King County to pay $1.5M over pregnant mother shot to death

King County has agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a young pregnant Muckleshoot mother of three fatally shot by sheriff’s deputies.

Renee Davis’ death, which happened while deputies were supposed to be checking on her well-being in 2016, has been a focal point of public and tribal outrage over police violence and accountability, The Seattle Times reported.

The shooting spawned protests, marches and new legislation, as well as a rare reversal in the Washington Court of Appeals.

The county and Davis’ family settled the claim last week following mediation.

"The Davis family is eternally grateful to the King County community for supporting their quest for truth and justice," Seattle lawyer Gabe Galanda said Wednesday.

Rose Davis, Renee’s sister, said the tragedy "has actually blossomed into an incredible journey, where I have seen and realized a lot of support and sincerity." She said she and Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht, who was involved in the mediation, shared a "heartfelt moment, despite the circumstances."

A message from the newspaper seeking comment from the King County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday afternoon wasn’t immediate returned.

This is the third seven-figure settlement King County has reached in lawsuits filed over shootings by county deputies in the past two years. In March, the county paid $5 million to the family of Tommy Le, shot by deputies in 2017. In 2020, the county paid the parents of Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens $2.25 million over his killing during a misguided King County sting operation.

Renee Davis was in crisis, making suicidal statements to her boyfriend in her home on the Muckleshoot reservation on Oct. 21, 2016, according to court documents. He sought out King County Sheriff’s Deputy Nicholas Pritchett, who was parked nearby.

Pritchett called for backup and he and Deputy Timothy Lewis responded to Lewis’ home.

According to the complaint and evidence produced at a King County coroner’s inquest, the officers pounded on the door, entered and kicked down the door to Davis’ bedroom while her children, ages 2 and 3, stood in the hallway. The deputies said Davis pointed a handgun at them while lying in bed, but the lawsuit alleged there was no evidence for that outside of the deputies’ "self-serving" statements.

The two officers fired eight rounds, striking Davis three times.

Statements by the deputies and evidence introduced at an inquest said they recovered a handgun, but that it was not loaded. The lawsuit alleges another officer arrived just after the shooting, and he found Pritchett and Lewis "standing around" while Davis lay bleeding on the floor. The third deputy said he saw a handgun in the woman’s hand, which contradicted statements by Pritchett that Davis dropped the gun which fell to the floor after the gunfire.

The lawsuit alleges that "one of the deputies placed the pistol in Renee’s hand on the floor" before the third officer arrived. The deputies denied moving the gun.

A six-member inquest jury in May found the deputies had reason to fear for their lives, though the panel was divided on whether the deputies showed concern for Davis’ welfare when they acted.

Ted Buck, a Seattle attorney who represented the two officers, said the decision to settle the lawsuit was made by the county and that his clients would have liked to see the case to go trial.

"However, it was the county’s decision, and the deputies respect that," Buck said. Both will be dismissed as defendants when the settlement is finalized, he said.

The Davis shooting is one of several used as examples by a group "De-Escalate Washington" when it submitted signatures for a state initiative, I-940, that changed the state’s deadly force law as it applied to law enforcement and made significant changes to police training and accountability laws.

It was also the impetus for the passage of a state Senate bill sponsored by Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, that changed a state law that bars people who were engaged in the commission of a felony from filing state personal injury claims. The deputies claimed Davis intended to assault them with the gun when they killed her. The new law, signed by Gov. Jay Inslee in May, requires additional proof for officers to meet that defense.

That issue was at the heart of a decision by a King County Supreme Court judge to dismiss the case, and an initial decision by Division One of the Washington Court of Appeals to uphold that ruling. However, the appeals court reversed itself and reinstated the lawsuit, saying the jury should decide whether Davis actually intended to assault the deputies, given her mental state and the fact that her gun was unloaded.

"We’re extremely pleased with this outcome, given that this case was on life support just a year ago," said Galanda, the plaintiff’s lawyer.

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