Cody Spafford was the kind of guy who felt liberated by Seattle, who was from somewhere else but thrived here, rising through the ranks at the Walrus and the Carpenter, a high-end Ballard restaurant, from novice cook to oyster shucker to sous chef.
"There was something about the way he talked about Seattle," says Monica Mason, a close friend from high school. "Like, there's actually a culture." He'd raved about the city so much that she moved from Salt Lake City, where they both grew up, to be his housemate on Queen Anne. She was glad to be "the fuck out of Utah."
At 26, Cody had "the energy of a 12-year-old boy," friends say. "He just connected with everybody," says Anthony Pane, a coworker who taught Cody how to shuck oysters. Before long, Cody was winning awards at seafood fests. "You're onstage when you're working, and he'd have the whole oyster bar laughing," Pane says, grinning at the memory.
Cody worked hard, even if it meant pulling a 12-hour shift until 3 a.m. "He was unbelievably responsible," says Eli Dahlin, chef de cuisine at the Walrus and the Carpenter. And "he was killing it" as sous chef, says Jeremy Price, the restaurant's co-owner. Cody had just been offered a top chef position at Buvette, a swanky New York City restaurant. "It seemed like a natural progression in his life, and all the right things were happening," Dahlin says. Moving to New York was going to be Cody's glamorous reward for years of hard work.
So it doesn't make sense to anyone who knew him that Cody is dead and gone. Last Thursday, he robbed a Wells Fargo bank in Madison Park disguised as a woman. He threatened the bank tellers with an airsoft gun, police say, and took off with a rolling suitcase full of cash. Five minutes later, SPD got a report of an overturned Hyundai and a man fleeing, stripping off clothing that connected him to the robbery. After a two-hour search, robbery detective Jim Rodgers, a 15-year veteran of the force, spotted a man running through a yard. While other officers surrounded the area, Rodgers scaled a wall to get a better view of the suspect, police say. He saw Cody holding a roughly eight-inch knife.
"The officer was on top of this garage, he was alone," Detective Renee Witt says. "The officer said, 'It doesn't have to end like this.'"
Cody said something to the effect of "I'm not going to drop the knife," then charged Rodgers, police say. SPD refused to estimate the distance between the two men more specifically than "a garage-length" or confirm that they were on the same level. But assistant police chief Paul McDonagh said the conversation lasted less than a minute, and Rodgers was suddenly in danger.
The detective fired six or seven rounds from his rifle into Cody, who was roughly five foot four and 125 pounds. He died at the scene.
"If the officer felt that he was charging and his life was in danger, he could use force to stop him," McDonagh says.
In a radio interview, the president of Seattle's police union, Ron Smith, was defiant: "When all the facts are known, I believe people will see that Detective Rodgers had no choice but to take the actions that he took or be run through with a fillet knife."
Rodgers is on administrative leave pending an investigation.
The Walrus and the Carpenter closed for three days to allow the staff to mourn the loss of their chef. When it reopened, Cody's gleaming oyster-shucking trophy was looking down on everyone from the highest shelf on the wall.
"Looking back at things, there were a lot of signs that none of us knew how to read," Dahlin tells me. "He stopped wearing short-sleeved shirts. He started disappearing into the bathroom more than seemed normal. He started coming in late more often, which was strange for him. The quality of his work diminished. We thought, 'He's moving in a few weeks. He's over it.' It was one of those things like 'Why make a fuss about it?'"
On the Thursday morning of the bank robbery, Cody's housemate Monica woke to the sound of police knocking on her door. "All they told me was that he was involved in a hit-and-run. And I was like, 'Well, is he okay?'" But police wouldn't elaborate.
As the hours wore on, she got the feeling something was amiss. Monica looked through his room and found drug paraphernalia—she prefers not to specify what exactly, but says there were clear signs he'd been using heroin. Somehow, Cody had kept that secret even from his closest friends. "He didn't let on to anyone," says Pane, his mentor at the Walrus. "Nobody knew... I just wish he'd reached out for help. We all would have bent over backward for that guy."
No one will ever know exactly why Cody robbed a bank, fled, and allegedly rushed a police officer with a knife. But for Caleb Banta-Green, a research scientist at the University of Washington's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute who's worked with heroin users for 15 years, "heroin" was his first thought when he heard the news.
"One of my clients once said, 'We love heroin more than we love each other,'" Banta-Green says. "That really stuck with me. Heroin operates at that level of our brains. And it reorders everything... it reprioritizes your life."
Heroin use is on the rise in King County and across the country. According to Banta-Green's research, heroin treatment admissions are up for young adults, police evidence of heroin use is up "substantially," and there's been an uptick in heroin deaths. Prescription opiates have been reined in, which is why Banta-Green believes people have turned to cheaper opiates available on the black market. Shilo Murphy, a former addict who cofounded a needle exchange in the U-District, says these days you can get a tenth of a gram of heroin for around $10.
About 11 years ago, 47-year-old Leslie Fease was trying to kick a heroin addiction when she decided to rob a bank. But she was arrested by Seattle police. Today, she's many years sober. The drug "causes extreme desperation to get your next fix," she says. "You feel all right, and then you don't. And then there's this panic that sets in. Rent is hard enough to make without a drug habit."
Did she really think she could get away with robbing a bank? Why not ask for help? "I wanted to take care of it myself. It becomes very solitary... very difficult to get help." Back then, she couldn't find a methadone program in Seattle.
Today, there are more resources for those trying to get off heroin. And a drug user or a concerned friend can get Narcan (naloxone), which stops imminent overdoses, at several Seattle-area syringe exchanges for free. There's more information and resources at stopoverdose.org.
"It's hard to put your heart back into something when your heart is broken," says Dahlin, the chef de cuisine. "We go back to work, back to living. And hopefully, we go to a new direction that involves activism and defends Cody's memory." Through April 13, all proceeds at the Walrus and the Carpenter are being donated to Recovery Cafe, a center for people recovering from trauma or addiction.
Make no mistake: Dahlin is angry with SPD, which remains under federal consent decree for a pattern of excessive use of force. "I hope people understand that we're not trying to exonerate him. I mean, he did something wrong," Dahlin says, but adds: "If they'd wounded him somehow, he'd still be alive. And I'd rather have him in jail than dead... Give me a break. What about tranquilizer darts? What about Tasers? What about backing off to a safe distance? You don't have to kill everyone who threatens you. They're supposed to serve and protect, not live and let die. The police are supposed to conduct themselves at a higher standard than the criminals. Not meet the criminals in the same place... He made a series of bad choices in a short period of time. He was not a monster. And he got no mercy. No mercy."