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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Police change policy on review of lethal force; release body cam video in Hillyard shooting

Spokane Police Officer Chris McMurtrey’s pistol occupies most of the frame from his body camera the night of Oct. 12, pointed at domestic violence suspect Jason M. Smith.

“He’s smashing my car. That’s the second one this week,” McMurtrey can be heard saying, as Smith begins accelerating his 2006 Dodge pickup into McMurtrey’s patrol vehicle.

“If he tries to break through - lethal force,” McMurtrey adds, loud enough for fellow officers Stanley Stadelman and Joseph Matt to hear.

Seconds later, Smith begins pushing the patrol car and all three officers open fire, eventually expending 18 rounds of ammunition. A 19th and final shot is fired by McMurtrey after Smith complies with commands to show officers his hands, but the truck continues to accelerate.

Body camera video from Officer McMurtrey. Warning: Graphic violence, profanity

Spokane Police released more than an hour of body camera video and records related to the officer-involved shooting as part of a change in department policy, said Tim Schwering, the department’s director of the Office of Professional Accountability, at a news conference Wednesday.

“Prior to today, we used to wait until the prosecutor was done with their findings before we started our internal affairs investigation,” Schwering said. The department will now be releasing all of its information on incidents where deadly force is used as soon as possible after it is given to the prosecutor, and will begin an internal review, in an effort to “help with transparency,” Schwering said.

Nothing specific in the Smith case prompted the decision to change policy, Schwering said. Beginning internal affairs investigations immediately after a criminal probe is complete is among the recommendations made by the Department of Justice in its sweeping review of Spokane Police Department policies released last year.

“You have a problem with transparency if you do a criminal investigation and you don’t start an administrative investigation until that is done,” Schwering said.

Prosecutors were handed the findings of Spokane County Sheriff’s Detective Tim Ricketts on Dec. 3 in the case. Ricketts reviewed the body camera video immediately after the incident and elected to recommend assault charges against Smith, 37, the next day.

But Ricketts said no criminal charges should be filed against the three officers.

McMurtrey fired the last shot, after Smith had raised his hands but continued to rev the engine, to stop “the suspect from continuing to accelerate and trying to break through the police cars, that would put citizens, responding officers and any bystanders at risk of being harmed by” Smith, Ricketts wrote in his report turned over to prosecutors.

A district court case against Smith remains open, but he’s yet to appear in court on charges tied to the Oct. 12 incident in the Hillyard neighborhood. Spokane Police Capt. Eric Olsen said Smith had been released from the hospital.

“I don’t know if he’s agreed to give us a statement or not,” Olsen said.

Smith received three gunshot wounds, one to the chest and two to the face, according to investigators.

The internal review of the actions of McMurtrey, Stadelman and Matt has begun and will look at whether the officers, who have returned to duty, violated any policies of the department, Olsen said.

“We will have access to the entire criminal file, and then they will conduct any additional investigation they see fit,” he said.

Officers were initially called to the residence where Smith was staying just after midnight on Oct. 12. A family member reported the 37-year-old had dragged him across the floor and caused property damage after he told Smith to leave the house.

A woman told investigators Smith had been staying with her in Airway Heights through early October, but he’d stopped taking medication and become unstable, using alcohol and marijuana constantly.

Stadelman was the first to respond to the scene, where Smith was in his truck and revving the engine, according to police reports. McMurtrey and Matt arrived shortly thereafter, and both their body cameras captured the shooting. Spokane Police on Wednesday also released body camera footage from five other officers who responded after the shooting took place.

Body camera video from Officer Joseph Matt. Warning: Graphic violence

The Department’s change in policy is not unprecedented in Washington state.

Seattle police have also started releasing video of officer-involved shootings before prosecutors make a charging decision. In some cases this year, Seattle police posted dashboard camera video of shootings online less than a day after the incident took place.

A department spokesman said Seattle’s goal is to release video, usually from dashboard cameras, as soon as possible after an incident takes place to provide transparency, though the exact timing depends on the details of each case.

The Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office has not yet announced whether it will follow Ricketts’ advice, or if they will seek criminal charges against the officers involved.

Staff reporter Rachel Alexander contributed to this report.