Man killed during Lake Stevens traffic stop

LAKE STEVENS — For the fifth time since November, Snohomish County law enforcement officials have fatally shot a man.

The latest police-involved shooting took place Thursday night during a traffic stop along Highway 9, officials said.

Relatives identified the man who was shot as Shawn Larson.

“Shawn was a great guy,” his cousin, Cris Larson of Everett, said. “He might not have always done what was best for himself but he always did what was best for everyone else.”

Larson’s death was the fourth police-involved fatality in the county in the past three months.

The events that led to the shooting began when a Snohomish County deputy was flagged down about 9 p.m., Everett police Sgt. Robert Goetz said. A concerned driver reported an erratically driven pickup truck.

The deputy spotted the pickup and pulled the driver over at the truck scales near Soper Hill Road in Lake Stevens.

That’s when some type of altercation took place and the deputy shot the driver, Goetz said.

“There was a handgun located at the scene that was not the deputy’s,” Goetz said.

Firefighters administered first aid, but the man died at the scene.

Now, the Snohomish County Multi-Agency Response Team, or SMART, is looking into the shooting. SMART is a special task force of homicide detectives trained to investigate killings by police.

The sheriff’s deputy, 33, was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, Goetz said. The deputy has been with the sheriff’s office for about two years and has previous law enforcement experience.

The man’s pickup truck was impounded Friday and detectives plan to obtain a search warrant to gather additional evidence.

The truck scales are owned and operated by the Washington State Patrol, commercial vehicle division Lt. Jeff Jones said.

“There’s no surveillance cameras out there,” Jones said.

The Snohomish County medical examiner conducted an autopsy but withheld findings pending scientific identification.

Once the SMART team completes its investigation, a process that can take months, the case will be forwarded to Snohomish County prosecutors to determine if the killing was legally justified.

Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Mark Roe has said the process is transparent because the entire report will be available under the state’s public disclosure laws once the investigation is complete.

Roe’s duties include reviewing SMART cases.

Since the inception of SMART in 1998, Roe has not found grounds to file criminal charges against an officer investigated by the team.

Jack McDevitt, an associate dean at the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University in Boston, said careful investigation of each police shooting is imperative.

The shootings “will on occasion group together and that doesn’t necessarily indicate a pattern,” he said. “The important thing is to take each of these shootings seriously.”

It’s easy to overestimate the prevalence of police-involved shootings in the shadow of these killings, said Mark S. Handcock, the chair of the statistics department at the University of Washington in Seattle. But that wouldn’t be scientifically accurate.

“We haven’t taken into account all the times when these unfortunate events hadn’t occurred,” he said.

Police are called on to make split-second decisions in the line of duty, McDevitt said. That doesn’t mean they’re not affected by recent events.

After a string of high-profile police-involved shootings, an officer or deputy may approach each encounter with potential bad guys as a higher threat — or may be reluctant to use force to avoid criticism.

“It could go either way,” he said. “Police training is geared to minimize (second guessing), but you can never eliminate it.”

Depending on the outcome of the investigations, several recommendations may surface to improve training regimens or police policies, McDevitt said.

“We strive to never shoot anybody, but we’re never going to be 100 percent successful in that,” he said.

Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3437,

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