There are lots of questions that jurors will have to answer at the end of the inquest into the police shooting of Renee Davis, a pregnant, 23-year-old Muckleshoot woman, killed during a welfare check last October. Perhaps most important: Did the deputies who shot her believe their lives were in danger when they opened fire?
During three days of testimony in a Kent courtroom, both of the King County Sheriff's Office deputies who shot at Davis, Nicholas Pritchett and Timothy Lewis, said they did.
The deputies recounted the moments leading up to the fatal shooting, all of which took place in about twenty minutes: From a boyfriend reporting that Davis expressed suicidal ideation, to the deputies initiating a welfare check without backup, to Lewis deciding to send her two children on the front porch. The most critical moment, however, came when the deputies, worried Davis might be a danger to herself, entered her bedroom after kicking off a child's lock on the door, and Pritchett ripped off a comforter that covered Davis on the bed.
Davis was holding a gun underneath the comforter. The deputies testified that she pointed the firearm at both officers before they opened fire. "I was looking down the barrel of a gun and it was a terrifying minute," Pritchett said.
Attorney Jenny Durkan, who is representing Muckleshoot tribe (and running for mayor), and attorneys for the Davis family, raised questions about decisions made by Pritchett and Lewis in the events leading up to the shooting. Implicit in their questions was the suggestion that the officers could have done more to de-escalate the situation, protect the community, and move the children out of harm's way. (The Muckleshoot Tribe contracts with the King County Sheriff's Office to provide police service on the reservation, and does not have a tribal police force of its own.)
At the end of the hearing, jurors will be asked to answer questions from lawyers on both sides, County prosecutors will review the findings to help decide whether to file charges against the officers for Davis' death.
(What follows is a chronological telling, through Pritchett and Lewis' testimonies, of what happened that night. We're describing their statements in detail because jurors will be asked to rule on specific questions about the shooting based on these accounts):
Deputy Pritchett testified that he had met Renee Davis before the night he shot her. One of the lawyers representing her family told the judge that Pritchett had responded to her home several times when she was the victim of domestic violence complaints against her former partner.
"She was always very kind and cooperative with me," Pritchett said. "I never had problems with her in the past."
Pritchett said he initiated the welfare check after Davis' boyfriend, TJ Molina, approached him while he was at his patrol car and showed him a text message that Davis had sent containing a photo of a skin incision with the message, "Well come get the girls or call 911 I’m about to shoot myself." The deputy said he didn't know if the injury shown in the photo belonged to Davis, her children, or someone else.
Pritchett said Molina also informed him Davis had a rifle. But he didn't recall Molina telling him that Davis also had a handgun and a concealed carry permit, directly conflicting with Molina's testimony on Tuesday.
During cross-examination, Durkan, who is representing the Muckleshoot Tribe, asked Pritchett to describe the distance between the tribe's mental health center and his patrol vehicle at the time. Pritchett answered that it was a few blocks.
When Pritchett pulled up to Davis' home, he parked and stood by an oak tree on the property, which he saw as potential cover in case of gunfire. He waited at the tree a couple of minutes to listen for signs of distress, then went back to his car and waited for backup from another King County Sheriff's Office deputy and the Auburn police department.
After Deputy Lewis responded to the scene, the two discussed using the oak tree as cover and approached Davis' house together. Lewis said he wondered out loud if the two should wait for additional backup from Auburn police to arrive, but after Pritchett explained the situation and asked him to hurry, Lewis agreed not to wait.
During cross-examination, Bree Black Horse, one of the attorneys for the family, asked if, by developing a plan for cover with the oak tree, the deputies anticipated gunfire. Lewis said he anticipated the potential for gunfire. Black Horse also asked if the deputies had developed plans for how to approach the house, what to do once inside the house, what to with the kids, and what to do if shots were fired. Lewis said they did not.
The two deputies said they banged on the door, as well as the house's siding and windows. They claimed to have yelled "sheriff's office" and "Renee, come to the door" multiple times, but heard nothing in response. Pritchett knocked on the siding of the house with a flashlight. While approaching the window of the home, Lewis unholstered his gun and kept it pointed at the ground by his side.
Black Horse asked Lewis if the deputies ever announced that they were at the residence for a welfare check? Lewis said he did not. Did they announce they were there to help her and the kids? No.
Pritchett said that his partner, Lewis, peeked through the blinds and saw Davis' two kids in the living room. He said he thought he heard one of the kids call "Mom," and that his partner, Lewis, thought he heard crying. Not long after, Lewis communicated with one of the kids through the window blinds, and that same child opened the door for the deputies. The kids seemed scared, Pritchett said. When asked if the children feared the deputies, Pritchett said he didn't know. He also clarified that he didn't think they seemed scared because of their own mother.
Lewis said the kids didn't seem scared, just confused. Black Horse asked Lewis if it occurred to the deputies that the kids may have cried and called for their mother because of the banging and the yelling.
"Did you think about the effect two grown men yelling and pounding would have had on [Davis] in her state?" Black Horse asked.
"I did not know what state she was in," Lewis replied.
"You knew she was suicidal, correct?"
Once inside the house, Pritchett unholstered his gun and kept it in front of his waist, pointed at the ground. Both deputies said having guns unholstered when entering a home was common practice. The deputies said they announced their presence by yelling again.
