This past January, Seattle's Office of Police Accountability (OPA) concluded an investigation and released a report regarding two police officers who had shot and killed a man inside his apartment in May 2019. The report said that the officers had acted accordingly, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions about what exactly happened. If anything, the case highlights the importance of what information is relayed from 911 operators to police dispatchers and then to law enforcement officers, and how that information is processed.
Ryan Smith had moved to Seattle just six months before his murder. His parents described him as a young man who had struggled with depression and alcohol off and on since he was a teenager, but who was kind-hearted and liked to help others. Smith had moved to Seattle from California to live with a woman he'd known since high school. His mother said she took his moving as a good sign that he was making progress in his life.
On May 8, 2019, Smith's girlfriend called 911 to report that she had locked herself in the bathroom of their apartment because Smith was trying to kill her after she had asked him to leave. She also said Smith had a knife. She then told the 911 operator that Smith had told her there “was blood everywhere” outside the bathroom. The girlfriend also stated that Smith needed help, and as the police arrived and began to break down the door to their apartment, she can be heard yelling, “Oh my god. No. Please don't shoot!” on the recording of the 911 call.
Smith was shot ten times within six seconds of the police breaking down his front door. The toxicology report from his autopsy showed that he was extremely drunk (.36 BAC, which is eight times the legal limit). The utility knife he was carrying when he was shot had a blade 2.5 inches long.
Smith's mother filed a complaint about her son's death, which prompted the OPA's investigation and report. The OPA report clearly contradicts itself when it describes the 911 call and how the police dispatcher relayed information to the officers. The 911 call said Smith had reported there was blood everywhere outside the bathroom, but the dispatcher told police there was blood everywhere, inside the bathroom. So the officers had to assume that the girlfriend was injured and bleeding in the bathroom while she waited for them to arrive.
Smith's mother also alleged police bias in her complaint, because on the 911 tape the 911 operator asks the girlfriend for Smith's race before she even asks his name. Because Smith was black and Hispanic, Smith's mother believed the officers had judged him before they even saw him, but the OPA report said the allegations of biased policing were “unfounded.”
Seattle Defense Attorney
When there is a call to 911 regarding a domestic violence incident, often the caller is extremely emotional and tensions are running high. What the caller reports to the 911 operator may be exaggerated, or it may be misconstrued by the operator. When that misinformation is relayed to the police, their next encounter could end up fatal. Contact the Law Offices of Steve Karimi today to learn how a former prosecutor can fight for your rights.