King County has agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle a claim by the family of Anthony Chilcott, who was shot dead by deputies after stealing a hot-rod pickup truck and a pet poodle, according to the family lawyer.
The November 2019 incident was heavily criticized by investigators and resulted in the firing of one of the officers involved.
In a rare move, the lawsuit filed against the county by Chilcott’s mother and sister, Monica Crotty and Amanda Castro, both now living in Texas, was resolved before a lawsuit was filed and involved a meeting face-to-face with Acting Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall, a Civil Division representative from the King County District Attorney’s Office and the county’s risk manager, according to attorney Tony Russo.
Russo said all three parties issued a “sincere apology” to the family and the sheriff’s office promised to implement the reforms recommended in a critical review of the Chilcott shooting. The reforms involve limits on the use of plainclothes officers and focus on de-escalation methods and techniques that an internal investigation found were lacking or ignored in the incident that killed Chilcott.
“Your decision to participate in good faith in a speedy resolution of the family’s claim that resulted in today’s settlement should help us all come to terms with this needless and tragic loss of life,” Russo wrote. in an email Thursday to the county after the mediation. “This act of humanity, even more than the $2.5 million settlement, demonstrated an acceptance of responsibility by King County leaders and will help the family on the long road to recovery.”
Chilcott’s settlement is the latest in a string of police use of force, wrongful deaths and abuse claims and lawsuits settled by agencies or decided by juries in Washington since January 2021, totaling more than 38 $.6 million in payments, according to data compiled by the Seattle Times.
Crotty said in a phone interview on Friday that she was grateful to the county, and in particular Cole-Tindall, for their willingness to address policy shortcomings that contributed to her son’s death, particularly issues related to the use of plainclothes MPs and unmarked vehicles.
“I just want to be able to honor my son,” she said. “I am glad that measures have been put in place to prevent this from happening to anyone else. It makes me feel like Tony didn’t die in vain.
Sheriff Cole-Tindall, in a written statement, said: “I hope the agreementNT reached this week with Anthony Chilcott’s family brings them closer to healing.
“This year has brought new direction to the King County Sheriff’s Office, and Executive Constantine and I are committed to doing good for our community,” she wrote. “Every member of our team shares my commitment to working with communities and other critical stakeholders in our review of these incidents and preventing them from happening again in the future.”
Chilcott, 36, was well known to law enforcement and Black Diamond residents, and was implicated in a series of petty crimes when he stole an inflated Ford Raptor pickup truck from a Black Diamond gas station on November 22, 2019. Inside the truck was a poodle named Monkey which sparked interest in the theft.
According to interviews and documents obtained by The Seattle Times, Chilcott drove from Black Diamond to Sparks, Nevada, where a former girlfriend lived. He apparently drove past her house (the woman said she had never seen him), turned around and headed back to Washington, Monkey in tow.
On the morning of November 25, Chilcott was spotted by police roaring around the back roads of Black Diamond in the truck. After a brief chase with State Patrol troopers – called by a supervisor – two plainclothes deputies, George Alvarez and Josh Lerum, driving an unmarked SUV with no lights or emergency equipment, crashed into Chilcott at an intersection in the road Cumberland-Kanasket, pushing it over a chain of rocks, where it’s centered and disabled.
Chilcott either refused to exit or was unable to open the damaged door, and evidence showed he had fired the engine and shifted gears several times; however, the truck was stuck. The sheriff’s office, in its investigation, questioned whether Chilcott recognized the men as police officers.
Officers smashed the windows of the truck with a hammer and their handguns, and each shot the unarmed Chilcott in the head, saying he was trying to get away and they feared for their lives.
An internal investigation, overseen by then-Sheriff Cole-Tindall, found the deputies violated policy, engaged in questionable tactics and unnecessarily escalated the situation. While then-sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht found the shooting justified, she fired Alvarez, who had been involved in four previous shootings. He appealed this decision.
The quick settlement of the claim, before a lawsuit is filed, marks a sharp break from other recent claims and lawsuits filed against the sheriff’s office involving allegations of wrongful death and excessive force. The family of 17-year-old Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens, killed by deputies in a misguided sting operation involving plainclothes officers, filed a federal lawsuit in 2019 and fought in court for a year before the county only settles $2.25 million.
The family of 20-year-old Burien High School graduate Tommy Le, who was shot in the back by Deputy Cesar Molina in 2017 after he apparently threatened deputies with a ballpoint pen, has fought a tooth-and-nail battle of three years with the county in federal court, including a trip to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, before the county settled the case last year for $5 million before it went to trial.