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Did Everett police chief ignore rules by not probing previous police shooting?

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By Scott North and Diana Hefley
Herald Writers
Published:
EVERETT -- Everett Police Chief Jim Scharf testified last month that the "uniqueness" of a fatal 2009 police shooting prompted him to ignore department policy for nearly two years and to suspend an internal investigation.
Turns out, however, Scharf's decision wasn't unique -- and his statements, under oath, apparently were less than accurate.
In a February deposition, Scharf suggested he made a one-of-kind decision to ignore city policy and not launch an internal investigation of the fatal June 10, 2009 shooting of Niles Meservey. Officer Troy Meade shot Meservey multiple times from behind while the drunken and belligerent Stanwood man sat at the wheel of his Corvette in a restaurant parking lot.
This week, city officials acknowledged that police under Scharf also did not follow policy and conduct an internal investigation of a fatal Nov. 8, 2008 shooting.
The city was satisfied with the findings of a separate investigation by a special team of detectives who presented evidence to the Snohomish County prosecutor's office that no misdeeds had occurred, city spokeswoman Kate Reardon said.
"It is contrary to what I was told by the chief in a sworn deposition," Seattle attorney Paul Luvera said Wednesday when told of what happened in the 2008 case. He represented Meservey's family in a civil lawsuit against Everett police, settled last month for $500,000.
"I can't say he was lying," Luvera said of Scharf. "It's surprising the chief would not remember another time when a mandatory requirement was ignored."
The police department spokesman referred all questions to the city's spokeswoman. Mayor Ray Stephanson, Scharf's boss, did not return a phone call. Scharf is scheduled to retire at the end of the month after 16 years as Everett's top cop.
While the 2008 case did not spark litigation, it was controversial.
Dustin Willard was hit by multiple bullets when he opened his front door in north Everett*. He was carrying a 12-gauge shotgun. Willard had been drinking with friends that night and apparently had locked himself out of his home. Neighbors thought a burglar was breaking into Willard's house and called police.
Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe said a review of the evidence demonstrated Willard's shooting was tragic but Everett police broke no laws.
Reardon said Everett police decided against conducting an internal investigation of the Willard shooting after reviewing reports prepared by the Snohomish County Multi-Agency Response Team, the special cadre of detectives who investigate police shootings here.
The city also reviewed Roe's letter explaining his decision not to file charges.
The officers all said they opened fire after Willard failed to heed commands to drop the shotgun and instead reportedly leveled the weapon in their direction.
Willard was no criminal, and there is no reason to believe he knew police were the people at his door early that morning, the prosecutor wrote. Still, when that shotgun was pointed toward officers "they had a right to defend themselves, and a duty to defend each other," Roe wrote
Based on the SMART report and Roe's ruling "it was clear to the department that there were no department policy violations by the Everett officers involved and that no internal investigation by the department was warranted," Reardon wrote in an e-mail.
The SMART detectives and Roe reached a different conclusion in Meade's case. Based on what investigators found, prosecutors charged Meade with second-degree murder, the first time in county history that a police officer has been charged and tried for a line-of-duty killing.
Meade was acquitted after a jury ruled the officer committed no crime. The jury, in a separate verdict, also concluded Meservey's shooting was not self-defense.
Luvera deposed Scharf in preparation for a civil trial that now won't happen because the case has been settled. The attorney was particularly interested in the chief's decision to delay an internal investigation in the case.
Meade remains on administrative leave. He has collected roughly $116,000 in salary while the fate of his career is being decided.
Under questioning from Luvera, Scharf described a detailed protocol that police are required to immediately begin after a police shooting.
Internal investigations historically have been used by Everett police to resolve questions not answered by criminal probes, including whether officers have adhered to policies and procedures that could affect their employment. The information also is used to improve practices and tactics used by police.
Scharf told Luvera that, out of fairness to Meade, he used his administrative prerogative and decided to delay the internal investigation until Meade's criminal and civil cases were resolved. The internal investigation began last week, more than 20 months after Meservey's killing.
In the deposition, Scharf suggested that Meade's case was unique.
"This is the only time Everett has ever done this because you decided it?" Luvera asked.
"That's correct," Scharf said.
The facts in the Willard case contradict Scharf's statement, Luvera said.
He still questions where Scharf got the authority to suspend a mandatory internal investigation.
"They have rules," Luvera said. "Why can the chief arbitrarily ignore the rules?"
Scott North: 425-339-3431; north@heraldnet.com.
* Update, March 3, 2011 This story has been updated to clarify the circumstances of Dustin Willard’s shooting.
Story tags » EverettHomicidePolice

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