Police-shooting probe casts wide net

EVERETT — The pagers began beeping around 1:25 a.m. on June 11.

An Everett police officer had fired his weapon in the line of duty. A man was dead. Questions needed answers.

Detectives with the Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team were summoned to follow the truth, wherever it took them.

Four months later the special task force’s investigation last week led prosecutors to file a manslaughter charge against Everett police officer Troy Meade. The 11-year veteran is accused of fatally shooting Niles Meservey on June 10 after the intoxicated man refused to get out of his car and rammed it into a fence in a parking lot behind the Chuckwagon Inn in Everett.

Meservey, 51, of Stanwood, was hit by seven of the eight bullets Meade fired from his handgun.

The team interviewed more than a dozen witnesses, took hundreds of pictures, inspected three vehicles and used computers to reconstruct the crash and shooting. On a number of instances, the detectives also checked each other’s work, heading back to question people a second time, or to confirm that evidence was gathered correctly.

More than 900 pages of documents from the investigation are public. They can be reviewed by anyone who seeks them under the state’s disclosure law.

“I think the number one thing I’d like the community to know is all officer-involved shootings are difficult, but the community can rest assured that in Snohomish County they are investigated impartially and thoroughly,” Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick said.

Lovick leads a board of directors that oversees the team’s policies and procedures.

He declined to discuss the outcome of this investigation. Results in other cases are pending, including several involving Lovick’s deputies.

The board doesn’t oversee how the detectives investigate, Lovick said, but they make sure protocols are in place to reach unbiased conclusions about police use of force.

A Washington State Patrol detective led the Meservey investigation. His primary partner was a sheriff’s office homicide detective. Other investigators on the team came from Everett, Monroe, Marysville, Edmonds, Mill Creek and Arlington.

No police department is required to use the task force, Lovick said. Once a law enforcement agency calls the team in, though, that department waives a leading role in the investigation and the work is turned over to the task force.

The sheriff said he believes the detectives on the team are the best investigators in the county and some of the most talented in the state.

They can quickly blanket a scene to collect evidence and talk to witnesses — steps that are critical for a successful investigation. That’s something an individual department likely couldn’t do on its own, Lovick said.

“The public — this is critical — has to know if force was justified,” Lovick said. “As the chairman and sheriff, I’m totally confident the public gets a thorough and impartial investigation from SMART.”

Another benefit is that seasoned cops can identify possible ways of avoiding similar tragedies in the future, the sheriff said. At times, Lovick said, he’s had investigators in SMART cases spend up to four hours in his office detailing what happened and where policies or training could be improved.

Everett Police Chief Jim Scharf, as sheriff in the early 1990s, didn’t have SMART detectives. Even so, he used a similar approach to identify how risky “dynamic entry” tactics factored into the killing of an innocent, unarmed woman during a SWAT raid. He announced the findings, even before lawsuits around the case were settled, and ordered his team to use those tactics only in extreme instances. Since then, sheriff’s deputies are more likely to surround a home and wait for a suspect to give up, unharmed.

Scharf so far has declined to discuss the Meservey case, referring all questions to an attorney hired by the city of Everett.

Detectives on the Meservey case took hundreds of photographs, documenting what they found at the scene and when they later combed the slain man’s car for evidence.

On Monday, officials released more than 995 of those images. Some showed that the car had slammed into the fence with enough force to snap a cast-metal pipe fastener into two pieces, one of which landed atop the vehicle’s hood. They documented the locations of spent shell casings, pools of blood, broken glass and even the cylinders of foam punched out of the driver’s seat by flying bullets.

The detectives took photos from the ladder of a fire truck, capturing the shooting scene from above. They put Meservey’s car up on a mechanics hoist to photograph fresh-looking scrapes on the frame and exhaust system.

Formal statements were taken from 15 different people, including Everett police officer Steve Klocker, who witnessed the shooting. They tried to talk with Meade, but he declined through his attorney.

As is typical in violent events, many of the witnesses remember details differently. Some said the engine in Meservey’s car was running, and that he had begun to move the vehicle before Meade tried to subdue him with an electric shock. Others said the engine was off before the shock was applied, and that the man started up the car after. Some saw the vehicle bounce off the fence and begin to move backward before shots rang out. Others said it hit the obstruction and came to a complete stop.

Some witnesses over time also modified key aspects of what they told police.

Klocker, for example, didn’t initially tell investigators that he heard Meade allegedly say “Time to end this” before opening fire. That detail didn’t surface until almost a week after the shooting, when he filed a brief report. When detectives interviewed him, for a second time, about two weeks after the shooting, he told investigators he believed Meade was frustrated with Meservey.

Elizabeth Spery-Thornes is the Everett woman who made the 911 call that summoned officers to look for a drunken Meservey in the Chuckwagon lot the night of the shooting. She also reported being knocked down when his car struck the fence.

Spery-Thornes told detectives she watched the shooting unfold. When questioned a few hours later, she told investigators that Meade “had every right to do what he did,” police transcripts show.

When she gave a second statement less than two weeks later, she’d since become convinced Meservey shouldn’t have been shot.

The officer’s gunfire was a greater risk to herself and others than Meservey behind the wheel, she told detectives.

“There was no reason for this man to die,” Spery-Thornes is quoted in a police transcript.

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

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