EVERETT — A 17-year-old Arlington girl shot on Feb. 14 by police was distraught over a breakup and suffering from an anxiety attack, her sister said Saturday.
Ayana Robinson, the oldest of three sisters in the family, reiterated the facts as she and her attorneys knew them about the incident.
Her sister, whose name has not been disclosed, spent two weeks in an intensive care unit recovering from gunshot wounds to her chest and abdomen.
The shooting is being investigated by the Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team, which is composed of detectives from other police agencies.
Investigators interviewed the two Arlington police officers earlier this month. They told detectives the girl lunged at one of the officers with a knife and failed to comply with commands even after a police sergeant attempted to subdue her twice with an electronic stun gun. One officer said that before the situation escalated he believed the teen needed to be taken into custody for a mental health evaluation.
Robinson spoke at a press conference in Everett on Saturday. It was the first time anyone from the family has spoken publicly about the incident.
She was joined by her attorney, Braden Pence, and Janice Greene, president of the Snohomish County branch of the NAACP.
Robinson’s family is mixed-race whose members identify as African-American to varying degrees, she said.
Her sister was a Running Start student and a talented artist who wanted to study international law, and had no criminal record. She is known for being kind and mature beyond her years.
In response to a question if they believed that the shooting was racially motivated, Robinson said that she didn’t know what the officers had been thinking, but said that if her sister had “looked more familiar” to the officers, she likely would not have been shot.
Pence was more blunt. “Yes, we suspect some element of race played a role,” he said.
Early Feb. 14, the girl broke up with her boyfriend and was distraught, Robinson said. She stopped at a friend’s house on her way home, and ended up suffering an anxiety attack.
The anxiety attack and an unidentified physical ailment caused the girl to collapse in the roadway in the 500 block of North Olympic Avenue, Robinson said.
When police arrived at the scene, the officers first surrounded her then told her to get up, she said.
Her sister locked herself in the car, where she tried to do her breathing exercises to calm herself down, Robinson said.
Her boyfriend had left his pocketknife on the seat and she was trying to put it away when the officers surrounded the car and yelled at her to get out, Robinson said.
“When she didn’t immediately comply, they decided to escalate the situation,” she said.
Her sister was trying to put the knife away when an officer broke out the window, pulled her out through the window and zapped her with the stun gun, Robinson said. The officers then shot her multiple times.
Robinson said it was not true that her sister held a knife up to her own throat while in the car and threatened to kill herself. She said her sister had discarded the knife before she was shot.
That account of events conflicts with what the police officers and witnesses told investigators.
The officers told investigators they found the girl lying in the middle of the road. She told them she wanted to die when they asked what she was doing in the street. The teen walked to her vehicle and locked herself inside despite the officers’ commands to stop, the officers said.
While they were standing at the car the girl tapped the blade of a knife on the driver’s side window, according to a search warrant filed Friday.
A police sergeant broke out the passenger window, planning to use an electronic stun gun to subdue her. The teen lunged at him with a knife through the broken window, both officers told SMART investigators. They also said the girl climbed out of the window and advanced on the sergeant with the knife.
The sergeant told investigators he believed his life was in danger. The other officer also said he thought the sergeant was at risk of being assaulted. Both opened fire.
According to initial police reports, one person at the scene told them he had been assaulted by her. The man, who identified himself as the girl’s boyfriend, had blood on his face, according to investigators. He said the girl had been drinking earlier in the night and accused him of cheating on her.
Reports from police that her sister had been in an altercation were baseless, Robinson said.
Robinson and Pence called the release of a search warrant for the girl’s car on Friday an attempt at character assassination.
“The system is seeking to protect her aggressors rather than supporting her,” Robinson said.
Pence said he had trying to get the girl’s car returned to the family for two weeks before the police stopped talking to him. The next thing he learned was that a search warrant had been issued.
There are disturbing implications in the timing of the warrant, the lawyer said. He also noted there have been four officer-involved shootings in Snohomish County since December.
“That’s the problem, the police are investigating the police,” Pence said.
The NAACP’s Greene said that the family’s stance shouldn’t be seen as anti-law-enforcement, but pro-community.
The case needed to be investigated in a transparent manner with the involvement of the community, she said, and that there is another side to the story other than what the police are saying.
“We feel it is our responsibility to highlight concerns and bring these issues to the forefront,” Greene said.
“We feel it’s their responsibility to take our input and make things better,” Greene said. “We need to move beyond taking sides and work together.”