With six homicides already this year, Kent Police are trying to determine why the number is so high and ways to stop future killings.
Detectives have made arrests in three cases. They have suspects in the other three. None seem to be related. Kent had eight homicides in 2020, four in 2019 and seven in 2018.
Police Chief Rafael Padilla said answers are hard to know as to why so many people have been killed in the first four months of 2021.
“My first reaction is of condolences for the families of the deceased,” Padilla said in an email exchange with the Kent Reporter about the high jump in killings. “All of these incidents have been senseless acts of violence. My second reaction is to question why this happened. Unfortunately, I do not have a lot of answers.”
Two people were killed in January, two in March and two in April.
“While there doesn’t appear to be a common thread in terms of motive or relationship, we are reviewing the incidents to determine if there are commonalities that we might be able to impact and prevent future incidents,” Padilla said. “That said, I’m very glad that we have outstanding officers and detectives who work tirelessly to identify and arrest the suspects in these cases. As of now we have either already made arrests in these cases or we have identified the suspects and we are actively working to locate the suspects and take them into custody.”
Padilla listed many reasons for the increase in homicides.
“As I have chronicled over the past few months, violent crime involving the use of firearms is up significantly since the start of the pandemic,” he said. “This is not just in Kent, but this is occurring across the region and appears to be occurring across the country.
“At the same time, there are thousands of cases backlogged in King County for crimes that were committed during the pandemic. While those cases sit, criminals remain at large to commit more and more crime.
“I also think the current environment is playing a role. There isn’t data to indicate that there is a direct correlation between the rise in violence and the pandemic, but the stressed and divided state of our communities should not be discounted as a contributing factor.”
Padilla, who became Kent’s chief in 2018 and started with the department in 1997, criticized King County for its role in failing to reduce crime.
“We can’t lose sight of the fact that long prior to the pandemic, the King County criminal justice system has steadily marched towards less and less accountability for offenders,” Padilla said. “I support the evidence-based restorative justice initiatives aimed at providing services that allow for alternatives to incarceration. At the same time, there has to be a balance and we can’t allow our criminal justice system to prioritize the interest of the offender over that of the victims and the community.
“When you step back and assess what’s happened, this rise in violent crime was predictable and I am deeply concerned as to how much worse it will become.”
When asked about how the number of shootings can be reduced, Padilla said police actions play just a limited role because so many people who associate with others involved in violent crime end up becoming victims.
“While most people look to the police to solve this problem, I want to make it crystal clear that the root cause for this violence isn’t something that law enforcement can directly impact,” the chief said. “While a decreased preventative presence of police officers certainly breeds greater opportunity and comfort to criminals who want to commit violence in public, the greatest determining factor in becoming the victim of violent crime are the choices we make as an individual.
“For years now, law enforcement agencies in King County have provided data to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office as part of the Shots Fired Initiative that tracks shooting data. Over the course of several years now, the data is clear. Who a person associates with and their involvement in violent crime are the biggest indicators of how likely they are to become the victim of being shot or killed.
“Both those who commit violence with a gun and those who associate with those who commit violence are multiple times more likely to be shot and killed than those who do not run in those social circles. Because of this we have remained strong partners with service providers who are focused on intervening with youth before they become part of the criminal justice system.”
Padilla said it will take more work in an effort to get youth away from crime.
“We have reengaged with our regional partners, including human service providers who work with prevention and intervention to address this regional problem,” he said. “Again, the social and economic drivers behind these tragic incidents are not things that law enforcement can directly impact, but we are working to support the organizations who might.”
Many of the killings have been at or near apartment complexes, including two in two days earlier this month at the Alderbrook Apartments, 412 Novak Lane.
“In each of the homicides that have taken place at apartment complexes we have connected with the property management team to see what could be done to enhance security for their tenants,” Padilla said. “So far each management group has been very willing to work with us and take steps to improve safety.”
The chief said a related issue is the moratorium on evictions from apartments.
“Creating housing security during the pandemic is the humanitarian thing to do, but there have been unintended consequences that have come with that,” Padilla said.
Padilla described the impact on the people who run the apartment complexes.
“The moratorium has significantly impacted the apartment managers ability to hold tenants accountable for not following the rules,” Padilla said. “Many of the rules established in leasing agreements are designed to keep things civil, respectful and safe in that community. Normally, if apartment tenants are not following the rules, say having loud parties, drinking in public, etc., apartment managers take progressive steps to address the violations, ultimately with the authority to evict if the behavior doesn’t improve.
“Today, they can give warnings and plead with tenants who violate the terms of their lease, but there is not much more they can do beyond that. While many families legitimately cannot pay their rent, others are simply taking advantage of the moratorium.”
Padilla said management at the Alderbrook Apartments told police they knew about the man suspected in the April 5 shooting.
“Under normal circumstances, the shooter in our latest homicide would have been evicted for lease violations much prior to the shooting on April 5,” Padilla said.
As of April 13, police had not yet made arrests in the April 5, March 30 and March 21 cases.
“For the April 5 incident, we have interviewed the shooter in that case and it is still under investigation,” Padilla said. “We have identified suspects in both the March 21 and 30 homicides and we are actively working to locate and arrest those suspects. We do not have any homicides, this year or last that have not been solved.”
Padilla said witnesses have helped solve the killings.
“One of the key factors to how effective we are in that effort is the willingness of people to come forward and provide information,” he said. “I want to commend our community for stepping up to help us help the victims and their families bring closure to their horrible loss.”
Padilla said the police force remains focused on keeping Kent safe.
“I want our community to know, KPD remains steadfast in our resolve to keep our community safe,” he said. “Things have become increasingly more difficult and restrictive in terms of effectively doing our jobs, but that has not deterred us. We aren’t going anywhere.”
■ 1: Jan. 7
Jovan A. Satterwhite, 41, was found dead with a gunshot wound to his left temple inside a 1986 Buick Regal in the 23500 block of 88th Avenue South. Marcus Bradley Williams was charged with second-degree murder for allegedly shooting Satterwhite over a road-rage incident.
■ 2: Jan. 24
Nyaruot Chuol, 20, died from stab wounds during an attack at the Midtown 64 Apartments, 24615 64th Ave. S. Ahmed Osman was charged with first-degree murder for killing the woman he had dated.
■ 3: March 21
Avery Wilcox, 27, found shot inside his car in a parking lot in the 20400 block of SE Kent Kangley Road. Police said they have a suspect, but no arrest has been made as of April 13.
■ 4: March 30
Marcus Golden, 34, shot in the chest in the 23800 block of 110th Avenue Southeast at the Mosaic Hills Apartments on the East Hill. Arrest made April 13, charges pending.
■ 5: April 4
Melvin Wilson, 34, of Kent, died from multiple gunshot wounds after a confrontation in the Alderbrook Apartments parking lot, 412 Novak Lane. Police arrested an 18-year-old Kent man for the shooting.
■ 6: April 5
Laquana Green, 37, shot at the Alderbrook Apartments, 412 Novak Lane. Police took a man into custody for questioning. The man and woman knew each other and were arguing prior to the shooting.