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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Neighbors and Police Have a Tense Meeting Over Shooting in Columbia City

Posted by on Tue, Apr 23, 2013 at 12:36 PM

The scene at Columbia City Church of Hope.
  • Ansel Herz
  • The scene at Columbia City Church of Hope.

At a standing-room-only community meeting in Columbia City Church of Hope last night, neighbors who were traumatized by the police shooting on their street a month ago, and the ensuing lockdown, shared their stories. They talked of huddling in their homes, wondering if they were safe, trying to reassure their children—but getting little or no response from police or 911 as to what was going on around them. The nearby elementary school was apparently not notified of the shooting, and even after police realized there was no further danger to people in homes nearby, the neighborhood, which had awoken to the sound of gunfire and flashbang grenades—as a Bellevue Police SWAT team tried to serve a warrant and ended up shooting the man they were there to arrest, Russell Smith, and storming the house where he was staying—wasn't given an all-clear. They're also horrified that Smith, their neighbor's brother, was killed in the first place; residents have questioned the police account of the shooting from the get-go.

When representatives from the two police departments involved—Seattle and Bellevue—had a turn to speak, you could feel the seething frustration and disappointment in the room. The police can't say all that much while an investigation into the shooting is under way, and Columbia City residents are clearly sick of the platitudes. While Bellevue's Major Mike Johnson said things like "When all the dust settles on this case, you'll have the answers," at least one neighborhood resident stormed out of the room, while another woman whispered to the person next to her, "He really hasn't said anything, has he? They're really good at that."

Seattle's South Precinct Captain, Steve Paulsen, is warm and funny, clearly better with crowds than the stiff, pained-looking Johnson—but he couldn't give answers, either. Nor could interim police chief Jim Pugel.

Russell Smiths brothers Rydell and Greg listen to neighbors and police speak.
  • Ansel Herz
  • Russell Smith's brothers Rydell and Greg listen to neighbors and police speak.
Bellevue police chief Linda Pillo was abysmal in many respects, completely botching an apology to the family and the neighborhood when, a ways into the meeting, Russell Smith's brother Greg stood up. He asked directly for "an apology from Bellevue to the community that was affected, regardless of whether it was wrong or right, and to the family that was affected, regardless of whether it was wrong or right. We just want that apology that hasn't come for a month."

Pillo answered: "I am sorry for the loss of your brother. The officers are very sorry... The suspect's action created a reaction," and a chorus of hisses, boos, and outraged cries came from the audience. Mark Gendron, who lives on the street where the shooting took place, told me later she "needs some training on how to do an apology."

Pillo was better when Genessa Krasnow, who was moderating the meeting, put her on the spot for repairs to Smith's brother Rydell's house. "We need Russell Smith and Rydell Smith's house repaired. Tomorrow," she said. Pillo replied, "We have a process that we go through. I'm going to see what I can do to expedite that process. I hear you loud and clear." Krasnow later assured me that she'll be following up with BPD on that promise.

So what really comes of all this? What actions come next?

As much as many of the neighbors focus on minute details of the case, combing through evidence they saw themselves and shared with each other through e-mail lists and meetings, they'll have to wait through the inquest process to get the answers they're seeking, which will take months. There is, apparently, video of the event, according to BPD's Major Johnson.

More than that, there is a question of why Bellevue was allowed to serve this warrant instead of SPD. But that's not necessarily going to change in the future—police departments occasionally have to serve warrants outside of their jurisdiction.

What could possibly change in the future is the way police departments communicate with each other when they're crossing jurisdictional boundaries like this. SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb told me last night. "This situation is going to be talked about by all police departments in King County," he said. "We owe it to the people who are affected to give them key information, timely information... so they are empowered and not left in a state of fear." And if there's anything other than the repairs on their neighbor's house that this community can keep asking police about, it's that issue: How can we be sure that a police department coming into another city understands the standard of behavior? It seems clear from the way they interact with the public that there's a cultural difference between these two police departments, SPD and BPD. Seattle has problems enough with its own police department. How can we be sure an outside department doesn't make that worse?

