too, and they are not always correct.
Judges are people too, and they are not always correct, and that is why we have an appellate court system.
JURORS: Most jurors found in our courtrooms across our great nation are intelligent, honest men and women. They serve our system in a completely unbiased manner in full support of our system of fair justice including honoring our US Constitution.
Conversely, juries are made up of people. People, like judges, have the potential for error, bias, stupidity, and evil along with hidden agendas. Examples are everywhere.
Example 1: A jury, although completely convinced of a defendant’s guilt based on overwhelming evidence, chose to find him innocent. Why? The jury decided because he was such a nice looking young man they hated to see him go to prison. The jury turned the trial into a beauty contest. A prolific burglar was set free to victimize society. Jurors are people, and they are not always correct.
Example 2: In another case, a juror, still stinging from having felt forced into a decision in a previous trial, defiantly refused to cast his vote based on facts. His decision was all about him, not the defendant, evidence, or jury process. Jurors are people, and they are not always correct.
Example 3: There is a long history in the South where all-white juries found innocent men and women guilty, not because of evidence, but because of the defendant’s skin color. While I mention history, the sad thing is skin color bias is still with us on a daily basis, but it works both ways; white — black and black — white. Skin color and anti-cop bias may well have worked in this trial. Jurors are people, and they are not always correct.
Example 4: There are numerous cases where jurors have imprisoned citizens for decades only to belatedly learn through DNA evidence that the defendant was innocent. Jurors are people, and they are not always correct.
COMPLIANCE: If you start back at the birth of the suspect, one can benefit from learning the history of the individual. Was the infant brought up by two loving married parents, a single parent, or was the child brought up in foster care? Did the parent(s) teach the child to respect and comply with authority?
There is a terrible problem in our country. Children are not taught to respect the authority of their parents, teachers, school principals, and police. Later on in life this missed lesson can become a “comply or die” problem with devastating consequences.
The Fife incident is another case of failure to comply. Had the shooting victim complied with police commands, there would have been no shooting. All the subject had to do was allow a uniform police officer to remove his son from the front porch. The officer could then honor the subject’s request by giving the young boy to his grandmother. The subject demanded that his mother meet him on the porch to take his son. Had law enforcement allowed the subject’s mother to retrieve her grandson from the porch, the subject could have taken a second hostage. The subject had already committed crimes against his mother that very evening.
If we begin teaching young people to respect and comply with the lawful commands of authority figures, we will begin to save lives in America.
NO WAY OUT: On that tragic night in Fife there was no way out. SWAT was forced to make split-second life and death decisions. Pierce County Metro SWAT made the life-saving shot. Now several law enforcement agencies and Chief Zaro are being heaped with criticism and a record-breaking big dollar lawsuit.
The critics say, “Police should not have shot an unarmed man.”
Had SWAT allowed the subject to move his son back inside the house, the critics would have sued the police, had this incident turned into a case of prolicide (The act of killing one’s child.) Critics would have said, “SWAT should have shot the man to save the life of the four-year-old hostage.”
This incident locked SWAT into a “No win” situation.
PARENTS DO KILL KIDS: Three decades of FBI statistics tell us around 450 children are killed by their parents each year. Three out of four child victims are under age five. When kids become homicide victims, parents are the killers 78% of the time.
A cop’s worst nightmare is a dead child call. Cops are wired to protect innocent kids.
COPS SHOOT UNARMED MAN: There is always a significant focus on cops shooting unarmed suspects. Civilians do not get it. Cops know there are cases where unarmed and even naked suspects kill citizens and cops. Armed or unarmed, depending on circumstances which are driven by the suspect, a subject may well draw lethal force.
In this case the hostage taker, while not armed, did have arms. Arms are all an adult needs to kill a four-year-old hostage. Parents kill their children with fists, feet, drowning, suffocating, poison, kitchen knives, hammers, head banging, stomping, and punching. Parents throw their kids down stairs cases and out windows. The list is endless.
It would have been an enormous mistake to allow an intoxicated, violent, confused, erratic behaving adult to draw an innocent four-year-old back into the house.
Once it was determined the subject was not going to comply with their child life-saving command, the police had no choice but to shoot.
SUSPECT WAS NOT DANGEROUS AND NEVER THREATENED ANYONE: If the subject was not dangerous and if he would never have hurt his son, then why did anyone call 911? Making an emergency call on false premises is a misuse of the 911 system.
