OPA: Seattle Police officers 'failed to deescalate' incident that ended with man shot dead at Waterfront

Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA) found two officers violated policy by not deescalating an incident in February 2021, when they shot and killed a distressed man at the Seattle Waterfront.

On Feb. 15, 2021, Port of Seattle police officers were trying to deescalate a situation involving a distressed man, Derek Hayden, holding a butcher knife to his own throat. The police called in for help and Seattle police officers arrived, including two at the center of this investigation.

While a group of officers kept their distance and worked on a plan of approach, the OPA says two officers pulled their patrol car in front of Hayden, got out and started giving him commands with their guns drawn.

According to the OPA, Hayden walked to the officers saying, "Do it, please. Just shoot me."

Both officers shot and killed Hayden. OPA determined the use of force was justified – the main issue is the officers’ failure to deescalate the incident.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Seattle Police release body camera footage of deadly shooting in Central District

The OPA’s investigation found the two officers violated the Seattle Police Department’s policy because "they did not engage in any planning or tactical discussions, and their actions undermined the critical principles of time, distance, and shielding."

SPD’s policy notes that time is the most crucial factor of deescalation; if there is more time, there is more opportunity to gain voluntary compliance, build rapport or call in resources.

The officers positioning their vehicle in the path of Hayden and then approaching him further limited their options in the situation, OPA concluded.

Following this conclusion, OPA re-issued a policy recommendation aimed at modifying police training when responding to suspects with knives, including piloting a new, less-lethal tool.

READ MORE: Man armed with knife shot, killed by police at Seattle Waterfront

The Seattle Police Department gave the following statement to FOX 13 News:

"As with any fatality driven by mental illness, this incident is an unquestionable tragedy, with impact not only on the community but also on our officers, who continue to be called upon to bridge the gaps in service at the intersection of public safety and public health that too often default to police to resolve.  While the use of any force in such incidents remains incredibly rare, the situation itself is not: in the absence of robust alternative options, SPD continues to respond to more than 10,000 crisis calls each year, many involving armed individuals. Of those, only around 1% involve any use of force, the majority of which is at the lowest reportable level.

"Consistent with our commitment to critical review and improvement, SPD has supplemented its training and resources over the past year, including updated edged-weapon de-escalation training and, with the support of community and accountability partners, a program to equip officers with the BolaWrap, an additional tool for interrupting a threat of harm at a safer distance.  We continue to emphatically embrace collective efforts to build up and strengthen service networks upstream of the point at which an individual’s crisis may escalate to the point of a police response and stand ready to offer any support we can."

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