 

Comments (12) RSS

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1
TL;DR

Two guys harboring a fugitive who attempts to kill cops have their feelings hurt. Police say sorry for hurting your feelings and killing him. People not happy with apology to relatives of man who attacked police.
Posted by TLDR on April 23, 2013 at 12:55 PM · Report this
2
@1: Inaccurate TL;DR. "Two guys" this was not. The church was filled to capacity with people from the neighborhood and surrounding community, all of whom were questioning the harm done to Smith and the neighborhood.
Posted by Guest Author on April 23, 2013 at 1:37 PM · Report this
3
@2 - So the whole neighborhood was harboring the fugitive?
Posted by muji tuve on April 23, 2013 at 1:58 PM · Report this
4
@3 no snitchin' yo!
Posted by Keep your criminals in your hood then on April 23, 2013 at 2:38 PM · Report this
Sargon Bighorn 5
The elementary school was not notified because the police event took place at 4:57 am. I think the good people of Columbia City are not very adult. Harboring a fugitive says they don't give a dam about children.
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on April 23, 2013 at 5:43 PM · Report this
curtisp 6
#3 Perhaps "Smith’s criminal history includes felony and misdemeanor convictions for burglary, assault of a child, felony theft, felony assault, criminal trespass, obstructing a public servant, bank robbery, and parole violations. He was classified as a potential armed career criminal by the Federal Government. He was under the Department of Corrections supervision as a violent offender. Within the last two decades he had been confined to both federal and state prisons". Another perspective...http://bellevue.patch.com/articles/belle…
Posted by curtisp on April 23, 2013 at 7:06 PM · Report this
7
@5 the police posture was weapons drawn house bombed and under siege with alleged second suspect inside (there was no one) telling neighbors 'stay the fuck in your house' bullhorning 'we know you're in there' ***until 930AM*** when they finally went in and came out with no one - and yet tweeted that they caught a second suspect inside. The neighbors are not denying smith's mistakes, but adamant that an unarmed man blocked in a dead end street by a swat tank does not need to be shot 16 times to serve justice.
Posted by Upchuck on April 23, 2013 at 11:13 PM · Report this
8
@5 the police posture was weapons drawn house bombed and under siege with alleged second suspect inside (there was no one in the house and no second suspect at all). telling neighbors 'stay the fuck in your house' bullhorning 'we know you're in there' ***until 930AM*** when they finally went in and came out with no one - and yet tweeted that they caught a second suspect inside. The neighbors are not denying smith's mistakes, but adamant that an unarmed man blocked in a dead end street by a swat tank does not need to be shot 16 times to serve justice.
Posted by Upchuck on April 23, 2013 at 11:20 PM · Report this
9
teabagging conspiracists! I for one trust my government and look forward to the day when they are the only ones with guns.
Posted by leaning forward on April 24, 2013 at 12:45 AM · Report this
10
You cant be seriously blaming the neighborhood for wanting anwers. Some of the comments are shameful, according the justice deparment, all of Seattle has a problem with local police. Residents and business owners are committed to reporting crime they see, but we should not have to worry for our safety from police bullets.

If these guys were going to Bellevue to perpetrate their crimes how would nieghbors even know what they are doing? Josh Powell's neighbors didn't even know who he was before he blew that house up.

Why didnt BPD have a backup plan when they didnt find the suspects at home?
How long were they there before they realized their suspect was sitting in his car outside the home?
Why didnt they just detain him at his next meeting with his parole officer and /or stake out the entrance to the cul-de-sac to intercept?

This neighboorhood is mostly residental and has 2.5 children per home and many seniors. There were more than 700 children, many of who feel plenty safe to walk or ride their bike to school that could have been in danger.

If the street was locked down for several hours, the school 4 blocks away should have been as well. At minimum Seattle Schools should have sent out a caution. There is a emergency phone system in place that could have notified all parents to shelter in place until after the police ativity was cleared. I believe the street was not cleared until after 9:00 am.

As it was parents were only notified after the fact that it was determined a lock down or shelter in place was not necessary.
Posted by A boys mom on April 24, 2013 at 10:56 AM · Report this
11
The SWAT action started at 5 am and just to clarify one fact, we weren't able to leave the block until after 10 am. Those are really good comments by "A boys mom." The questions and recommendations from the neighbors on the block are posted at http://bit.ly/11xE7bJ and some more info on the meeting event Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/events/24604138… .

We aren't weighing in on whether there was justification for an arrest. Many of us have worked hard with the police to reduce crime in the community. The issues in this case are how the police handled it that escalated violence, traumatized families and kids, and failed to communicate.
Posted by South Seattle neighbor on April 27, 2013 at 1:09 PM · Report this
12
The SWAT action started at 5 am and just to clarify one fact, we weren't able to leave the block until after 10 am. Those are really good comments by "A boys mom." The questions and recommendations from the neighbors on the block are posted at http://bit.ly/11xE7bJ and some more info on the meeting event Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/events/24604138… .

We aren't weighing in on whether there was justification for an arrest. Many of us have worked hard with the police to reduce crime in the community. The issues in this case are how the police handled it that escalated violence, traumatized families and kids, and failed to communicate.
Posted by South Seattle neighbor on April 27, 2013 at 1:10 PM · Report this

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