By Diana Hefley and Jackson Holtz Herald Writers
EVERETT — A Snohomish County jury has ruled that Everett police officer Troy Meade did not act in self-defense when he fatally shot a drunken Stanwood man last summer.
The jury split 11-1 on the decision, with the majority deciding that Meade’s shooting of Niles Meservey did not meet the legal definition of self-defense.
The key question before the jury today was “Did the defendant, Troy Meade, prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the use of force was lawful?”
Meade’s defense to second-degree murder and manslaughter was based in part on his belief that he was properly using force to defend himself and others.
Meade said he was disappointed by today’s decision, but still grateful for the jury’s decision to acquit him of criminal charges.
“I want to thank the jury for the decision. I respect that,” he said.
The ruling means Meade’s legal expenses won’t be paid by the state. Reimbursing a defendant’s expenses is an option under state law when somebody is acquitted of criminal charges after making a self-defense claim.
Today’s verdict also sends a mixed message about the jury’s perspective on Meservey’s death. Jurors declined to be interviewed by reporters gathered at the courthouse. They also brushed past legal staff from the city of Everett who are preparing to fight a $15 million lawsuit over the fatal shooting.
Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Matthew Baldock and a lawyer representing Meade spoke privately with jurors after they were excused and thanked for their service by Superior Court Judge Gerald Knight.
Baldock made it clear he wasn’t speaking for the jurors. He said it was evident jurors understood the different legal standards that needed to be applied to the evidence at each stage of the case.
In the criminal trial they had to determine if Meade was justified in shooting because he felt his life was threatened. In this phase of the trial, however, civil legal rules prevailed and the definition of a “justified” use of force was different.
Jurors were instructed to apply an objective standard, meaning whether a “reasonably prudent person, under the same or similar conditions existing at the time of the incident, would have used the same degree of force” as Meade.
In the criminal phase of the trial, the standard was subjective, meaning what Meade perceived was most important. They also were instructed that actual danger was not necessary to find Meade’s actions justified.
Baldock said it was fair to say that the jury saw the difference between what Meade thought he saw versus the reality of what unfolded outside the Chuckwagon Inn.
“I think we see that reflected in their verdicts,” he said.
The same jury on Monday acquitted Meade of all criminal charges after about five hours of deliberations. Once that decision was announced, Knight told jurors their job wasn’t done.
During the criminal phase of the trial, jurors needed to reach a unanimous verdict to decide the case. They voted 12-0 to acquit Meade on both counts, second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter.
During the civil phase, jurors didn’t have to reach a unanimous verdict. They needed just 10 votes. They also were told to decide the issue based on a preponderance of the evidence. That means they believed their finding about what happened was more likely than not.
In the criminal trial, the standard of proof was higher — beyond a reasonable doubt. Meade was presumed innocent, and prosecutors had the burden of proof.
In the civil phase, Meade shouldered the burden of proof and had to demonstrate his actions were justified.
If the lawsuit filed against Everett in the shooting goes to trial, it also will be subject to civil rules.