“A Seattle Shootout: Some Lessons for Citizens, the Police and Mayor McGinn” by John F Hays, a Seattle Private Investigator.
At about noon on a Saturday in July, my wife and I were standing, talking, on the SE corner of an intersection in the business district of a popular Seattle neighborhood. We were with friends and were on our way to a day of fun at a festival in the International District. We had stopped at a coffee shop so our friends could go inside to get coffees-to-go. It was a beautiful morning with lots of people out strolling and going in and out of restaurants and shops.
My attention was attracted to yelling coming from the north side of the cross-street we were on, mid-block and east of our position. I looked to see a stocky black male, 30-something, in a green shirt, yelling while facing west towards our location on the arterial street. I couldn’t make out what he was saying; but his voice had an angry tone.
While making these observations, I became aware of a 30-something, tall, slim black male and a short, slender black female crossing from a restaurant on the NE corner of the intersection, toward a point just east of us on the cross-street. These two people were obviously together and would have been unremarkable but for three things. One: She was paying a lot of attention to the yelling man up the street and seemed to be reluctant to follow the man she was with. Two: He gave a couple of sharp and abrupt hand signals to her, indicating that she should come along with him and quit lagging behind. Three: When he made these gestures, he pulled up his gray t-shirt and exposed what appeared to be a gun tucked in his dark colored pants. The view I had was so brief in duration that I couldn’t be sure I had seen a gun. She continued to hold back as he headed east on the sidewalk, moving closer to the yelling man. When she finally speeded up to catch up with her companion, I turned my attention back to my wife. Then the shooting started.
I pulled my wife to me and took cover behind a metal utility pole. Simultaneously, our friends came out of the coffee shop. I ordered them and the people at the tables in front of the shop to get down and stay down. Thankfully, they complied.
The shooting lasted only seconds. When it stopped, I looked east up the street and saw the woman who had been with the guy in the gray t-shirt coming out of a hairdressing salon behind the coffee shop. I saw a black SUV leaving the scene headed east. People flooded out onto the street. The woman headed east and away from me; I followed her.
When the police started to flood into the area, I directed the attention of one officer to the woman, an associate of one of the shooters and a material witness. When I tried to explain why he should talk to her, he asked me if I was a cop. When I told him no, he said “Then be quiet”. Not wanting to risk arrest for interfering, I stood and waited, listening to her lie about not being involved. I expected him to next turn to me. Instead he turned and walked away. A second attempt to get the same officer’s attention resulted in another rebuff when he directed another officer to talk to me. At that point all I could tell this officer was that the woman had already left the scene but that she had been in the salon and the folks in there might be able to ID her. Having done all I could, I rejoined my wife and friends. We went on to have a great day.
I was left angry and frustrated by the way I was treated by the officer who rebuffed me twice, allowing a material witness to leave a crime scene, unidentified. Rather than forgetting the matter, I sought out a meeting. I wanted to talk to the officer, his boss and the watch commander for the unit involved. The watch commander set up a meeting at the precinct.
Without going into the details, I’ve got to say that I left the meeting pleased that we had been able to talk openly about the situation. They listened actively and attentively to my concerns and were able to explain to my satisfaction how officers responding to such situations can be, or can appear to be, a bit rude. The safety of the public and the responding officers and securing the scene of the crime takes precedence over everything else.
They also informed me that the woman had been ID’d by the folks in the salon and that she and the shooters were gang associated.
The lessons for the public? Chill; it’s not about you. Oh, and get out of the line of fire.
Don’t expect polite and respectful behavior from police officers at active crime scenes, especially when the crime is violent and the scene is still chaotic. They are under a lot of pressure and are trying their best to re-establish safety and order.
Do demand answers when you have not been treated with respect; but do it after the situation is over.
When the shooting starts, don’t stand up and gawk. Don’t move closer to the action. Take cover or escape safely. Stay out of the fight unless it comes to you. Then fight as if your life depended on it, because it might.
For those who legally carry concealed firearms, the situation I describe did not warrant drawing a weapon. None of us standing or crouching behind cover on the corner were being directly threatened. We were within range of the bullets being fired; so cover and/or escape were our best defense.
Lessons for the police? Lighten up.
Command and control doesn’t require rudeness. Polite but firm will work for most otherwise good citizens who want nothing more than to help you do your job, if they can.
Unnecessary use of authority can be a barrier to getting the cooperation and information from the public necessary to do your work. Use your authority only as much as you have to in getting the job done.
Lessons for Mayor McGinn? It’s the gangs, not the guns.
Rather than trying to constrain our Second Amendment rights, strictly enforce existing gun laws. They are more than adequate, if enforced.
Aggressively go after the gangs that are the cause of the vast majority of gun violence in Seattle. And to help you accomplish that…
Go to Olympia and ask legislators to introduce mandatory, minimum sentences for those convicted of crimes where guns are used in crime or where persons committing violent and non-violent crimes are found possessing guns.
There should be no compromise with violent felons who endanger the public as well as each other. Ask the legislature to change the law to disallow plea bargaining on gun charges associated with any other felonies.