On April 9th, 2015 an inquest jury found that a Seattle police officer believed he was in imminent danger when he killed a man armed with a realistic-looking pellet gun last July.
The inquest, ordered by county Executive Dow Constantine, was a fact-finding hearing on the July 1 shooting death of 36-year-old Austin Derby.
The Renton man led state troopers on a late-night, high speed chase on Interstate 5, then ditched his truck on a residential street and hid in the back yard shed of a Beacon Hill home.
Seattle Police Officer Jason Tucker was with a K-9 search team when he spotted Derby in the shed. Tucker ordered Derby to come out, but he refused and yelled “I’ve got a pistol, too.” When Derby aimed a pistol at Tucker, the officer fired several shots, killing him.
Derby’s weapon later turned out to be a pellet gun. The suspect had removed the barrel’s orange tip that would indicate he had an Airsoft pistol.
The eight King County District Court jury members, who began deliberations on April 6th, were unanimous in determining Officer Tucker believed Derby posed an imminent threat of death or serious injury to the officer or others.
After the conclusion of testimony, the judge asked jurors to answer 30 questions (PDF) — including whether Darby led police on a high-speed pursuit and had narcotics in his system. After deliberation, inquest jurors unanimously concurred on 29 of the 30 questions about the facts surrounding the shooting. Two of the eight jurors said they did not know whether Derby was holding an object resembling a gun when he was shot by Officer Tucker. However, all the jurors agreed Derby posed a threat.
The jury relied on information collected by the Seattle Police Department’s new Force Investigation Team, FIT, which was created as part of a U.S. Department of Justice agreement with the city of Seattle to help address concerns over use of force by SPD. This is one of the first officer involved shootings probed by the team.
As part of its three-month investigation, FIT detectives took statements from more than 100 people including Seattle police officers, firefighters and state troopers who responded to the scene, as well residents who lived near where the shooting took place.
Investigators also combed through several hundred hours of video taken by SPD patrol cars, state troopers and a Washington State Patrol observation plane that that circled overhead throughout the incident. Almost every second was documented, either by video or audio.
The investigation showed that Tucker had little time to react. Only 40 seconds elapsed from the time Tucker realized someone was in the shed, to when Derby pointed a gun at the officer.