Saima Joseph wears an angel around her neck. It's a child, hands held in prayer, suspended by gold chain. The necklace, she explains, was one of the things recovered in the car where her nephew, Giovonn Joseph-McDade was fatally shot by Kent police on June 24.
"To me it means that the angels were watching over him and guiding him into the light," she says, waiting for a crowd to gather in front of the Kent Police Department station.
Joseph isn't the only one wearing items that remind them of McDade, a 20-year-old Green River College student and the eldest of four brothers. McDade's girlfriend, Savannah Gilley, 20, is wearing his No. 8 football jersey. She says it still smells like him and she refuses to wash it. Sobia Joseph, another of McDade's aunts, wears his baseball uniform. It feels like him giving her a hug, she says.
But McDade's family and friends aren't just gathered outside the Kent Police station this afternoon to mourn. They're here to deliver a list of demands to the Kent Police Department, including the demand that the investigation of McDade's death be transferred from the Des Moines Police Department—which is currently being investigated by the Kent police for an unrelated shooting—to the King County Sheriff's Department.
Last week, at a funeral held at the Faith Deliverance Assembly church in SeaTac, McDade's family shared photos of McDade as a bespectacled Kent Elementary-schooler and remembered him as a widely loved, popular athlete who was studying business in the hopes of starting his own one day. They joked about his good looks. "I don't believe in reincarnation," McDade's great-uncle, the pastor administering the funeral service, said. "But if I had to come back, I would want to look like that."
"He had the best heart I've ever come to know," Gilley, McDade's girlfriend, told The Stranger in front of the police station. "And anybody who ever met him knew that about him. He was the most genuine person I've ever met. And he truly cared for everybody."
"They call him a man, but he was a... a young man," Saima Joseph, McDade's aunt said. "He didn't even have a job. He was a student. I don't see how they can get off calling someone a man. He was a kid."
According to Des Moines police, McDade was driving a car with passenger Devonte Cheeks, his friend, on the night of June 24 when a Kent police officer tried to pull him over for a traffic violation. Police say that McDade didn't stop, and instead sped up before eventually turning down a dead-end cul de sac. Police pursued him, and at two points during that chase, police say that Kent officers used a pursuit intervention technique, or "PIT" maneuver, to try and bump and spin the vehicle to a stop. Once in the cul de sac, a Kent officer claimed that McDade tried to "ram" him with the car after the officer stepped out of his own car—and at that point, the officer fired into the car, killing McDade.
A week after the shooting, Des Moines police released footage taken from a private security camera at one of the homes in the cul de sac where McDade was shot. The footage didn't show who was driving, and bright lights obscured much of the scene. Kent police do not currently equip their cars with dashcams.
In the absence of immediate information from the police, rumors started to swirl about the details of that night. Saima Joseph and Sonia Joseph, McDade's mother, say that police went to McDade's grandmother's home to inform her of what happened before they found out themselves. Since, they say, they haven't had any contact with police.
"It's been weeks after the police fatally shot my son, and yet they have still not provided any answers," Sonia Joseph, McDade's mother, told reporters in front of the Kent police station between sobs. "We are heartbroken and disgusted by the police in how they handled this situation. All we know is death in under two minutes, two deadly PITs in a cul de sac, and shots fired into the right side of the car. All the information we've been getting is from the media."
After McDade's mother spoke, the family additionally asked Kent police to do the following:
• Revoke pay from the two officers involved in the shooting, who have been put on paid administrative leave
• Release the names of the officers involved
• Release whatever footage exists of the shooting from nearby businesses, traffic cameras, and security cameras from neighbors
• Release the department's policies on PIT maneuvers
• Involve the family in conversations with the Kent police union in order to reform procedure on police-involved shootings
McDade's friends and family are also supporting De-Escalate Washington, a proposed ballot initiative for 2018 that would change the state's police accountability laws in order to make it easier to criminally charge officers who use excessive deadly force. The same initiative would mandate that officers statewide receive ongoing de-escalation and mental health training.