Everett officer testifies at murder trial: "I had no other options"

  • Thu Apr 22nd, 2010 11:24pm
  • News

By Diana Hefley, Herald Writer

EVERETT — He was afraid and out of options when he pulled his gun and fired eight times into the back window of a drunken man’s car.

Everett police officer Troy Meade told jurors Thursday he was in fear for his life when he shot Niles Meservey in the parking lot of the Chuckwagon Inn. He believed the car was backing up in his direction and he or his fellow officer Steve Klocker were going to be run down.

“I had no other options. It was coming fast,” Meade said in a packed courtroom.

His only option was “to shoot or get hit or killed myself. I didn’t want to have to kill somebody,” Meade said.

It was the first time the Everett officer has spoken publicly about the June 10 shooting.

Meade is on trial for second- degree murder. Prosecutors believe that Meade wasn’t justified in shooting Meservey. They allege that despite having other means to handle the situation, such as simply taking a few steps away from the car, Meade unlawfully took the life of another person.

Klocker, an eyewitness to the shooting, last week told jurors that he didn’t think anyone’s life was in danger and was shocked when gunfire erupted. Meade had time before shooting to turn to him and say something like, “Enough is enough; time to end this.”

Meservey wasn’t going anywhere, Klocker said. His car was hemmed in on all sides by a fence and three vehicles, including Meade’s patrol car.

Both sides rested their case late Thursday afternoon. Closing arguments were expected this morning, with the jury likely to begin deliberations this afternoon.

If convicted of murder, Meade faces up to 18 years in prison.

Dressed in a dark suit, Meade took the stand late Thursday morning. Scores of off-duty Everett police officers and Police Chief Jim Scharf were crammed into the courtroom as Meade described in his own words what happened that night.

Meade disputed much of Klocker’s testimony. He also said that based on Klocker’s testimony, he doesn’t believe Klocker is qualified to make decisions about when police can legally use force.

Meade told jurors that he hadn’t expected to find Meservey and the Corvette at the restaurant. Emergency dispatchers relayed that the car had been seen driving away on Evergreen.

He first searched a bank parking lot to the south, then drove into the restaurant parking lot. He spotted the Corvette, parked behind it and got out.

Meade said he heard the car alarm sounding as he walked up to the driver’s side. Meservey was fumbling with his keys as he turned off the alarm.

Meade said he watched Meservey briefly, then tapped on the window. Meservey put the key in the ignition. Meade said he thought Meservey was going to turn the key to operate the window and roll it down. Instead Meservey started the car.

“I was hoping he wouldn’t drive away. I was in a bad position between the two cars,” he said.

Meservey eventually rolled down the window. Meade said Meservey’s first words were “What the (expletive) are you doing here?”

Meade told jurors that he explained to Meservey that there had been a 911 call about a intoxicated man in a white Corvette.

The officer told jurors that Meservey said, “This is (expletive) entrapment,” and repeated the phrase several times.

He asked Meservey to turn off his car and offered to call him a taxi, Meade said.

Meservey shut off the car.

Meade said he then noticed another patrol car drive into the lot and park. He assumed it was Klocker.

Meade said he flagged Klocker over for help, but he saw the officer drive off. He got on the radio and asked Klocker to stay.

“The minute I got on scene I had nothing but problems with Mr. Meservey,” Meade said.

Meservey continued to swear at him. Meade said he tried to open the driver’s door but it was locked. Meservey started up his car again. He refused to get out of his car, and Meade pulled out his Taser stun gun and pointed it at Meservey.

Meade told jurors that he’d decided to use the Taser if Meservey reached for the gear shift. He did just that. But Meade said the stun gun didn’t work, and contrary to testimony of others, Meservey didn’t stiffen up when he was hit by the powerful jolt of electricity.

Meade said he took a step back, then the car lurched forward. The officer said he thought the car hit a truck on the other side of the fence. Then he said he saw the Corvette’s back-up lights flash on.

Meade said the Corvette came at him, and there was no time to step away or seek cover behind the vehicle parked alongside.

Meade testified that he wasn’t certain how far away he was from the back of the vehicle when he opened fire, his handgun in his right hand, the Taser still in his left.

The window exploded, Meade said, recalling how upholstry from the seat cushion floated through the air as if “in a snow globe.”

The gunshots were muffled and he didn’t stop until he saw Meservey slump down, Meade said.

The officer told jurors he was in the same position that a fellow officer was in three years earlier when she was struck by a fleeing car. He was afraid he was going to get crushed by Meservey.

Meade said he didn’t believe he had any reasonable option besides gunfire.

He denied being angry. He denied saying “enough is enough; time to end this.” He also said he didn’t tell Klocker, as the other officer testified, that he believed their lives were in danger.

“I don’t think it is anyone’s fault,” Meade said. “I just think the situation unfolded so fast and so dynamically there was hardly any time to think.”

Snohomish County deputy prosecutor John Adcock questioned Meade’s tactics that night.

Everett officers are trained to park their cars bumper-to-bumper with suspects’ vehicles, and to use emergency lights and floodlights to maintain “command presence.” Meade didn’t.

He was trained to have an escape route and be aware of his surroundings. Meade admitted he was in a tight spot.

At one point the officer became flustered with the lawyer.

“You’re trying to put words in my mouth,” Meade said.

Adcock pointed out that Meade has years of experience dealing with drunks. He knows that they can be unpredictable and uncooperative. He knows that it’s best to have a back-up plan in case things get out of hand.

Why, the prosecutor asked, didn’t Meade consider other reasonable options, such as asking Klocker to break out a window and use pepper spray, or hitting Meservey with a police baton, or trying to use the Taser again, or simply getting out of the way?

What was the rush?

“You had options. You had alternatives. But you prematurely killed Mr. Meservey,” Adcock said.

“Negative,” Meade said.

The trial so far

Everett police officer Troy Meade fatally shot Niles Meservey June 10 outside the Chuckwagon Inn. He was charged in October with first-degree manslaughter. A second-degree murder charge was added before his trial began April 14.

Key testimony thus far:

  • Meade testified he was protecting himself and others when he opened fire. He said there was no option but to shoot.

  • Officer Steven Klocker, an eyewitness to the shooting, said he saw no reason for Meade to open fire. Meade appeared frustrated with the drunken Meservey, and said something like “time to end this, enough is enough,” before pulling the trigger, Klocker testified.

  • Meade denied making that statement, and questioned Klocker’s police skills.

  • Washington State Patrol detective Donald Cunningham said investigators measured the paths of bullets and used computer programs to pinpoint Meade’s location when he began firing. They concluded Meade was about 3 feet behind the Corvette, and about 3 feet to one side. It would have been unlikely that Meade would have been hit by the Corvette if it had moved backward, he said. It also is possible Meade was closer, perhaps standing alongside the car, the detective said.

  • Jurors received conflicting testimony about whether Meservey may have been trying to back up the car when shot.

  • Meade fired his handgun at a suspect in 2006 after the man ran down another police officer with a car. Dr. David Klinger, a senior research scientist at The Police Foundation in Washington, D.C., said an officer’s perceptions in risky situations can be distorted by past and present exposure to danger.

  • Kelso police officer Kirk Wiper, a former firearms instructor at the state police academy, said that given the circumstances, Meade had to shoot at Meservey or risk being hurt. He also acknowledged there were other options; he just didn’t think they’d work.

  • Meservey was depressed and days before his death told a stranger he didn’t care if he survived.

  • A juror fainted when prosecutors showed photographs of Meservey’s gunshot wounds. Two of the injuries would have been fatal, including the bullet wound to Meservey’s neck.