Inquest jury: 2017 Seattle police shooting of Damarius Butts was 'justified'

A jury has unanimously ruled that four Seattle police officers involved in the deadly shooting of 19-year-old Damarius Butts in 2017 were "justified in their shooting" and complied with department policy.

Inquests are "administrative, fact-finding" requests from the county coroner into the circumstances of a death. King County’s charter requires an inquest jury review of any death caused by police. Inquests are not trials. 

On April 20, 2017, police say 19-year-old Butts, his sister and a friend, stole beer and snacks from a 7-Eleven in Pioneer Square. The trio ran off when officers arrived, and police say Butts began firing at police. Officers fired back, shooting and killing Butts.

Three officers were shot and injured in the exchange of gunfire.  

The ruling in favor of the SPD officers comes after two weeks of testimony in the first police shooting inquest the county has seen in four years. 

In 2017, inquests were paused over concerns of transparency and clarity of the process—alleging rushed deadlines, access to witnesses and unwieldy orders issued by the inquest administrator.


King County holds first police shooting inquest in four years

After years of legal challenges, King County resumed inquests into law enforcement-involved deaths. The first inquest hearing in four years involved the shooting of Damarius Butts, who was killed by Seattle Police in 2017.

King County Executive Dow Constantine issued executive orders in 2018 to overhaul the process, and ever since, the Washington Supreme Court has been battling to uphold these changes, with efforts hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The changes moved the inquest process out of the courts and prosecutor’s office and provided families with county-funded attorneys. It also allows for review of the department’s use-of-force policies, requires officers to testify and, for the first time in more than 40 years, include questions about whether the death involved criminality.

Five of the county’s largest law enforcement agencies challenged Constantine’s order, alleging he overstepped his authority.

In 2021, after the Supreme Court upheld the changes, Constantine signed an executive order to resume inquests.

Under the new law, jurors were asked to consider whether police may have broken the law or violated department policy. 

Seven inquests are currently on the docket, including the police killing of Charleena Lyles, Isaiah Obet and others. 

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