The big money winners should not have it both ways. He was either a danger and out of control, or he was not.
POLICE SHOOT DOG: The jury awarded the family $10,000 because the officers shot the dog. I have not determined what kind of dog greeted the officers as they entered the house through the back door, but I bet they did not shoot a toy poodle cowering under the bed. The dog may well have been a pit bull or some other breed of dog that was fully intent on harming or killing the officers. How many dogs are worth $10,000?
Had the subject complied early on, police would not have even met his dog. Compliance with lawful orders is the key.
$15,000,000: The jury awarded $15M to the family. Had the subject lived a normal law-abiding life, how close would he or his family get to $1,000,000, let alone $15,000,000? I could support that kind of award if a rogue cop were caught executing an innocent citizen, but this citizen was not innocent, and he refused to comply leaving the safety of a four-year-old boy swaying in the balance.
$15M is way out of line. Every time a police officer performs one of the most challenging jobs in the world, the lawyers and greedy relatives come out of the woodwork heading for the deep pocket. It is all about the money.
SWAT CALL: Critics condemned the police for initiating a SWAT call-out for what the plaintiffs now describe as an insignificant domestic violence incident. First, there is no such thing as an insignificant domestic violence incident.
When ordinary street cops arrive in response to a 911 call and find an intoxicated man barricaded inside a house with a four-year-old hostage, and the subject refuses to obey police orders, it is standard police practice to create a security perimeter around the house. Once the line officers have secured the perimeter, it is standard practice to call for SWAT, which includes at least one SWAT negotiator.
SWAT is typically more highly trained and possesses better equipment for responding to this kind of incident when compared to the line officer.
I have been to hundreds of domestic violence calls. Never once did we call for SWAT when the involved parties complied with our initial directions to facilitate communication during our investigation. Most domestic violence suspects do not barricade themselves inside with a hostage and refuse to come outside.
If the suspect refuses to comply and he has a hostage, calling SWAT is imperative. It is the only intelligent option. To suggest otherwise is only a smoke screen in an effort to grab the $15,000,000.
FLASH-BANG: Critics condemned the police for deploying a flash-bang at the back door. I cannot comment on that except to say; the suspect had several choices. The suspect could have complied when first contacted by law enforcement, and there would have been no SWAT or flash-bang. Once the flash-bang was triggered, the suspect could have chosen to comply with police commands. He could have chosen to remain motionless. As is often the case, uncooperative intoxicated subjects choose to ignore police commands. The suspect’s physical moves were interpreted as a threat to the hostage.
Most law enforcement actions are reactions to what suspects are doing. I have witnessed hundreds of citizens refuse to comply with police commands. If ordinary citizens could witness what cops see, they would not believe the level of stupidity.
A trained police eye can quickly interpret a suspect movement, even an infinitesimal move, which might only take a split second, as telegraphing danger. Most civilians would miss such danger cues.
While serving as a police officer in Lakewood, I joined other officers looking for a man at the Lakewood Mall reportedly wearing a red shirt and brandishing a firearm. I spotted a man in a green shirt who was just walking. He was not brandishing a handgun. I observed him make a split second move with his inside wrist against his belt line. His arm and wrist did not move any more than one inch.
I said to my Lakewood Mall Security partner, “That’s him.” My partner said, “No Joe, the suspect is wearing a red shirt.” I said, “I know red shirt, but that guy with the green shirt is our suspect”.
We bum rushed him and took him into custody. The question you can ask yourself is; Was I right or was I wrong?
My trained police eye allowed me to correctly interpret his body language movement. I was right. The subject had a gun stuffed into his belt. His almost micro body language told me he was checking to be certain his gun was still in his belt since he did not have a holster. He had ditched his red shirt.
I was not with the Pierce County Metro SWAT Team the night of the Fife call-out, but you can’t tell me it was not possible for a trained veteran SWAT officer to ascertain that he needed to use his firearm to save a four-year-old hostage. Civilians will miss it every time. SWAT officers are trained to not miss anything.
HOW IMPORTANT WAS THE SAFETY OF THE FOUR-YEAR-OLD CHILD? While there is a lot more I could say to give everyone the opportunity to look at this incident from alternative viewpoints, let me close with this.
