Sonia Joseph and three of her supporters stormed out of court to protest the inquest into the fatal shooting of her son in June by a Kent Police officer.
“It looks like I have been denied everything by this court,” Joseph said on Monday to King County District Court Judge Susan Mahoney at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent. “I was denied my rights to legal counsel to represent me. It is unfair. I am protesting and boycotting this trial.”
As Mahoney started to warn Joseph about interrupting the proceedings and her possible removal from the courtroom, Joseph walked out with three others who came to support her.
Giovonn Joseph-McDade, 20, of Auburn, died June 24, from multiple gunshot wounds after he reportedly tried to use his vehicle to run over an officer after a short pursuit on the East Hill that ended on a residential cul-de-sac at 99th Avenue South and South 244th Street. Joseph-McDade is a former football player and student at Kent-Meridian High School.
Inquests are fact-finding hearings conducted before a six-member jury. Under a standing county executive order, inquests are convened to determine the causes and circumstances of any death involving a member of any King County law enforcement agency while performing his or her duty.
Inquests provide transparency into law enforcement actions so the public may have all the facts established in a court of law, according to the news release when County Executive Dow Constantine ordered the inquest in August. The district court later set a Dec. 11 inquest date. The ordering of an inquest should carry no other implication. Inquest jurors answer a series of questions to determine the significant factual issues involved in the case, and it is not their purpose to determine whether any person or agency is civilly or criminally liable.
Joseph said prior to the inquest that she and her attorney had asked Judge Mahoney for a continuance of the hearing two weeks ago because the attorney had a trial and could not be present this week. Mahoney denied a continuance.
“I am boycotting the inquest process because I refuse to take a seat in a process that has been organized by a system that has already failed my son, and now she’s denying me and my attorneys to do their job – where’s the justice?” Joseph said.
Mahoney told Joseph and her attorney last week that she didn’t want to move the inquest to another date because it could cause witnesses lined up for the Joseph-McDade inquest to have to change their schedules.
“It’s an inconvenience to the court to have to reschedule.” Joseph said. “My son’s murder is an inconvenience to this court.”
Mahoney further explained in court Monday that the inquest would have been moved to March if it had been continued. The judge said she balanced the desire of the family to have an attorney participate to the interests of the other parties.
“It would have pushed it out to March, witnesses have been scheduled … the officer, city and public have interest in having it done,” Mahoney said.
On an early morning in June, Kent Police officer William Davis said he feared he would be seriously injured or killed as he stood in a street with his gun aimed at the driver of a vehicle he had pursued for a short distance on the East Hill. Davis, in a written report released by Kent Police last summer, wrote that driver Giovonn Joseph-McDade accelerated his vehicle directly at him after he had ordered the driver to turn the car off as well as yelled, “Police, Stop!” When Joseph-McDade didn’t stop, Davis fired at him.
The inquest into whether Davis feared for his life is expected to wrap up by the end of the week.
Andre Taylor, whose brother Che Taylor was fatally shot by Seattle Police in February 2016, came to court Monday to support Joseph. Taylor is chair of De-Escalate Washington, which is behind legislation to require law enforcement to receive violence de-escalation, mental-health and first-aid training; and change standards for use of deadly force, adding a “good faith” standard and independent investigation.
“The inquest process is an incomplete process already,” said Taylor, who also runs Not This Time, a grassroots group to demand more police accountability and safer communities. “And 85 percent of the families that go through an inquest process go through without any representation. My organization put money up so Sonia could have representation, and they were denied. We think that’s an injustice.”
Taylor said any changes at the state level will be too late for Joseph.
“There is legislation going forth in January so they have counsel,” he said about the inquests. “The law enforcement have their attorneys and run the table. You can’t cross examine the witnesses.”
Officer Davis is represented by attorney Stewart Estes, of the Seattle firm Keating, Bucklin and McCormack. Estes has has defended more than 80 cases of police officers accused of using excessive force, improper vehicle pursuits and other incidents, according to the company’s website.
Mahoney said in court the reaction by Joseph and her supporters didn’t surprise her.
“I expected that might happen,” she said after Joseph walked out. “They will not be excluded if they choose to return. I determined I could not delay every other party for one, it is an important party, much more personal, but there are multiple interests. They feel they are being denied. But they can move forward and seek (other measures) whether it’s wrongdoing or policy review, none of which occur here.”
Mahoney said she had an offer for Joseph if she had stayed.
“I was going to ask her to submit questions if she wanted, that was going to be my compromise,” Mahoney said.
Taylor said Joseph deserved more time for her attorney to prepare the case similar to the Charleena Lyles inquest, which also will be heard by Mahoney. An inquest into the fatal shooting of Lyles by two Seattle police officers in June has been set for April 16.
“We are baffled by this because the witnesses will be inconvenienced while her son is dead? It’s insulting to this family,” Taylor said.