In response to “one of the largest punitive awards ever in Washington State for police use-of-force and wrongful death,” significantly involving Lakewood, the multi-jurisdictional Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) force has eliminated “the word ‘jackpot’ from its operational lexicon.”
This was one of nine “key operational procedures” that was modified, “to reduce the future possibility of it being misconstrued as taking pleasure in the use of lethal force” according to a 98-page report to the Lakewood City Council, p.175.
In what shapes up as a return to the OK Corral, only in this case both sides representing the good guys, Lakewood is considering – among its eight options, pp.179-221 – ending its participation in Metro SWAT altogether.
Leonard Thomas was killed by a Lakewood Police sniper – a member of the Pierce County Metro SWAT team – during a May 2013 standoff in Fife.
According to “The Seattle Times”, May 27, 2015, the family – including “the dead man’s 6-year-old son, identified as E.T., who was standing just feet away from his father, Leonard Thomas, when Thomas was shot by a sniper who said he thought the child was in danger” – sued the officers and agencies involved.
In 2017, a jury found for the plaintiffs on the following claims: “Unreasonable seizure of the child; Excessive force against Thomas; Deprivation of a relationship with Thomas to his parents; Unreasonable seizure of the house; Unreasonable seizure of the dog; Unreasonable seizure of Thomas’ father (both State and Federal claims); Outrage by causing intentional or reckless emotional distress to Thomas’ son and mother; and Negligent child abuse investigation.
“Compensatory damages were awarded for $8.635 million and punitive damages were awarded against Lakewood personnel for $6.5 million, comprised of the following: 3 million against Lakewood Police who was the SWAT commander during the 2013 standoff; $1.5 million in punitive damages against Lakewood police officer who led an assault on the home and shot the family’s dog; and $2 million in punitive damages against Lakewood police sergeant who was the sniper that shot Thomas.
“Compensatory damages were covered by the City’s insurance agency. The City, having indemnified the actions of its officers on Metro SWAT for this incident based on the Lakewood Municipal Code, will be obligated to cover any punitive damages awarded, which at this point in time total $6.5 million” p.174.
Meanwhile, in 2016, a new interlocal agreement was adopted among Metro SWAT member jurisdictions.
Lakewood didn’t sign it.
Lakewood wants Metro SWAT to surrender to the City’s demands.
Of the eight options the Lakewood City Council has before it – as to the City police department’s future involvement with SWAT, everything from no change, continue with Metro SWAT; to no participation in SWAT, at all; to the City forming its own SWAT and contracting out SWAT services to other jurisdictions – City staff is recommending Option Two, p.222, to Metro SWAT: “capitulate.”
Option two would keep Lakewood a part of Metro SWAT but only if the other members incorporate “any number of suggested modifications,” including bearing equitably the responsibility for financial obligations for ‘normal’ SWAT operations, as well as those which “go awry.”
“Current member jurisdictions of Metro SWAT include the cities of Bonney Lake, Buckley, DuPont, Fife, Fircrest, Lakewood, Gig Harbor, Orting, Puyallup, Milton, Roy, Sumner and the towns of Steilacoom and Wilkerson.
“Cities in Pierce County that continue to contract SWAT services with PCSD (Pierce County Sheriff’s Department) are the cities of University Place and Edgewood. The city of Tacoma operates a stand-alone SWAT team” p.164.
Should the Lakewood City Council agree with the recommendation to pursue Option Two, it would be banking on the capitulation of the other members of Metro SWAT to Lakewood’s considerable leverage, according to the report.
The National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA), says “fifteen SWAT officers are the minimum number of personnel necessary to maintain an effective team,” but “recommends optimal SWAT team size is 21 personnel.”
According to charts on pages 165, 166, “Lakewood provides the most personnel to Metro SWAT,” with eleven – ten officers and one sergeant.
“This inherently, begs the question,” reads the report, “of whether the distribution of risk exposure is equitably shared among member jurisdictions based on personnel allocations as liability litigation is predominately focused on the individual actions of police officers, not actions of inanimate objects.
“Essentially, based on the current constitution of Metro SWAT, the City has been subsidizing other member jurisdictions by providing the lion’s share of Metro SWAT personnel.
“Rather than assuaging the City’s disproportionate exposure to risk, the new interlocal agreement (2016) between Metro SWAT member jurisdictions provides the framework to maintain the City’s disproportionate exposure to risk.”
Which brings the City to Option Two, which perhaps gives new meaning to ‘comply-or-die.’
Should the Council elect to go with Option Two, and should Metro SWAT not comply, and should Lakewood go its own way, Metro SWAT would die, certainly it would cease to exist as certainly constituted.
In the meantime, the outcome of the ongoing standoff may require an APB for additional hostage negotiators.