One night while working the swing-shift as a police officer in the Northern part of Lakewood, I roared across town four-bell (lights and siren). Coming to a quick stop, I stepped from my police vehicle on the edge of a four-lane road and ran at full speed into an apartment complex courtyard towards a known dangerous domestic violence threat.
As I ran over the top of a grassy knoll in the dark towards the danger, a tree branch struck my right eye causing immediate pain and an involuntary closing of my eye followed by flowing tears. By this time I had been a cop long enough to know that cops do not stop when someone needs help. Besides I reasoned, I still had one healthy eye.
I was heading into a domestic violence incident involving a man, a woman, and an innocent young child. The man had taken the young girl hostage.
I was a line officer. That night, my partner officers and I desperately needed heroes like the Pierce County Metro SWAT Team and Mike Zaro.
In the end, my story has a different ending than the Fife call. There was not enough time to call for SWAT and Mike Zaro. The man, holding the girl hostage forced her into an apartment and before we could negotiate or request a SWAT call-out, he killed the girl.
My eye has long since healed, but my tears are once again flowing tonight as I share this true story with you. There was no reason for that girl to die. If only we had arrived earlier. We desperately needed Mike Zaro and his SWAT team that night. Had Mike Zaro been on the scene, then maybe, just maybe, things could have turned out differently.
I will never forget that night. I wish we could have made that $15,000,000 shot.
David Anderson says
This past April 26, Joe, you wrote in this publication concerning the use of force by an officer: “there is a review system in place to make certain the force was an appropriate application in terms of the kind of force, the amount of force and the timing of the force.”
That review – in this case a review by jury – has taken place.
The reason being a federal judge had ruled that there was evidence enough to believe “that police violated the Constitution and their own internal policies when they used armored vehicles, explosives and a sniper to kill an unarmed man wanted for misdemeanor assault.”
Back then, Joe, you underscored the importance of what should be allowed to happen via the courts. You wrote, then: “The review process is designed to either confirm the use of force was lawful or to uncover any improper use of force. If the use of force is not appropriate or lawful, then consequences will follow in the form of retraining, investigation, suspension, or termination depending on the total circumstances of the individual case.”
That review – court trial – has taken place Joe and it is apparent you don’t like the verdict; therefore, it is also apparent, you believe the system – the review process, the court proceedings you once extolled now are, apparently in your mind, very possibly flawed.
You also fail to mention that the attorneys the City of Lakewood hired to defend this case appealed based on what the judge called, in a scathing 69-page rebuke, a travesty, a mockery, of the judicial process.
Wrote U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein:
“The Court could not more strongly reject Defendants’ argument. Without any evidence – without any factual foundation whatsoever – Defendants have chosen to malign one of this country’s most sacred civic institutions, the impartially selected petit jury. Eight individuals interrupted their lives for three and a half weeks of solemn attention to this case.
“These eight individuals swore to try the matter at issue according to the evidence and the instructions of this Court. They listened, they watched, and for five days they deliberated. The suggestion that this jury flouted its charge and colluded to hold government officials liable merely to advance the jurors’ individual reputations is not simply frivolous; it is insulting to our constitutional order.”
And it is because of what happened to Leonard Thomas, and Renee Davis, and Che Taylor, and Patrick O’Meara, and Daniel Covarrubias, and Charleena Lyles, and Jacqueline Salyers, that over 360,000 people signed their names to De-Escalate Washington’s I-940 which is before the legislature this session and will likely be on the November general-election ballot.
As one who commented to your April 26 piece, a comment directed at you:
“As a former member of law enforcement you should be willing to say if they screwed up you want them held accountable.”
Joseph Boyle says
CORRECTION: Based on the language used in the TNT article, many readers were under the impression the case had been before an appellate judge and the the Appeals Court had confirmed the lower court’s jury decision.
That is not the case.
Judge Barbara Rothstein is the same judge that handled the initial trial. What happened here is the defense brought “post trial motions” back to the same court.
The flow in a legal manner such as the one before the U.S. District Court is #1. Pre-trial motions. #2. Trial. #3. Post trial motions.
If there is an appeal to a higher court, that is yet to come.
Joseph Boyle says
I thank you for sharing your thoughts. I would like to respond to your suggestions and assumptions regarding my thinking.
