Shortly after midnight on Saturday, a Kent police officer fatally shot a 20-year-old Green River College student named Giovonn Joseph-McDade. According to police, the officer shot McDade after attempting to make a traffic stop and, eventually, a maneuver called a pursuit intervention technique (PIT), which involves bumping a suspect's car in order to bring it to a stop during a pursuit.
The Des Moines police, who are conducting the investigation into the shooting, say McDade—later identified by the King County Medical Examiner's office—failed to stop the car he was driving for the officer, then, after the PIT, attempted to "ram" one of the officers who responded to the scene.
Friends of McDade have raised questions about the police narrative, stating that version of events doesn't match his personality or character. "It just sounds out of place for the Giovonn that I know," said Keith Isaac, a childhood friend.
The shooting on June 24 is the third fatal police shooting in King County this month. On June 13, a King County Sheriff's deputy shot a 20-year-old Vietnamese American man carrying a pen that was thought to be a knife. Five days later, Seattle police officers shot and killed 30-year-old Charleena Lyles, a pregnant, black mother of four, after Lyles allegedly pulled a knife on the officers who responded to her 911 call for help.
Two days after the Kent shooting, Des Moines investigators released information on the circumstances of McDade's death. They claim McDade, a student at Green River College and former football player at Kent-Meridian High School, turned onto a dead end road after failing to stop for police, then "used his vehicle as a weapon in attempt to ram one of the officers." An officer then "used deadly force discharging his firearm at the vehicle in the attempt to stop the threat," the release read.
"The suspect vehicle rolled to a stop and officers discovered the suspect had been struck," the release continued. "The officer’s summoned aid and immediately began administering first aid but the suspect driver died at the scene."
The King County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed that McDade died of "multiple gunshot wounds," and labeled the manner of death a homicide.
Des Moines investigators also released audio of the radio traffic from the officers who responded to the incident. Two Kent police officers involved in the shooting, who have not been identified, are on paid administrative leave, per department policy.
In the audio, an officer can be heard telling the radio dispatcher that he's in pursuit of a car for a traffic violation. Roughly 40 seconds into the recording, the officer can be heard telling dispatch that the suspect's car was slowing down, had put his blinker on, and "looks like he's trying to find a place to [unintelligible]" before speeding up again to 60 miles per hour. At a minute and 46 seconds into the recording of the radio traffic, the officer says he's going down a dead-end. Eleven seconds later, an officer announces shots fired.
"He tried to ram me," the officer says.
It's unclear when in those two minutes the officer initiated the pursuit intervention technique (PIT). According to a court filing from the National Accountability Project in 2007, the technique is commonly restricted to certain speeds and officers who receive specialized PIT training. A majority of police departments have equated "ramming" or "bumping" with deadly use of force and prohibit such contact unless use of deadly force is justified. (In Seattle, for example, PIT maneuvers may be considered deadly force.) The Kent Police department has not yet responded to a request from The Stranger for its PIT policy.
Assistant Des Moines police chief Bob Bohl told The Stranger that investigators did not yet know the offense for which McDade was originally pursued.
"We do not know what the original traffic offense is at this point since we are still waiting to obtain the statements from the involved officers," Bohl wrote in an e-mail. "We just know it was a traffic offense initially for the stop and then when the suspect failed to stop for the officer with emergency lights & siren it rose to a felony eluding."
Two of McDade's childhood friends say they have questions about that police narrative. They also describe McDade as someone who was well-liked, a sports-lover, and always smiling.
Alycea DeLong, 21, a friend of McDade's from Kent Elementary School and currently a University of Washington-Tacoma student, described him as a person who "would go out of his way for you if you needed something."
Keith Isaac, 20, another childhood friend, said he hung out with McDade just a few days before the shooting. "He's a great guy," Isaac said. "He [knew] how to make you laugh. And he was just a good, genuine person."
Isaac said he found out about McDade's death on Facebook. "I didn't want to believe it because I had just seen him a few days before," he said. "I was crying. I was upset. I wanted some answers."
Friends and family held a vigil for McDade on Sunday. The two friends The Stranger spoke to say they still have many unanswered questions about their friend's death.
Wanna thank everybody who slid thru the candle vigil to gather in loss of our brother. May he rest easy and forever be remembered. #PB84EVA pic.twitter.com/bFIzTSi8p8
— ♏️alietufa (@V_Malietufaah) June 26, 2017
Alycea DeLong told The Stranger that she, like Issac, questions the police narrative. "It just seems kind of weird that it took this long to come up with this story," DeLong said. "It seems to me that the police have no liability if this is the case. They won't release why they were having to be pulled over in the first place. Still nobody knows that."
An attorney representing McDade's family has not yet responded to a request for comment.