As Sonia Joseph stood in the same park where nearly four years ago her 20-year-old son died from shots fired by a Kent Police officer, she described the fight she fought that led the city of Kent to pay $4.4 million to her family to settle a civil rights lawsuit.
“This whole process isn’t fair,” Joseph said on the afternoon of April 15 during a press conference held by the family attorney at Canterbury Park on the East Hill. “Someone’s life is wrongfully taken and a settlement doesn’t bring them back. It’s about raising the bar and holding the cities and their representatives and officers accountable.”
Giovonn Joseph-McDade died on June 24, 2017 after a short pursuit. Police observed him driving a vehicle with expired registration and began to chase him after Joseph-McDade didn’t pull over. At the end of the chase, Officer William Davis claimed that Joseph-McDade tried to run him over, so he fired at him on a residential cul-de-sac near Canterbury Park at 99th Avenue South and South 244th Street. Joseph-McDade died from multiple gunshot wounds in his car that ended up in the park just down the road.
The parents of Joseph-McDade filed a civil rights lawsuit in May 2020 in U.S. District Court in Seattle against the city of Kent and the Kent Police Department alleging officers wrongfully killed Joseph-McDade. The case was scheduled to go to trial in August, but the city of Kent reached out to Joseph to settle and a judge serving as a mediator helped the two sides reach an agreement.
Joseph said she discovered it takes a hard fight with lots of hurdles and steps, “to just prove the innocence of our loved ones and to humanize them.”
“It’s not about money but justice and accountability and making sure officers don’t continue to murder folks and they get real justice as far as criminal prosecution,” Joseph said.
A six-member King County inquest jury decided in December 2017 that Davis believed Joseph-McDade posed a threat of death or serious injury bodily injury before Davis fatally shot him. Joseph protested in court the inquest process, especially that she could have no legal representative in court to represent her son. King County later changed the inquest process and has had not held another inquest since that case as the process remains tied up in the courts after several cities, including Kent, filed motions against the new process the county proposed.
The Joseph family later decided to file a civil lawsuit against the city of Kent. The family received a break in the case in February when a federal judge ruled there was enough evidence presented by the attorneys for the Joseph family that the shooting might not have been justified and a jury should decide. The evidence presented showed Joseph-McDade drove at a slow speed and not the high speed the officer claimed.
“On June 24, 2017, Giovonn Joseph-McDade was tragically taken from this world by the hands of Kent Police Officer William Davis,” said family attorney Craig Sims at the April 15 press conference at the park. “Today we stand in the very place where Giovonn took his last breath to proclaim without apology that we have obtained a small measure of justice and more importantly to reclaim Giovonn’s legacy. …This settlement is significant because it serves as an acknowledgment of responsibility by the city of Kent.”
Bailey Stober, city communications manager, issued a statement April 14 that announced the settlement.
“We maintain that the officers involved acted within Kent Police Department policies and Washington state law,” Stober said. “Investigations have been conducted, including assembling a King County inquest jury, and concluded confirming our officers acted within department policies, state law and the scope of their authority.
“This is a case that we were fully prepared to litigate and defend but recognize in the best interest of the family, the officers involved and our community we need to resolve the matter and attempt to bring closure to those involved.”
Sims said his team was ready for trial as well.
“We too stood ready to fully prosecute this civil case and present our investigation to the jury, an investigation that I believe ultimately would have led to the conclusion that Officer William Davis was unjustified in killing Giovonn,” Sims said.
Sims said that the city should look again at information discovered by his investigators and fire the two officers involved. Officer Matthew Rausch initated the pursuit and Davis joined in the pursuit.
“We can ask the city of Kent, the mayor and police chief to hold the officers accountable based upon information known right now and fire both of the officers,” Sims said.
Both officers were placed on paid administrative leave during the shooting investigation led by the Des Moines Police, but later returned to active duty.
In addition to the money, part of the settlement includes a memorial bench to Joseph-McDade to be placed at Canterbury Park by the city of Kent.
“Sonia really wanted the memorial bench and we were able to get that for her,” Sims said.
Others who spoke at the press conference praised the dedication by Joseph to pursue the case and to help get police reform measures passed this session by the Legislature.
Katrina Johnson, a cousin of Charleena Lyles who was fatally shot by Seattle Police in 2017, met up early on with Joseph.
“I’ve stood by Sonia and her family since we were outside the Kent Police Station demanding answers into his death,” Johnson said. “Today is bitter sweet, but it’s a victory and needs to be celebrated because when one family wins, we all win. It gives me hope that someday soon maybe my family will get the same kind of closure that their family is getting today. It will never bring our loved ones back but it’s a step in the right direction.”
Johnson said the efforts for police reform need to keep going and that Joseph has led that fight.
“We will continue to fight, we will never quit or give up and we will be relentless so that no one else will ever go through what our families are going through,” Johnson said. “Sonia, I salute you because you have fought hard and your family has been dedicated to demanding justice for Giovonn.”