"We tried to usher the kids to the front porch because we wanted to keep them to the area," Pritchett said, adding that Lewis was the one to personally move the kids.
"Renee, if you're here, let yourself be known," Pritchett recounts yelling. He asked the older of the two children where her mom was. The older child, 3, pointed to the hallway.
Pritchett said he called to Renee inside the house, but she did not respond. She also did not respond to her children's calls, Pritchett added. "I was concerned maybe she had carried out the threat to shoot herself, or had inflicted enough injuries depicted from the [injury] in the text that she was too injured to respond."
Lewis testified that when the deputies entered the home, he gathered the kids and told them in a soft voice to wait outside by a black chair at home's front porch. The deputy said he escorted the children towards the doorway, and that's when Deputy Pritchett started checking the living room and the kitchen. Lewis said that's also when he turned to the hallway to maintain cover for Pritchett. Lewis said that he still remained feet away from the kids. "I knew they were behind me, I knew I was between them and any potential threat," he said. "I had them in the back of my head and that felt very good."
During Durkan's cross-examination of Pritchett, she clarified that Pritchett did not take the children to the oak tree, where they could have ostensibly taken cover from gunfire, too. Durkan later asked Lewis if he noticed anyone walking out of a nearby neighbor's house because of the noise. He said he didn't. The attorney also asked if the deputies' plan made any provision for protecting others from a potential gunfire threat, and Lewis answered "no."
Later on Thursday, an investigator from the Sheriff's Office testified that one of the bullets hit a car near the house and landed in a passenger seat.
Davis' door had a plastic child lock on it, so Pritchett broke the lock by kicking it and entered the room. Lewis provided cover, and confirmed to Durkan that he lost sight of the children at that point, but assumed they were where he left them. (Earlier in the inquest, an officer who responded to the scene as shots were fired said the children were inside the house and ran out to him.) The room was dark, but light from the hallway spilled inside. Lewis testified that it was well lit, and he could see Davis in bed. Lewis turned on the flashlight mounted on his gun ("It's common practice for me to turn my light on when I'm firing, or when I think it's more likely to be used," he said) but said he kept it pointed at the ground.
On the surveillance footage from the night Davis died, jurors saw light from the hallway spill into the room through the blinds and then a brighter light shine from inside, too. Durkan pointed out that the flashlight mounted on Lewis' gun was a high-powered light that could be used to disorient subjects.
Durkan asked Lewis if, at any time, he or Pritchett said they were there to make sure everyone was okay, or ask Davis if she was okay. Lewis said they did not.
Pritchett said that once he and Lewis entered the room, he saw Davis lying on the bed with her head propped up and a comforter laid across her body, up to her chin. "She seemed completely disinterested with the fact I that was in her room," Pritchett said. "She was not amused. She didn't care. She looked right at me."
Pritchett said he ordered Davis to show him her hands, but she seemed disinterested, looked at the wall, and said, "no." He asked again and said she replied the same way.
"We have to confirm what's underneath this blanket," Pritchett said, describing his thought process in the moment. "For all we know, she could have a bunch of injuries and was bleeding out." Lewis later testified that Pritchett did not show him the photo of the cut Davis texted her boyfriend—a cut that startled the boyfriend enough to contact the police, but that a medical examiner later characterized as a "scrape."
Pritchett said he also worried that Davis might have had weapons underneath the blanket. He shucked off the blanket, revealing that Davis held a handgun in one hand and a loaded magazine in the other.
He said Lewis yelled, "Gun!" and both started retreating towards the wall. "And I'm like, 'Renee, drop the gun!'" Pritchett said, adding that he noticed a curved knife on Davis' bed, too. What happened next flashed in seconds.
While the deputies retreated, Pritchett said Davis scooted herself up on the bed, picked the gun up off her thigh, and moved it to point from Lewis to Pritchett, the deputies said. "I could see down her barrel," Pritchett said. Lewis testified that he feared for his life and thought that Davis was going to shoot Pritchett.
"I was afraid for [Lewis]," Pritchett said. "I was afraid for me. I was looking down the barrel of a gun and it was a terrifying minute." He said he feared for his life and fired. Later, he found out that he fired three times. Lewis testified that he later found out he shot five times.
Davis was shot three times: Once through the heart, once from a gunshot that entered the back of her shoulder, and once from a gunshot that entered the back of her thigh. Isakson, the attorney representing the deputies, asked Lewis if he had to wait for deadly force to be used against him in order to use deadly force. Lewis answered he did not; waiting could be deadly, and one should always assume a gun is loaded. As soon as the firing stopped, Deputy Lewis said that he went to make sure the kids were safe and asked the police officer from Auburn to take them.
On Tuesday, the attorney representing the deputies, Derrick Isakson, asked if the situation had been stressful. "I was upset that I found myself in the situation," Pritchett said.
"It's a serious stressful strain on yourself, but it hit my wife far harder than it hit me," Pritchett continued. "It's eating her up."
When asked if it's easy for a deputy to take the life of another, Pritchett answered: "I doubt it. We're all people, I guess," and shrugged.
Jurors will likely answer the questions they've received from lawyers and the judge this afternoon or tomorrow.
This is part of my ongoing coverage of the inquest hearing of the police killing of Renee Davis. On the first day of the hearing, jurors saw surveillance footage from the day of the shooting. On day two, in addition to hearing from Pritchett, they heard emotional testimony from TJ Molina.