Everett police fired 17 times at man armed with shotgun, probe shows

  • Thu Jan 28th, 2010 9:31pm
  • News

By Jackson Holtz, Scott North and Diana Hefley Herald Writers

EVERETT — Police scrambled back when the door swung open at an Everett man’s home Nov. 8, 2008, and they found themselves staring at the barrel of a shotgun.

The Everett officers were summoned to Dustin Willard’s home by a 911 call reporting a possible burglary in progress. They took up positions around the house and rang the doorbell.

What followed was sudden violence in the dark, according to more than 800 pages of reports from the official investigation of the shooting, released Thursday to The Herald under state public records laws.

Willard was carrying a loaded 12-gauge shotgun. When he didn’t immediately heed commands to drop the weapon, and pointed it at the uniformed officers, three of them opened fire, according to the police reports.

A total of 17 shots were fired. Willard was hit four times. He died just inside the door of his home.

Willard, 31, had been out enjoying a night of drinking with friends. He apparently was locked out of his house, and had kicked the front door and then stumbled loudly through his back yard before forcing his way through the back door.

Neighbors mistook the noise Willard made as sounds made by a burglar and they summoned police.

The fatal shooting was investigated by a special team of homicide detectives with the Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team.

Their progress was slowed by turnaround times at the state crime lab. Tests on DNA samples took 10 months. Ballistics testing took nearly a year.

Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe has yet to indicate whether he believes the police killing was legally justified.

The Willard family in October filed a claim for damages with the city of Everett for up to $20 million. They’ve been in anguish, waiting for detectives to finish their investigation, said their attorney, Angelo Calfo of Seattle.

“It’s not as simple as Dustin pointed a gun at officers and they feared for their lives,” Calfo said Thursday. “It’s more complicated than that.”

Police rushed to the home in the 2400 block of 23rd Street about 1:45 a.m. after neighbors called 911.

When officers arrived they spotted a muddy shoe print on the front door — evidence they believed that somebody had tried to kick their way inside.

Lights were on in the home and a TV could be heard.

Officers told investigators they followed procedure and quietly surrounded the house. Then an officer said he rang the doorbell, twice.

Willard opened the door, leveling a shotgun, reports said.

Positioned behind a utility pole, Everett police officer Sunny Radosevich said she began yelling “Gun!” when she saw the shotgun’s barrel nose out of the front door.

Officers Stephen Harney and Aaron Showalter were feet from Willard, near the porch. They told detectives how they scrambled back while bringing up their handguns and aiming at the man with the shotgun.

“I yell, ‘Police …. drop the gun,’” Harney was quoted in transcript of his interview with detectives. His voice was described as shaky as he recounted the shock of realizing that a real weapon — not a toy — was aimed his direction.

“The only thought in my mind is this guy’s gonna kill me with a gun. I didn’t think that he was a homeowner or a burglar. It’s a guy with a gun,” he told detectives.

Showalter described being transfixed by the shotgun’s barrel as it preceeded Willard through the open door. He told detectives he started to fire as he was backing away, heard gunshots and saw Harney fall. He didn’t know the other officer had tripped.

“At that moment I believed my partner had been shot and uh, I was in fear for my life,” Showalter was quoted in the police transcript.

Radosevich said she and the other officers were yelling at Willard to put down the weapon, but she opened fire after he appeared to move the shotgun into position to shoot police.

“I think he would have killed the officers that were standing in front of the house,” she told detectives. “He coulda killed me.”

The officers and Everett Fire Department paramedics unsuccessfully tried to revive Willard.

Each of the officers was questioned by investigators after they reviewed their statements with an attorney, the detectives’ report said.

It will be up to Roe, the prosecutor, to determine if charges are warranted.

Last year Roe charged Everett police officer Troy Meade with first-degree manslaughter for the June 10 killing of Niles Meservey behind the Chuckwagon Inn. The shooting happened as Meade was trying to get the drunken man out of his car.

Meservey’s family also filed a claim against the city. They’re demanding up to $15 million.

Willard’s death has been difficult for his family. They remembered him as an upstanding man and have struggled during the yearlong investigation, said Calfo, their attorney.

“Mr. Willard came to the door when the officers knocked. Not knowing their identity, he carried a shotgun for protection,” Willard’s relatives said in their claim for damages. “Under the circumstances, the officers’ actions were, among other things, negligent, reckless and outrageous.”

Reporter Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3437, jholtz@heraldnet.com.