Content note: mention of fatal shootings and deaths under restraint
On October 21, 2016, Renee Davis, a 23-year-old mother who worked for the Muckleshoot Early Learning Academy, sent a suicidal text to her boyfriend T.J. Molina. Davis, who experienced domestic violence during a prior relationship, had a history of being hospitalized for depression.
Concerned, Molina contacted a King County Sheriff deputy assigned to the Muckleshoot reservation. The deputy and another officer went to Davis’ house to conduct a welfare check. The two responding officers broke into Davis’ locked bedroom with their guns drawn. When Davis, who had a firearms permit, allegedly pointed a handgun at them, they shot her in her bed. Davis then said, “It wasn’t even loaded” before bleeding to death.
In 2018, Davis’ sister filed a wrongful-death lawsuit. In 2021, King County settled with Renee Davis’ family for 1.5M.
Like Renee Davis, Andrea Thomas Churna was a single mother and a gun owner. On September 20, 2020, the 39-year-old Churna called police in Redmond, WA, claiming that someone was trying to kill her in her apartment. Churna had previously been stalked and was being treated for PTSD. A responding officer observed that Churna may be having mental health issues.
Another Redmond police officer alleged that Churna pointed a gun at him when she came into the hallway to meet the responding officers. The officer shot at her and missed. Churna then went back into the apartment and came back out unarmed. Churna obeyed police instructions to get on the ground. But when she allegedly raised her arm after police told her to stay still, she was shot and killed.
On September 18, 2015, former commercial fisherman Cecil Lacy Jr was taking his nightly walk on the Tulalip Indian Reservation when he was stopped by a Snohomish County Sheriff’s deputy responding to reports of a man waving his arms while walking on the road. Two Tulalip police officers also arrived. The 50-year-old Tulalip tribal member, who had a history of mental illness, initially accepted the officers’ offer of a ride home but changed his mind and escaped from the police car. He died after the officers tased and restrained him. Lacey’s last words were reportedly “Can’t breathe.”
The county medical examiner attributed Lacy’s death to a heart attack that had nothing to do with being tased. But an independent autopsy commissioned by Lacy’s family found the cause of death to be asphyxiation.
In 2016, the county’s prosecuting attorney found the officers’ actions to be legally justified. In the same year, Lacy’s family brought a case against the county for negligence and excessive force. In 2021, Snohomish County settled the case for $1.75M.
On January 27, 2017, 17-year old Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens was shot in the back of the head while running away from plainclothes King County sheriff’s deputies. A witness claimed that the deputies did not identify themselves.
Dunlap-Gittens was killed during a sting operation in Des Moines targeting a friend of Dunlap-Gittens, who was suspected of a homicide in Sammamish. Dunlap-Gittens was not a suspect. It turned out that neither Dunlap-Gittens nor his friend were involved in the Sammamish homicide. In September 2017, Dunlap-Gittens’ family filed a wrongful death lawsuit. In May 2020, King County settled the lawsuit for $2.25M.
On May 31, 2019, 26-year-old unarmed Jesse Sarey was shot and killed by an Auburn police officer while resisting arrest for disorderly conduct. According to Sarey’s family, he was unhoused and suffering from mental health issues. The police officer claimed that Sarey had posed a threat by attempting to use the officer’s folding knife against him. That was contradicted by a witness who said that Sarey was not resisting when he was killed.
The Auburn officer who shot Sarey became the first Washington state police officer to be charged with murder after Initiative 940 was passed. An October 2021 report in the Auburn Reporter claimed that the officer’s rate of injuring people in use-of-force incidents far exceeded the Auburn Police Department’s department-wide rate. In August 2020, the City of Auburn settled a lawsuit over the death of Isaiah Obet, another man that was killed by the same police officer in 2017. The police officer who killed Sarey and Obet also shot Brian Scaman fatally in 2011.
On March 3, 2020, 33-year-old musician Manuel Ellis died under police restraint in Tacoma. Witness accounts contradicted the officers’ claim that Ellis had assaulted a police officer. At some point, a witness called out: “Stop. Oh my God, stop hitting him. Just arrest him.” The last words of Ellis, a father of two, were “I can’t breathe, sir.”
In May 2021, 2 officers involved in Ellis’ death were charged with his murder. A third officer at the scene was charged with manslaughter. In September 2021, Ellis’ family filed a federal civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit over his death. In 2022, Pierce County settled the case for $4M.