By Diana Hefley Herald Writer
EVERETT — An Everett police officer acquitted of murder for a line-of-duty shooting has received nearly $75,000 in wages while on administrative leave for the past year.
That public expense is added to a growing stack of legal bills connected to the June 10, 2009 shooting. So far, attorneys have billed the city of Everett more than $400,000 to defend Troy Meade against criminal charges, prepare for civil litigation and offer legal advice on labor matters, according to records.
Meanwhile Everett officials won’t say when, or if, Meade will return to the force or why a decision hasn’t been made.
Meade has been on leave and collecting a paycheck since June 2009 when he fatally shot Niles Meservey. Meservey, 51, was drunk and seated in the driver’s seat of his Chevrolet Corvette when Meade opened fire into the back of the vehicle.
The officer told a jury he feared for his life.
He was acquitted on April 26 after a two-week trial.
It’s unclear if city officials are waiting to make a decision about Meade’s future with the police department, pending the outcome of ongoing civil litigation. Meservey’s daughter filed a $15 million lawsuit against Everett, claiming the city failed to adequately train Meade. That trial is scheduled for April 4, 2011.
It’s also unknown if the city is waiting on the results of an internal investigation into the shooting to make a decision.
“The city has not begun an internal investigation,” city spokeswoman Kate Reardon said. “While we anticipate an internal, no timeline has been set.”
Reardon didn’t answer questions about why an investigation hasn’t occurred in the 13 months since the shooting.
Police routinely conduct internal investigations after officer-involved shootings to determine if the officer violated any department policies. The investigation is done independently of any criminal probe. The results are used to determine if there are grounds to discipline the officer or determine if the officer acted within policy.
In Snohomish County it’s standard practice for police officers to be put on administrative leave after using deadly force. They often return to work before the criminal probe into the incident is wrapped up.
After the verdict in the criminal trial, Meade told reporters that he wants to return to work.
Meade’s been paid $74,862.11 for the more than 2,000 hours he’s been on leave, Reardon said.
He was put on paid administrative leave the day after the shooting. The department brought him back about two months later and assigned him to a desk job. Meade was again placed on leave Sept. 18, 2009. At that time, he was directed to turn over his service gun and badge, according to records obtained by The Herald.
In a letter to Meade at the time, Everett Police Chief Jim Scharf wrote that he was making the order “because of the circumstances surrounding this investigation.”
A criminal investigation into the shooting led Snohomish County prosecutors in October to charge Meade with manslaughter. They later added a second-degree murder charge.
Meade testified that he was afraid of being run down when he fired into the back of Meservey’s car. Prosecutors argued that Meade, an 11-year veteran, had other options besides lethal force, including taking cover behind a nearby vehicle. Meservey was belligerent and refused to get out of his Corvette. Meservey drove forward into a metal fence. There was disputed testimony during the trial about whether or not the Corvette’s back-up lights came on before Meade opened fire.
In a separate civil decision, under different court rules, jurors determined that the shooting was not self-defense. If they had found otherwise, prosecutors would have been required to pay for Meade’s defense.
Instead, Everett taxpayers will foot the bill.
City officials believe they are obligated to pay for Meade’s defense because the shooting happened while Meade was working in his official capacity as a police officer. Seattle defense attorney David Allen has billed the city $241,000 for representing Meade. That price tag includes fees for expert witnesses and a legal investigator. Allen, one of the state’s top defense attorneys, charged $400 an hour for his services.
Meade hired Allen in September and retained him through the end of the April trial, according to city records.
Allen contacted city officials before the trial to request that Everett pay for his client’s criminal bills as outlined in the city’s municipal code, Reardon said.
Cities often pay legal fees for claims against employees acting in their official capacities, said Sheila Gall, general counsel for the Association of Washington Cities. Union employees also generally negotiate similar assurances in their contracts with cities, she said.
In addition to Meade’s wages and criminal defense costs, the city is racking up thousands of dollars in legal fees to defend against the multimillion-dollar lawsuit. Records show that through June, outside lawyers have billed the city more than $200,000 in legal fees in connection with the case.
The lawsuit Meservey’s daughter filed in February alleges that Everett failed to provide Meade proper training to handle situations such as the one he faced the night he encountered Meservey.
The city denies that it’s responsible for the Stanwood man’s death. Court documents indicate that the city plans to offer an affirmative defense, alleging that Meservey is responsible for his own demise.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; email@example.com.