Deadly police shooting in Lynnwood ruled justified

Jeremy Dowell, who likely was living with untreated mental illness, refused orders to drop a knife.

LYNNWOOD — The call came in at 9:41 a.m. Jan. 30. A man was acting strange in a business along Highway 99.

By 9:48 a.m. Jeremy Dowell was dead in the middle of the road.

A Lynnwood police officer shot Dowell after the Mountlake Terrace man refused to drop the large, fixed-blade knife he was carrying, according to investigators with the Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team. Dowell, officers said, had ignored repeated commands to relinquish the blade and walked closer to police. He was shot 10 times.

Recently, Craig Matheson, chief criminal deputy prosecutor, concluded that the shooting was legally justified. He wrote a letter to detectives investigating the case, explaining his decision.

“It is apparent from the statement of witnesses (both police and civilian), the physical evidence located at the scene, the autopsy results and a video with audio of the incident that the officers’ decision to use deadly force was justified under the circumstances,” Matheson wrote in the Oct. 5 letter.

Dowell, 36, likely was living with an untreated mental illness that contributed to his inexplicable behavior that morning, he added.

The Lynnwood officer, Zach Yates, had been on the force for about three years. He had prior law enforcement experience before joining Lynnwood, according to detective reports. Yates had never used deadly force before January’s shooting.

He returned to patrol Feb. 27, Lynnwood Deputy Police Chief Jim Nelson said. The department is in the process of conducting an internal investigation to determine if policies were followed.

The Daily Herald obtained the lead detectives’ reports and Matheson’s letter under the state’s public records laws.

That winter morning a man called 911 concerned about someone who’d come into his carpet store on Highway 99. The caller said the man was talking about ISIS and making irrational statements.

He advised dispatchers that the man had left the store, and he provided a description of his clothing. Three Lynnwood officers arrived in the area. Yates radioed that he’d spotted a man matching the caller’s description. He reported that the man was running.

Yates advised that he didn’t have cause to detain the man so he watched him and followed in his patrol car without activating his emergency lights, according to the records.

The officer allegedly spotted Dowell grab something from his backpack. Dowell reportedly walked into traffic and Yates radioed that he was going to detain him. He moved his patrol car into traffic to block the roadway. He told two fellow officers to “watch his hands. I don’t know what he took from the backpack.”

Another officer advised that Dowell had a shank or knife. Radio traffic indicated that officers reported a possible weapon at 9:48 a.m. About 18 seconds later, an officer reported that shots had been fired, according to the detective’s report.

“Officer Yates stated he was very close (about 10 feet) from Dowell and felt he was in a position of extreme danger given Dowell having a knife and refusing to comply (stepping towards him) and the traffic behind him (retreating into the road posed a danger),” the detective wrote.

Yates fired several shots. Officers reported that Dowell continued to advance and ignore commands. Yates fired more rounds and Dowell fell to his knees. He reportedly still had the knife in his hand and appeared to try to advance toward police, the officers said. More shots were fired.

An officer removed the knife from Dowell’s hand and started CPR. Another officer placed the knife into a patrol vehicle “due to some of the citizen witnesses being very close to the scene and verbally hostile during the initial moments just after the incident,” the detective wrote.

He noted that some of the witnesses were concerned that Yates fired more shots after Dowell was on his knees. Those additional shots are explained in the officers’ statements, the Snohomish County sheriff’s detective wrote.

Yates told investigators he thought Dowell, who was still armed, was within lunging distance of another officer. He also said the injured man appeared to try to rise up with the knife still in his hands, according to records.

Dowell’s father also expressed his concerns about the number of times his son was shot, the detective reported. The Mountlake Terrace man called the detective about a week after the shooting. He explained that his son often wore headphones and listened to music. Maybe he couldn’t hear the officer’s commands, he suggested.

Detectives found a music player in Dowell’s pocket. The ear buds were partially wrapped around the device, indicating to them that he hadn’t been wearing them, according to the reports.

His family told police that Dowell had been suffering from some delusions in the weeks leading up to his death. He was worried about government conspiracies. He had been living in a tent outside his parents’ home. He likely was trying to visit his storage unit that morning.

Matheson and the lead detectives met with Dowell’s parents and their lawyer last month to discuss his decision.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.

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