EVERETT — The city of Everett has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for legal advice since police officer Troy Meade fatally shot a drunken man behind the wheel of a parked car.
Yet, Everett Police Chief Jim Scharf said it has been his decision — and his alone — to keep Meade on paid a
dministrative leave for 20 months and not conduct an internal investigation into the June 2009 shooting, according to a deposition he gave earlier this month.
Scharf recently testified under oath that because of the “uniqueness” of Meade’s case and out of “fairness” to the officer, he decided to suspend department policy and delay the internal investigation indefinitely.
In the same deposition, Scharf said he is going to trust that Meade “made the right judgments” the night the officer fatally shot Niles Meservey.
Scharf said he decided to wait until after civil litigation was resolved before trying to determine whether Meade broke any department policies. Violations could provide grounds to fire Meade and boot him off the city’s payroll.
Meade has been paid about $116,000 in salary while on leave.
“Because in fairness to Officer Meade regarding the internal investigation process, I deemed it important that we wait for the end of all criminal and civil processes before we completed the internal investigation or even start one up,” Scharf said in the Feb. 10 deposition.
“I made the determination not to adhere to this particular policy in this case because of the uniqueness of the situation involved,” he said later.
Scharf said he had the sole authority to make the decision and didn’t need approval from the City Council. He also said he expected it would fall to the next police chief to determine whether Meade ever returns to work.
Scharf has declined to comment publicly about the shooting. He’s referred all media inquiries to an attorney hired to defend the city.
Scharf plans to retire at the end of March after 16 years as chief. He was out of the office Friday and could not be reached for comment. City spokeswoman Kate Reardon also declined to discuss the case or Scharf’s deposition.
Paul Luvera, who represents Meservey’s family, questioned Scharf in preparation for a civil trial that now won’t occur. A transcript of Scharf’s 90-minute deposition was recently released to The Herald. It provides some insight into the chief’s actions and thoughts since the shooting.
Meade is the first police officer in Snohomish County history to be charged with murder for a line-of-duty shooting. A jury acquitted him of all criminal charges in April. Jurors, however, also determined that the shooting wasn’t justified as self-defense when deciding whether the state should pay for Meade’s legal fees. The city paid the $241,000 bill.
The city calculates it also has spent about $400,000 for civil attorneys working on the Meade case.
Meade encountered Meservey in the parking lot of the Chuckwagon Inn on Evergreen Way. Meservey, 51, was drunk and refused to get out of his car. He drove his Corvette forward a few feet into a metal fence. Meade shot the Stanwood man seven times from behind. He said he feared that Meservey was going to back up and hit him with the car.
A second officer who witnessed the shooting testified that Meade said something like “Enough is enough. Time to end this,” before gunfire erupted. Officer Steve Klocker told jurors at Meade’s criminal trial that he didn’t believe the situation had escalated to warrant using deadly force.
The City Council on Wednesday signed off on a $500,000 settlement with Meservey’s family.
City officials said they would continue to remain silent about the shooting until an internal investigation is completed. The review is now under way.
But why has it taken so long?
That’s one question Luvera pressed Scharf to answer.
Luvera pointed out that there has been an extensive criminal investigation and a public trial, which featured testimony not only from Klocker and other witnesses, but from Meade himself.
“What is it you still need to know before you feel he should come back to work, sir?” Luvera asked.
“We will wait and see what happens in the civil process,” Scharf answered.
When Luvera pressed more, Scharf said it is possible something would surface that hadn’t been heard yet. It is only fair to wait until after the civil case was concluded before conducting the internal review, he said.
Luvera asked Scharf to explain what he meant by “fairness.”
“We have not heard from Officer Meade as of yet,” Scharf said.
Luvera noted that Meade had testified. The officer also had the opportunity to speak with investigators before criminal charges were filed, but refused.
Regardless, Scharf said, in his mind it was fair to wait.
That decision has been controversial within the police department. Internal investigations, like criminal probes, typically begin when the evidence is still fresh and witness recollections less likely to be tainted. Some officers privately wondered why Scharf chose to ignore the department’s own rules. They aren’t talking with reporters, however. All have been ordered not to speak about the case.
There has been speculation that the city chose to delay the internal review because it wanted to avoid evidence that could require Meade’s termination, likely weakening the city’s civil case.
Scharf told Luvera that his decision to keep Meade on the payroll wasn’t about the city’s lawsuit.
Luvera went on to question Scharf about other department policies, including when it’s appropriate to use deadly force. He had Scharf spell out what other options officers should exercise before shooting somebody.
“It is easy to scrutinize a situation after the fact to come up with a decision as to whether or not a person should have done something at the time which is mired in emotions, stress and trauma,” Scharf said. “And I’m — until given other information — going to trust that in this particular situation with Troy Meade, that he made the right judgments.”
The chief later clarified that he hasn’t decided if the shooting was justified, since he hasn’t seen the results of the delayed internal investigation. Luvera asked Scharf if the jury’s decision holds any weight. Scharf answered: “The outcome of the internal investigation would be what is to be significant to me, sir.”
Luvera: Not the jury’s verdict?
“In all fairness to everybody involved the internal investigation process is extremely thorough in our agency and all information will be looked at. Troy will have his opportunity to give his stance on the matter, and then we’ll make a determination, or the new chief will make her determination based on the information available. In this I can’t tell you whether this is going to be part of it, sir,” Scharf replied.
The deposition offered the first public glimpse of how Scharf has led the department through the turmoil surrounding Meservey’s death.
Scharf said he went to the shooting scene the night it happened, met with his officers soon after and has had several private conversations with Meade and the other officer who was there that night.
When officer Klocker testified at Meade’s trial, he came under fire from Meade’s attorney. The city’s own lawyers provided Meade’s defense with documents that suggested there may be questions about Klocker’s credibility. Later, though, city officials said those concerns were vetted months earlier and deemed unfounded.
Scharf told Luvera he made a point of meeting with the department’s rank and file and addressing concerns about the case. The chief said he went to the precincts and spoke with his officers, acknowledging that it was a difficult situation for the department.
He said he encouraged them to respect Klocker for how he had conducted himself that night and during Meade’s case.
Scharf told Luvera that he told Klocker that he respected him for “doing the right thing.”
“And you were proud of him for coming forward?” Luvera asked.
“Yes, I was,” Scharf said.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.