A King County inquest jury found a Kent Police officer justified when he fatally shot a 37-year-old Kent man in an exchange of gunfire in 2019.
The six-member jury made its ruling Nov. 14 after four days of hearings in Seattle into the fatal shooting of Miguel Barraza-Lugo by Officer Matthew Kilner on Jan. 9, 2019.
Kilner and another Kent officer pursued Barraza-Lugo in their vehicles after a hit-and-run case that started in Auburn and ended in the 9500 block of Canyon Drive in Kent, according to police records and testimony at the inquest. Officers were able to stop the vehicle by using a pursuit intervention technique (PIT) after Barraza-Lugo failed to pull over with police vehicles in pursuit.
Kilner testified during the inquest that when the pursuit ended, he exited his vehicle and went to the rear of his vehicle when he saw Barraza-Lugo trying to drive away and move forward to another officer’s vehicle that he pinned the truck. He said he had his gun drawn as he exited, but held it low, pointed down and without his finger on the trigger.
Concerned for the other officer’s safety, Kilner said he began to move toward the passenger side door of the truck. He said he was yelling at the driver to stop what he was doing.
“He was just staring straight forward and with the engine revving,” Kilner said. “It looked like he was trying to override (the other offier’s) vehicle. I could see (the other officer’s) engine pushing down as he was trying to drive over it.”
Kilner said he repeated over and over for the driver to stop the vehicle, but the driver didn’t respond.
“In conjunction with giving orders I was slowly advancing on the passenger window hoping to get his attention,” Kilner said.
The officer was within 4 to 6 feet of the truck and again yelled for the driver to stop.
“He slowly turned to his right and looked right at me. …as soon as we made eye contact, I saw his right arm raise a revolver straight at my head and he started shooting at me. I could see the cylinder sticking out of the revolver.
“I remember in that moment hearing at least one gunshot and I saw a hole appear in the passenger window simultaneous to the gunshot.”
Kilner said he returned fire. It took less than 15 seconds from the PIT manuver until shots were fired.
“These situations don’t play out like in the movies,” Kilner said. “It was very dynamic and quick moving. I was returning fire as I retreated to the rear of his vehicle to get out of line of fire.”
Investigators, and the King County Medical Examiner’s Office, later determined that Kilner fired 11 shots and Barraza-Lugo fired two shots. Four shots by Kilner hit Barraza-Lugo, including one that instantly killed him.
Kilner explained why he fired so many shots.
“I was shooting through a lot of obstacles (headrest and other items),” he said. “We are trained not to shoot a specific number of rounds but until the threat is over. As soon as I identified that the threat was over, I stopped firing.”
Kilner said he returned fire in less than a second.
“It was pretty rapid fire as I was retreating,” Kilner said. “With semiautomatics, you can fire very quickly.”
Kilner said there was no time to issue a warning that he was going to shoot.
”I was actively being shot at,” he said. “I didn’t have time, I already had yelled stop, stop, and he started shooting. I needed to protect myself and my partners.”
Kilner and other officers approached the pickup and removed Barraza-Lugo to begin medical aid. Paramedics started to transport him to a hospital but stopped at a fire station along the way when they realized he had died.
No officers were injured during the incident.
The purpose of an inquest is to shed light on the facts and circumstances surrounding a death at the hands of law enforcement and facilitate public understanding of these events. At the conclusion of the proceedings, an inquest jury answers a series of questions called interrogatories as directed by the inquest administrator.
These interrogatories result in the issuance of a series of findings. The findings may include whether the law enforcement officers acted in line with their agency’s policies and training and whether the death was a result of criminal means.
The jury in Kilner’s case found he acted in line with policies and training in the vehicle pursuit and the shooting and that it was a justified shooting and the death was not a result of criminal means.
Kilner, who worked for the Kent Police Department for 12 years, retired in 2022 when he was on worker compensation disability, according to Kent Civil Service Committee documents that included his retirement letter.
“Becoming a police officer and serving the citizens of Kent and my fellow brothers and sisters in blue has been one of the greatest honors of my life,” said Kilner, who previously stated he had hope to return to be an officer but his health care providers told him he would be unable to do so. “I have worked among the finest this career has to offer, and those individuals have become family more than friends.
“I have had more fun that I could have ever imagined, seen and experienced unimaginable tragedy, and grown in ways I never knew possible.”
2nd justified shooting
This marks the second finding this year by a King County inquest jury of a justified Kent Police fatal shooting of a man.
An inquest jury in May ruled that Kent Officer Jacob Reed was justified in his shooting of Eugene Nelson, 20, of Seattle, after he reportedly tried to flee in a vehicle while dragging an officer. The jury believed Reed thought other officers might have been struck by the vehicle, although none were.
The jury concluded Reed feared for his life and the lives of other officers during the Aug. 9, 2017 incident outside of a hookah bar in the 23600 block of 104th Avenue Southeast. Reed climbed into the vehicle occupied by Nelson and fired nine shots into Nelson, according to inquest testimony. Prior to firing his gun, Reed tried applying a lateral vascular neck restraint but that failed to stop Nelson.
Officers had responded to a call about a possible violation of a domestic violence no-contact order by Nelson.
Reed worked for the Kent Police from 2016 to 2021 prior to leaving for a job as a deputy with the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office in Montana, according to inquest testimony. He was a reserve deputy in Missoula prior to coming to Kent.