Seattle police officer was justified in 2020 shooting of man holding young child, watchdog agency finds

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Seattle police officers gather near an alley following the fatal shooting of Shaun Fuhr by an officer on April 29, 2020, near 37th Avenue South and South Dakota Street in the Mt. Baker neighborhood. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

The decision by a Seattle police force SWAT officer to shoot a 24-year-old man in the head while the man was detaining his baby daughter in Columbia City last spring was lawful and correct, the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) found of the Seattle Police Department.

39-year-old officer Noah Zech had previously been identified as the officer who fatally shot Shaun Fuhr just before 3 p.m. on April 29 in the 4100 block of 37th Avenue South. Zech is not named in the OPA case summary published Thursday, but is referred to as Named Employee # 1 (NE # 1) throughout the 17-page report.

Zech reportedly failed to use de-escalation tactics before using lethal force that may have violated police policy. Zech, who is white, is also said to have carried out biased police work to shoot the black Fuhr.

The OPA did not support any of the allegations and concluded that the officer did not have time to safely de-escalate the situation. Use appropriate force in accordance with their SWAT training to respond to hostage rescue scenarios; and acted on the facts and circumstances he faced, rather than the other man’s race, the results show.

Attempts to contact Fuhr’s family members on Thursday afternoon were unsuccessful. The Seattle King County NAACP, which issued a press release last year criticizing the use of deadly force by Seattle police officers as unnecessary and calling for a thorough investigation, did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

Brandy Grant, the executive director of the Community Police Commission, said in a statement emailed that the community-based regulator expects to review unedited investigation files related to the case to look for areas of systemic improvement.

“We are heartbroken for Shaun Fuhr’s loved ones and our entire community. This is a tragedy on every level. Police responses in Seattle lead to violence too often, especially when it comes to people of color, “Grant said in the statement. “We cannot continue to rely on police policies, which have repeatedly allowed officials to shoot unarmed people. In no world should it be acceptable to shoot someone with their baby in their arms. “

According to the OPA’s findings, Seattle police officers were told that Fuhr was armed with a pistol and had shot his girlfriend in a public park – but had no way of knowing that Fuhr had dropped the gun shortly before his fatal shot.

Casey McNerthney, a spokesman for King County Attorney Dan Satterberg, said prosecutors have not yet conducted the independent police investigation into Fuhr’s murder.

In response to a request for disclosure, prosecutors released a memo Thursday, written in May, refusing to bring charges against Fuhr because he has passed away. If he had survived, however, prosecutors would have charged him with first-degree domestic violence, second-degree domestic violence, violating a touchless domestic violence order and unlawful possession of a first-degree firearm, the memo states, detailing the events that led to Fuhr’s death preceded. Some, but not all, of the information in the memo overlaps with information in the OPA case summary.

According to the rejection protocol, Fuhr had repeatedly violated a contactless order to protect his girlfriend after pleading guilty to attacking her in 2018. He also pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm after being photographed in June 2019 by police handling a shortened semi-automatic assault weapon.

On April 28, 2020, Fuhr’s friend brought her 1-year-old daughter to live with Fuhr’s relatives in Des Moines, the memo says. Drove up to the house drunk and hit the woman, then dragged her and the child into the woman’s car and drove to a motel in Seattle, they say.

Driven the woman in the rented room with an iron and strangled her into unconsciousness, according to the refusal protocol. The next day they left the motel in the car and Fuhr, who was still drunk, fired a round that just missed the woman’s head.

They stopped in a park where Fuhr shot the woman a second round while he held the child, causing a family picnic to scatter in the park, the memo says. The woman and several bystanders called 911 when Fuhr ran away with his daughter.

According to the memo and the OPA report, Fuhr’s cell phone was “pinged” to find him. Zech and other officials found him about 35 minutes after the first 911 calls.

Fuhr was once seen jumping over a fence while carrying his daughter like a soccer ball. Her limbs fluttered and her head skipped as he ran, the OPA report said. He ignored the officers’ repeated screams to stop him, the report said.

The officers ran down a driveway and found that Fuhr was cornered between a house and a fence. His daughter was at waist level in the crook of his left arm and his right hand was not fully visible, the report said.

The OPA report states that NE # 1’s decision to use lethal force must be reviewed based on what a reasonable officer with the same SWAT training would do and cannot be rated 20/20 in retrospect.

Based on interviews with NE # 1 and witness officers and a review of the officers’ body-worn camera footage, the OPA report agrees with NE # 1’s analysis that the subject – Fuhr – had already committed violent behavior by placing a weapon in one that had fired in the public park, which escaped while detaining the child in a manner inconsistent with his safety, was deemed armed, showed no sign of surrender, and placed the child and officials at imminent risk of serious injury or death .

In his interview, NE # 1 said he was confident he could shoot without hitting the child. After Fuhr was shot and dropped to the ground, the baby rolled out of his arms and was picked up by another officer. She wasn’t hurt.

“I feel like I am able to choose whether or not to play with this baby’s life and I have had an opportunity not to play with her life and stop the threat to her,” NE went on # 1 cited report.

Seattle Times researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.

Help for domestic violence survivors

If you are in imminent danger, call 911.

If you have been molested by an intimate partner, you can call the 24-hour domestic violence line at 800-799-7233 or 800-787-3224 (TTY). A variety of agencies in the area offer assistance, including confidential accommodation, counseling, child therapy, and legal assistance. For a list of resources, see the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence website.