A six-person jury will spend a week in a Kent courtroom listening to testimony and deciding the facts of what happened when King County sheriff's deputies shot and killed Renee Davis during a welfare check at her single-story home on the Muckleshoot Reservation last October.
Jurors started examining evidence and listening to testimony on Monday.
The shooting rattled tribal members, as well as the family of Davis, a domestic violence survivor who was five-months pregnant at the time of her death. She also had a history of depression.
King County Sheriff John Urquhart has maintained that the deputies followed their training when they entered Davis' home after receiving a tip from her boyfriend, TJ Molina, that Davis had threatened to shoot herself. But lawyers for Davis' family say that the deputies didn't do enough to protect her two children who were in the home at the time of the shooting, and didn't take enough time to deescalate a crisis situation. After the inquest, the sheriff's office will hold a use of force review to evaluate if the deputies' use of force was justified.
"What this process will not tell us is what could we do differently in the future to avoid this kind of result," said Black Horse, one of the attorneys for Davis's family. "When officers are doing a welfare check, the person they're doing the welfare check on shouldn't end up dead."
Neither of these positions will likely be decided by the inquest jury, which will only determine the facts of what happened that night.
On Monday, jurors watched Muckleshoot surveillance footage, aired publicly for the first time, that captured what happened outside Davis's home when she was shot. Danielle Bargala—Davis' foster sister—and her cousin, Sherina Sam, another member of the Muckleshoot Tribe, also sat in the courtroom.
The video shows two deputies, Nicholas Pritchett and Tim Lewis, entering the home before a toddler moves in and out of the home near the front door's entrance. (The Muckleshoot Tribe contracts with the King County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement, as it does not have a police force of its own.) The toddler moves into the home before multiple gunshots blew a hole in Davis' bedroom wall. Following the shots, a third cop, Auburn police officer Garret Pedersen, can be seen arriving on the scene, grabbing two small children from the home, and taking them to his car. Sixty two-seconds elapse between the deputies entering the residence and the gunshots.
Pedersen, the Auburn officer who responded to the scene late and moved the children, testified that he heard the shooting as he was exiting his car. He also said he saw the children run outside, past the two deputies, from inside the house.
Deputies Pritchett and Lewis did not testify Monday, but will give their own version of events today or later in the week.
Tears rolled down Bargala's cheeks as she watched the surveillance footage. "[The video] kind of shows that it happened so fast that they didn't really take time to deescalate it," Bargala told The Stranger after the inquest hearing finished for the day. "The video is kind of hard to watch because the kids were in the house."
According to a timeline from the sheriff’s office, Molina showed Deputy Pritchett a text from Davis in which she threatened to shoot herself. Pritchett, who had worked on the reservation for years and knew Davis, then communicated to his dispatcher that he had received a report of a “suicidal female possibly armed with a rifle and has her two kids with her.” Pritchett also told the dispatcher that Molina had showed him more texts from Davis with “pictures of fresh wounds,” though it was unclear from the photos who was injured or where the wounds were. Deputy Lewis radioed in to say he would provide backup.
The Sheriff's Office said that when the deputies arrived at Davis’s home, the two officers yelled Davis’s name and knocked on the front door, but received no response. The deputies also saw Davis’s two children—aged two and three—inside the single-floor home. The sheriff’s office said both deputies were worried “that Davis has taken her own life and [were] concerned about the children.”
The deputies then asked the children where Davis was, and the children pointed to a room behind a closed door. The deputies knocked on that door repeatedly, but did not hear a response. Fearing that Davis had bled out from the reported wounds or otherwise killed herself, the Sheriff's Office said deputies moved the children to the porch, then entered Davis’s room. The deputies saw Davis lying on the bed under a blanket and asked Davis to show her hands. When Davis didn’t show her hands, Pritchett pulled off the blanket, revealing Davis holding a handgun in one hand and a magazine in the other. The sheriff’s office says that Davis pointed the handgun, which later turned out to be unloaded, at the deputies. That's when the deputies fired.
In an e-mail interview earlier this year, King County Sherriff John Urquhart told The Stranger that the deputies had followed the rules and moved two children away from the home, though it appeared from surveillance footage they may have run back inside. Urquhart said that if the deputies had known that Davis was in the the room, alive with a gun, and not bleeding out, the deputies’ training would have been to call in a crisis negotiator. “But they did not know that,” he added.
Both Dreveskracht and Bree Black Horse, attorneys representing the Davis family, told The Stranger that the deputies failed to move Davis’s children out of harm’s way according to crisis intervention protocol.
Black Horse, one of the attorneys for Davis' family, says that no matter what happens during the inquest, some questions will remain unanswered: Why did this happen? Were the officers trained to deal with someone going through a mental health crisis? What kind of training did they have to effectively handle this situation?
I'll be reporting on each day of the inquest. Stay tuned.
This piece has been updated.