Seattle police expand use of body-worn cameras after fatal police shooting in Kent

Seattle police officers assigned to federal law enforcement will now be required to wear and activate body-worn cameras during arrests, per the Seattle Police Department’s body-worn camera policy.

Acting Police Chief Adrian Diaz updated agency policy after an SPD detective was one of three law enforcement officers who shot the homicide suspect Californian Marshall Jones III last week in Kent as he tried to arrest him in the January disappearance and alleged death of his ex-girlfriend, 24-year-old Alexis Gabe.

The updated policy, Diaz said, will ensure encounters with suspects are captured on video — and provide consistency for Seattle officers working with federal and state agencies.

Seattle Det. Matthew Lilje, Snohomish County Sheriff’s Detective and Deputy U.S. Marshal – all assigned to the Pacific Northwest Violent Offender Task Force – opened fire on Jones last Wednesday when he charged the officers with a knifeaccording to Seattle police.

But because Lilje worked in a task force run by a federal agency — in this case, the US Marshals Service — he wasn’t required to wear or activate a body-worn camera. This is due to an exemption in Seattle Police Department policy for the use of cameras by such officers, Diaz said Monday.

As a result, there was no body-worn camera footage to show. However, in accordance with a 5-year-old SPD policy to release available videos, surveillance footage and 911 calls within 72 hours of a major incident, police on Saturday posted a video that an officer recorded with his mobile phone.

Members of the task force can be heard on video knocking on the door of a first-floor apartment, identifying themselves as police officers, calling Jones’ name and announcing that they have a warrant for his arrest .

“Open the door, open the door slowly,” an officer says as a dog barks.

“Open the door – do it now,” said another officer, according to the video. “You are under arrest – do it now.”

The sound of gunfire follows quickly.

Footage is then slowed down and Jones can be seen rushing out the door holding what turned out to be a serrated kitchen knife with an 8-inch blade, police say. A rapid series of gunshots ring out and Jones falls forward before the camera settles on the ground.

“None of the federal agencies have body-worn cameras,” Diaz told the Seattle Times. “There has been some reluctance to have things recorded on video during operations.”

This reluctance is due to fears of compromising investigations – for example by recording an interview with a confidential informant, Diaz said.

Diaz said he’s rescinded the exemption for Seattle police officers serving on federal task forces when making arrests — and that the eight to 10 Seattle officers who serve on those interagency teams will now have to wear and activate the cameras in these situations.

He pointed to a Joe Biden presidential executive order issued on May 25 that requires federal law enforcement agencies adopt body-worn camera policies and require their officers to activate cameras during arrests and searches. Policies must also “provide for the expedited public release of footage following incidents involving serious bodily injury or death in custody,” the order says.

Similar rules have been the norm for the SPD for the past five years.

Seattle Police introduced in-vehicle video cameras in the early 2000s. And under former Chief Kathleen O’Toole, the department in 2017 became a national leader in the rapid release of car video from patrol after police shootings. That year, O’Toole ordered that available video be released to the public within 72 hours — a policy that remained in effect even after the department in 2018 became one of the state’s first police departments. to equip officers with body-worn cameras.

“When you don’t provide information about an incident or see a video, it leaves the community with a lot of questions. And when you have these questions, you’ve seen in other cities, people are going to riot because they don’t have all the information,” Diaz said. “That doesn’t mean the video gives you all the information, but it does give some insight into what happened initially.”

In some cases, Seattle police have released video of police shootings in less than 24 hours — such as after police fatally shot Gregory Taylor, a black man, outside the Northwest African American Museum in February 2021.

Taylor, who shot and killed a young woman in the museum parking lot for no apparent reason, fired on arriving officers and was killed when they returned fire.

Officers’ cameras captured the sound of gunfire before Taylor appeared, and Diaz said the rapid release of footage avoided potential criticism or outrage.

“When you put the whole incident together, how short the timeline is, hearing the gunshots, the officers hearing the gunshots, it gives an accurate description of what really happened,” Diaz said. “It’s important for the community to know and be able to understand these dynamics.”

Information from the Seattle Times archives is included in this story.

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