A memorial of Todd about half a mile from the scene of his death.
A memorial of Todd about half a mile from the scene of his death. Caleb Powell

In the early morning hours of June 5, 2021, Todd Smith strayed from a high school graduation party outside Arlington, Washington, near the South Fork of the Stillaguamish River. The slender, unarmed, 18-year-old with boyish features approached a house and started knocking on a door. The homeowner exited and shot him. Fatally.

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The next day The Seattle TimesEverett Herald, and KING 5 reported the basics: The shooter, a man in his sixties, heard noise, grabbed a weapon, and went through a slider to see a “shirtless stranger, pounding on his back door.” He warned Todd he was armed, claimed Todd failed to heed, and so he fired. The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) responded, but during the investigation someone recognized the deceased as the stepson of a fellow SCSO officer, and thus the case was moved to the Everett Police Department to avoid a conflict of interest.

Todd, a 5’6” wrestler, younger brother of Ali Smith, son of Ben Smith and Meadow Adams, was not familiar with the area. KOMO mentioned a Change.Org page, “Justice for Todd,” set up by friends and family of the victim, which called for cops to arrest the homeowner. Later that month, The Herald published an article celebrating Todd’s life, but it offered no follow-up regarding the investigation. Was this murder, manslaughter, or was it justified under the law? Would the case be adjudicated? Ten months later and still no follow-up.

And yet, the case progressed. In the fall of 2021, Craig Matheson, who leads the Violent Crimes Unit at the Snohomish County Prosecutors Office, declined to press charges due to evidence not meeting the legal standard for a crime; specifically, he cited an inability to “disprove self-defense.” On review, Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Baldock concurred with Matheson’s assessment. The police report, however, raises questions and reveals previously unreported facts.

According to the report, the shooter woke to loud banging from outside. He went into the living room, noticed the deck’s sensor lights had turned on, saw a shadow, and grabbed his Smith and Wesson “old model 10 38-Special revolver with a four-inch barrel.” He then went outside to confront a shirtless youth, warned him that he had a weapon, took a “low ready” position, felt threatened by Todd, and thus fired “a lead ‘wadcutter’ projectile” that “clipped (Todd’s) vena cava and lodged in muscle inside his pelvis at his sacrum… [The other projectile entered at] a downward angle between ribs at the sixth intercostal space and through the liver and out near the sixth lumbar vertebrae.”

At 4:17, the shooter’s wife made a 911 call, and a dispatcher sent patrolmen from the SCSO to the scene. The patrolmen completed their investigation, gave the homeowners permission to clean the scene, gave the shooter a copy of his statement to police, and told the shooter’s wife that the “special crimes” unit would not be called. However, after Todd was brought to Providence Medical Center, the SCSO’s Major Crimes Unit (MCU) took over the investigation and returned to the scene of the homicide.

It was during this second investigation that someone recognized the victim as the stepson of a Lieutenant in the SCSO. The precise chronology remains unknown, including exactly when they handed over the investigation to the EPD, but at 10:47 the following morning, officers from the police department began to reprocess the scene after a briefing from the major crimes unit.

The EPD went over interviews conducted by the sheriff’s investigators that confirm the shooter was allowed to copy his witness statement and clean up the scene with his wife. One officer wrote, “Patrol was under the impression that detectives would not be responding, so they processed the scene, collected evidence, and then told the … family that they could clean up after deputies left.”

In an interview, SCSO detectives told the shooter that the “law enforcement response...here was a bit, um, non-traditional...Normally [investigators] are called to the scene before anything is altered or moved. That didn’t happen in this case. I’m not sure why, but, but I don’t have the full story yet. Because we arrived and the scene, frankly, has been cleaned up.” The shooter told the cops he was led to believe “that the special crimes unit was not going to come out," and so his wife "just rinsed the blood off" their deck.

During the interview, an SCSO detective also noted that the shooter was reading a copy of his “original, uh, handwritten statement to our patrol units,” which he described as “very abnormal.” The shooter then explained that he saw the statement and made a copy, without mentioning the whereabouts of other officers.

I wrote to Snohomish County prosecutors Baldock and Matheson and asked why they didn’t pursue the case given the abnormal circumstances of the investigation. Last week, Baldock gave a concise response, stating that mistakes made by law enforcement had no bearing on the interpretation of the law. His team evaluates cases based on the available evidence, and the investigation and the decision to prosecute were separate.

This decision conforms to Washington State’s “Use of Force” law, our version of Stand Your Ground, which, similar to Castle Doctrine, does not contain a “duty to retreat” provision for homeowners. Thus, the prosecutors were left with no choice. The justice of this law is a worthy subject for debate. Yet the pressing questions now center around the following: Would a proper investigation have brought forth additional evidence? In this tragedy, what else is left for the victim, his friends, and his family?