#1. You indicates something like, “That review has taken place…” That is not accurate. Only a part of the review has taken place. The review is a multi-step process. If that were not the case, the review would have stopped at the police department Shooting Review Board process. There would have been no trial. The Shooting Review Board process was step one. The trial was step two. If it is decided there will be an appeal that will be step three of the review process.
#2. You indicate that “I don’t like the verdict”. That is not accurate. I neither like or nor dislike the verdict.
What I am saying is that while our court system may be one of the finest systems in the world, it is not a perfect system. Juries can deliver defective verdicts, even if they are doing their very best.
The trial decision may be right on target or because of any one of the issues I bring up for thoughtful consideration, the verdict may be a travesty of justice.
#3. Your closing paragraph reads, “As a former member of law enforcement you should be willing to say if they screwed up you want them held accountable.”
I stand by my April 26 article. Nothing has changed. I am a strong supporter of accountability. If an officer screws up, I do want him held accountable.
During my law enforcement career I had two extremely difficult and traumatic events where one of my fellow officers was either guilty of or accused of improper behavior.
Yes, we all know there is the thin blue line concept where cops support each other, but based on my department’s standards and my ethical standards the thin blue line does not mean we cover up bad behavior.
In each case, I informed my supervisor which triggered internal two investigations. If the allegations were true and I know one allegation was true because I was an eye witness, the the officer(s) needed to be held accountable. My past actions support the idea that I believe in accountability.
If the officers and departments associated with the Pierce County SWAT Team are guilty of any violations, I support holding them accountable. If the defendants in this matter are erroneously found guilty when they are not guilty, then I vigorously am apposed to a lynch mob action based on any kind of false premise.
Mr. Anderson, if we can step beyond our two opposing views and focus on the desperate need we have in America to teach every man, woman, and child to respect and comply with lawful authority, there would be no need for SWAT or any kind of lethal force. Parents, teachers, churches, and society are definitely failing to meet this need.
We could look at every single case you have listed involving an officer involved shooting to determine if the subject ever was taught or ever learned to respect and comply with lawful authority.
Did he or she respect and comply with lawful authority on their last day? To my knowledge, you have never worked as a police officer. Because of that, you may not be aware that there are actually evil behaving parents who teach their children to hate cops and unlawfully defy authority.
There are two sides to every trial with the jury in the middle. Accountability? Yes, but let’s make certain we hold the proper side accountable. That may be the defendants or that may be the plaintiffs.
I rest my case.
Well written, Mr. Boyle. Question: If this action took place in Fife and was under the direction of the Pierce County SWAT unit, why is it that Lakewood is party to the suit and funding (with our taxes) the litigation costs?
Ray R says
The action was by the Pierce County Metro SWAT, of which Lakewood PD is a part. It was not the Pierce County Sheriff SWAT. Also, Zaro was the incident commander at the incident and the sniper was a Lakewood officer.
A couple points: First, the SWAT team was an inter-agency team with Lakewood Police Chief Mike Zaro as the commander, which is why Lakewood was sued; and, second, American history is full of misguided and/or activist judges, juries, witnesses, experts, etc.
This is the reason our system allows for appeals, reviews and public discourse over the actions and results of our legal system. As difficult as it may be, we must wait, often many years, for the processes to play out until there is a reasonable certainty of a just outcome.
Even then, sometimes we get the wrong person. DNA exoneration is a great example of that problem. In the end, the American system is the most thorough and fair system in the world–though not perfect. I don’t think we can ever know for sure in some cases.
I agree that we need to teach more respect of authority in America. At the same time, authority needs to be held accountable, too. I feel like the further America gets from it Christian roots, the more problems will continue to worsen in our society.
The answer to all moral issues is to be obedient to God’s Word: Love God and Love each other! Love does no harm to his or her neighbor, right? Romans 13:10, http://biblehub.com/context/romans/13-10.htm
Well said. As many of us know, jury trials in such matters can be a crap shoot. There are too many cases to cite where a jury has awarded huge awards in compensatory and punitive damages, sometimes multiples of that alleged by the plaintiff. So on appeal, the merits of this case may not be reversed but the award may be decreased.
Unfortunately, the disrespect for law enforcement officers worsened during the Obama administration due to a few high profile incidents. Those amongst us who hold the Lakewood Police Department in disdain will call them when they need them however.
Joseph Boyle says
Excellent question Marty. Accurate answer Ray R.