An arbitrator has found that Everett officials had good cause to fire Meade for the 2009 line-of-duty shooting that took the life of Niles Meservey.
"Termination may seem overly severe to the grievant and his supporters, but Mr. Meservey suffered an even more extreme sanction," arbitrator Janet Gaunt wrote in her June 9 decision.
Meade shot into the back of Meservey's car, hitting the intoxicated man seven times. Meade said he was afraid that Meservey was going to run him down with his car.
The arbitrator, however, concluded that Meade violated the department's policy that prohibits officers from firing into moving vehicles, unless there is no other option to protect lives.
Meade could have taken cover behind a sports utility vehicle, parked directly to his left, Gaunt concluded.
He "caused a civilian death that could have been avoided," she wrote.
Gaunt said she reached her conclusion with regret, noting the prior years of good service that Meade provided.
She wasn't convinced, however, that there is sufficient "reason to believe that further training or experience would preclude officer Meade from using deadly force too precipitously in the future."
City spokeswoman Kate Reardon on Monday declined to comment. The arbitrator's ruling is binding, meaning the decision likely is the end of a three-year saga that has cost the city more than $1.25 million dollars.
"We'll let the decision speak for itself," Reardon said.
Officials with the Everett Police Officers Association, the union which represents the rank-and-file, were notified of Gaunt's decision over the weekend, but only just received the written 56-page decision Monday.
"We appreciate the opportunity to go through this process. We will stand by the decision as part of the agreement we have," said union president, Everett police Sgt. James Collier.
Former Police Chief Jim Scharf fired Meade in June 2011 after a delayed internal investigation into the June 10, 2009, shooting outside the Chuckwagon Inn.
The investigation concluded that Meade violated department policies when he shot Meservey. Scharf decided that Meade was unfit to continue to be a police officer in Everett. The chief called Meade's actions that night "unfathomable."
Scharf noted that just 21 seconds elapsed from the time Meade alerted dispatchers that the situation was becoming risky to when he finished shooting. During more than half that time, Meade was shocking Meservey with a Taser electronic stun gun.
In its defense of Meade, the union said Scharf had unfairly criticized the split-second decisions Meade made. The arbitrator wrote, however, that she was troubled by Meade's apparent unwillingness to acknowledge mistakes or options short of shooting Meservey.
"Frankly, it is hard to second guess Chief Scharf's decision when this Arbitrator was left feeling little assurance that Officer Meade would better handle a similar situation in the future," she wrote
Meade was the first officer in county history to be charged with murder for a line-of-duty shooting. A Snohomish County jury acquitted him of all criminal charges. However, those same jurors under separate civil rules concluded that the shooting was not self-defense.
Meade has maintained that he feared for his life the night of the shooting and acted appropriately.
During the two years the criminal case and a civil lawsuit against Everett worked through the legal system, Meade was on paid administrative leave. He was paid about $184,000 salary during that period. He hasn't been on the city payroll since he was fired in June 2011.
Union officials filed a grievance on Meade's behalf shortly after he was fired. City officials, however, upheld Scharf's decision.
The union in September called for an outside arbitrator to decide if Meade's termination was warranted.
A demand for binding arbitration is an option under the union's contract with the city.
Both sides were allowed to present evidence to support their positions at closed-door proceedings. Meade testified. The hearing was held in March and lawyers for both sides submitted written closing arguments last month.
The union and city agreed that the arbitrator's decision is final. They can appeal the decision to a judge only under narrow circumstances, city officials said.
The union will be on the hook for its legal fees. However, Everett taxpayers will foot the bill for lawyers who fought to keep Meade off the force. Both parties will split the costs for the arbitrator.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; email@example.com.
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