By Diana Hefley and Jackson Holtz Herald Writer
EVERETT — A Snohomish County jury’s verdict on Tuesday against an Everett police officer acquitted of murder may have created more questions than the decision answered.
Jurors on Tuesday found that Everett police officer Troy Meade didn’t prove that he shot Niles Meservey in self-defense. Those same jurors on Monday acquitted Meade of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter.
The two verdicts seemingly send a mixed message about what jurors believe happened on June 10 outside the Chuckwagon Inn. One lawyer involved with the case suggested the verdicts likely reflected the differing laws governing the legal questions jurors had to answer.
Tuesday’s ruling means Meade’s legal expenses won’t be reimbursed, an option under state law when somebody is acquitted of criminal charges after making a self-defense claim.
Meade on Tuesday again told reporters he wants to get back to work. He remains on paid administrative leave and has yet to discuss his return with his supervisors.
Meanwhile Everett officials declined to discuss the verdicts or if they will have any bearing on Meade’s future as an Everett police officer. They remained silent at the insistence of a civil attorney hired to represent the city in a $15 million lawsuit filed on behalf of Meservey’s daughter.
Some in the legal field say it may not be that easy for Meade to again patrol Everett streets.
Ed Budge, a Seattle attorney well-known for winning multimillion-dollar settlements in police misconduct cases, said he wasn’t surprised that the jury acquitted Meade on criminal charges.
Given the dangerous job of a police officer, it’s very hard for juries to convict an officer of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, Budge said.
“Just because he’s been cleared of criminal wrongdoing doesn’t mean there was no wrongdoing,” Budge said. “He may well have violated Mr. Meservey’s constitutional rights” and department policy.
City officials now should conduct their own investigation to determine if Meade should be allowed to return to work, Budge said.
“The department needs to make up its own mind about whether that policeman acted appropriately,” the attorney said.
The police department hasn’t conducted an internal investigation regarding Meade.
City officials have repeatedly declined to discuss whether they believe Meade’s conduct was in accordance with department policies. They also have declined to say if they’ve made any changes in how they train police officers to handle drunken suspects, or if they’ve changed how they counsel officers involved in shootings. They’ve been mum on whether they’ve taken any steps to minimize the potential for another shooting like the one involving Meservey.
Jurors on Tuesday declined to be interviewed by reporters gathered at the courthouse.
One juror would only say that the decisions were not easy to make. The jurors also brushed past legal staff from the city of Everett who are preparing to fight the $15 million lawsuit over Meservey’s death.
Those city attorneys had asked to join an interview of the jurors by prosecutors and Meade’s defense counsel, but were rebuffed.
The majority of the jury on Tuesday decided that Meade’s shooting of Meservey did not meet the legal definition of self defense.
Under jury instructions, the key question they answered was “Did the defendant, Troy Meade, prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the use of force was lawful?
Meade’s defense was based in part on his belief that he was properly using force to defend himself and others.
Meade said he was disappointed by Tuesday’s decision but still grateful the jury earlier acquitted him of criminal charges.
“I want to thank the jury for the decision. I respect that,” he said.
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 the second phase of the trial, which began after they acquitted Meade, civil legal rules prevailed. 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. At that stage of the case, jurors 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 gave careful consideration to the difference between what Meade thought he saw and the reality of what unfolded outside the Chuckwagon Inn.
“I think we see that reflected in their verdicts,” he said.
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.
Jurors didn’t have to reach a unanimous verdict in the civil phase of the trial. They needed just 10 votes. It was an 11-1 split against Meade’s self-defense claim after several hours of deliberation. The jurors 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 goes to trial, civil rules and standards of proof will apply.
“The Everett jury’s finding (Tuesday) that officer Troy Meade did not act in self defense is consistent with our position in the civil damage case. We are confident that the jury in the family’s civil case will come to the same conclusion,” said Seattle attorney Paul Luvera, who filed the lawsuit against the city and Meade.
Seattle University law professor John Strait said the Snohomish County jury faced a difficult decision. Ultimately self-defense cases require jurors to determine what happened.
“It’s a tough line for anyone to draw,” Strait said.
Strait didn’t attend Meade’s trial, but he followed it closely.
“The case was reasonably well tried by both sides, and the jury made a difficult decision,” he said.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463, firstname.lastname@example.org.