Inquiry finds Seattle LEO acted properly in New Year's Eve OIS
Report details findings that officers involved didn't hear armed man speaking before shooting
SEATTLE — A Seattle police officer acted reasonably and within training and policy when he fatally shot a 36-year old man armed with a handgun after a New Year’s Eve traffic stop last year, the civilian director of the department’s internal-investigation section concluded in a lengthy report released Wednesday.
The North Seattle shooting drew scrutiny after police video showed the man, Iosia Faletogo, on his hands and knees saying, “Nope, not reaching,” for the handgun that had fallen on the ground in the moment before Officer Jared Keller fired one shot at close range into Faletogo’s head on Dec. 31, 2018.
Keller, who joined the department in 2015, is not identified by name in the report. But he has been previously identified by the police department as the officer who fired the shot.
Wednesday’s report from the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), written by director Andrew Myerberg, quotes Keller and other officers among the six who pursued Faletogo as saying they didn’t hear Faletogo’s words while they struggled and loudly warned him not to reach for the gun.
Video analysis “indicated that the time from when the Subject began saying ‘nope, not reaching’ to the instant that the shot was fired was less than one second — exactly 0.64 seconds,” the 21-page report says.
Body-camera video suggested that in the seconds before making the statement, Faletogo was “still moving his hands on the ground in the vicinity of the handgun,” according to the report.
The OPA’s investigation found that, even if Keller heard the statement, it would “not have been possible for him to change his actions given the quickly-evolving and chaotic nature of the situation,” the OPA said in a news release Wednesday.
From the time Faletogo was tackled until when Keller used deadly force, about 22 seconds elapsed during a struggle in which Faletogo had “immediate access to the handgun, and the officers gave the Subject multiple orders to stop reaching and told him that if he continued to do so he would be shot,” according to the OPA’s analysis of the video.
The report’s conclusions drew immediate condemnation from Corey Guilmette, the attorney representing Faletogo’s mother, Lisa Elisara. In a statement, he said if Keller acted within policy, then the police department needs to change policy and training.
“Officers outnumbered Mr. Faletogo six-to-one and forced him onto his hands and knees,” the statement said. “After he was forced to the ground, an officer announced that Mr. Faletogo ‘dropped the gun,’ Once he complied with commands by dropping the gun, officers could have safely resolved the situation by picking up the gun.”
King County prosecutors have previously declined to file a criminal charge against Keller. A county inquest to examine the circumstances of the shooting is pending.
The OPA report provides the most detailed account to date of the shooting, which occurred about 5 p.m. after police stopped Faletogo in a car he was driving on Aurora Avenue North.
Faletogo was stopped after officers discovered the car’s owner had a revoked license, and then saw him make an illegal lane change. Faletogo told officers the car belonged to his stepmother before he ran from them, according to the OPA report.
Police said Faletogo was seen reaching into the waistband of a sweatshirt he was wearing as he fled.
Before Faletogo was shot, he can be seen on slowed-down video with a gun in his hand. He then is seen with no gun in his hands, with the weapon at his side on the ground at the time Keller fired.
One officer told investigators he drew his TASER and gave a verbal warning of “Taser, Taser.” But he immediately reconsidered, he said, concerned that if he tased Faletogo with the gun in his hand, he might tense up and fire a shot.
Myerberg, in the news release, said, “I recognize the death of Mr. Faletogo was a tragedy. He left behind family, friends, and a community who loved him. However, OPA’s investigation found that the officer made the difficult, split-second decision to use deadly force because he perceived he was in grave danger given Mr. Faletogo’s immediate access to a weapon and lack of compliance.”
In response to the finding, Guilmette said in his statement: “The Seattle Police Department must train officers to avoid lethal force when nonlethal tactical options can safely resolve a situation. Unless the Seattle Police Department changes training to prevent the unnecessary loss of life, families will continue to lose their loved ones to needless police shootings.”