The Seattle Times reports that the three Bellevue police officers who fatally shot Russell Smith in a Columbia City street last March were "warranted in their use of force," according to an inquest jury finding this week:

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[Russell] Smith, 51, an armed-robbery suspect, was fatally shot by Bellevue SWAT officers in Columbia City after he attempted to run down officers with his car, police said. He was in his car at his brother’s house near South Hudson Street and 42nd Avenue South around 5 a.m. when officers arrived to serve a warrant. When officers approached the residence they noticed Smith in the driver’s seat of a Mercedes-Benz parked in the driveway.

Smith saw the officers, according to a Seattle Police Department news release issued after the incident, then put the car in reverse and backed up, striking a pickup and pushing it several yards into the street...

The jury found that the three officers had reason to believe Smith presented an “imminent threat of death or bodily injury to himself or others” when they shot at him. The six members were unsure, however, of whether Smith would have known the people surrounding the car were SWAT officers.

That the jury was unsure raises a “significant policy question,” Smith’s family attorney Fred Diamondstone said.

“I believe that that type of an assault on a vehicle would provoke a flight-or-fight type of gut-level reaction,” Diamondstone said. “Mr. Smith’s reaction was to put his car in reverse and try to get out of there.”

I wrote about this case at the time on Slog here and here, and Rick Anderson had a great longer piece in the Seattle Weekly in December—you should really check it out.

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These inquests are limited in what they can find, and questions outside their scope are left for the community to consider. Does the fact that it's believable that one could be afraid of a person driving a car if you're standing in front of the car make it acceptable to shoot and kill that person? Have they shown that Smith was guilty of a crime other than sitting in the driver's seat of a car one morning?

I wasn't able to attend, so I can't speak to that. But an inquest finding certainly does not mean all the questions about this case have been sufficiently answered.

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