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Inquest into Seattle Police killing of Kent man could start Dec. 6

Damarius Butts, 19, died in 2017 shootout in downtown Seattle

A King County inquest into the fatal shooting of a 19-year-old Kent man by Seattle Police has been set for Dec. 6-17, although that could change.

A motion by attorneys from both sides to continue the inquest into the killing of Damarius Butts to March was denied by Inquest Administrator Michael Spearman after a Nov. 12 pre-inquest conference.

“However, the IA (inquest administrator) is attentive to the short timeline under which we are operating, and the motion may be renewed if the parties believe circumstances so warrant,” Spearman wrote in a Nov. 14 pre-inquest order. “All parties shall reserve December 6, 2021 until December 17, 2021 in their schedule.”

The inquest is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays Dec. 6-17 in Room E863 at the King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle.

Another pre-inquest conference is scheduled for 9 a.m. Nov. 30, when the inquest dates might change.

A coroner’s inquest is required by King County law anytime a police officer kills somebody in the line of duty. The purpose of the inquest is to shed light on the facts surrounding a killing at the hands of law enforcement, according to the county website. A jury will render verdicts setting out who was killed, as well as when, where, how, by whom, whether the killing was by criminal means, and to make relevant factual determinations including, but not limited to, whether the law enforcement officers complied with training and policy.

The inquest process, which had its last case in December 2017 (Kent police shooting of Giovonn Joseph-McDade), began again under the new guidelines with a pre-conference hearing Oct. 19 about the Butts case. Families of shooting victims had complained publicly that the process was weighted too heavily in favor of police.

The Washington State Supreme Court ruled in July in favor of the families of Butts, Charleena Lyles and Isaiah Obet that officers involved in their killings can be compelled to testify at inquests. That ruling put inquests back on the table after the process was tied up in the courts for a couple of years because of a lawsuit filed by the cities of Kent, Auburn, Federal Way and Renton that tried to stop an order by King County Executive Dow Constantine in 2018 to change the inquest process.

Butts was killed April 20, 2017, by police in downtown Seattle after a reported armed robbery by Butts and his 17-year-old sister at a convenience store at 627 First Ave.

A store clerk told police he saw a man grab a 12-pack of beer, donuts and chips and leave without paying, according to court documents. The man had walked into the store with a female. When the pair left the store without paying, the clerk pursued them. The clerk knocked the beer out of the man’s hands, but the two continued to flee. The clerk grabbed the female, but Damarius Butts then displayed a silver pistol inside the area of his waist. The clerk let the girl go, returned to the store and called 911.

Officers responded, chased Butts and cornered him at the Federal Office Building, where gunshots were exchanged, according to police reports. Butts wounded four officers, one critically. Officers recovered a gun near the body of Butts, who died of multiple gunshot wounds.

The Seattle officers who fired shots and are involved in the hearing include Elizabeth Kennedy, Christopher Myers, Joshua Vaaga and Canek Gordillo. They are represented by attorneys Evan Bariault and Ted Buck.

Demonta Butts, the mother of Darmarius, is represented by attorneys Adrien Leavitt and La Rond Baker.

The Seattle Police Department is represented by attorneys Ghazal Sharifi, Kerala Cowart and Tom Miller.

Spearman is still deciding about how many jurors to have.

“The IA is considering impaneling up to eight jurors but needs to examine the courtroom to ensure eight jurors can safely be seated, giving due consideration to the other space demands for the inquest,” Spearman wrote. “The IA will inform the parties when a decision is made.”


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