Deadly pursuit led to 1-day suspension for Bothell officer
Officer Mark Atterbury, 28, should have called off the pursuit earlier, Police Chief Carol Cummings wrote in a letter released recently under public records laws.
The officer misjudged the situation, but that was not a willful or deliberate act of wrongdoing, the chief wrote.
“I want to clearly state that the cause of this tragedy rests squarely on the shoulders of the suspect,” she wrote to the officer. “His actions that night showed repeated disregard for the life and safety of his fellow citizens.”
In court Thursday an October murder trial was scheduled for Joseph Strange, a felon with a lengthy criminal history.
Since the crash, the Bothell Police Department has adopted stricter policies regarding when officers can engage in car chases, records show.
The policy changes already were in the works before the May 12, 2013, collision. The new policies had been approved, but they didn't go into effect until Bothell's officers could be retrained.
Atterbury and a Bothell police sergeant both were involved in the pursuit that stretched from Bothell to downtown Everett.
Atterbury was on patrol about 11:20 p.m. when he spotted a stolen truck in a Bothell motel parking lot.
He attempted to pull the truck over, and Strange allegedly took off. A chase wound onto northbound I-405 and then I-5.
Atterbury's sergeant called off the pursuit, after 2 minutes and 36 seconds.
Atterbury stopped actively chasing the truck and turned off his emergency lights.
He slowed down but continued to follow Strange, keeping him in sight.
The department's internal investigation later determined that spotting the truck's stolen license plate was not sufficient grounds for the first part of the chase.
Atterbury eventually caught up with Strange in a gas station parking lot along 164th Street SW, near Lynnwood. There, Strange allegedly hit another vehicle and then rammed Atterbury's squad car. A second chase began.
The second part of the chase was permitted under the department's policies at the time, because of Strange's actions, the chief ruled.
For most of the pursuit, Atterbury was following the rules and “acted professionally and carefully,” the chief wrote. She noted that Atterbury has had no other discipline in his five years on the force.
However, the officer again should have called the chase off about two miles before the crash, because they were headed into an Everett neighborhood, the chief found.
At the intersection of Rucker and Pacific avenues, Strange is accused of slamming into a Honda CRV, killing the driver, Rachael Kamin, a nurse and mother.
Strange was charged with first-degree murder and potentially faces decades in prison, because prosecutors believe his actions showed “extreme indifference” to human life. Fatal car crashes involving criminal conduct typically result in a vehicular homicide charge.
Since then, Cummings has ordered additional pursuit training for Bothell's 60 police officers. They now are allowed less discretion when to follow suspects during the early stages of incidents, before a pursuit.
Bothell police released the records in late March in response to a public records request from The Herald two months earlier.
The Bothell Police Department annually reviews the rules for high-risk operations, such as the use of force and pursuits, Sgt. Ken Seuberlich said.
The pursuit policies were updated again in February, documents show.
In recent years, the Everett Police Department and other agencies in the region have adopted similar restrictions in car chases. The potential danger associated with letting an offender escape must outweigh the possibility of someone getting hurt or killed during a pursuit, according to the new policies in Bothell.
Under the new rules, there are fewer circumstances under which pursuits are allowed, such as when an officer has reason to believe the suspect has committed or is about to commit a dangerous felony. Police in Bothell are not allowed to engage in pursuits for property crimes, misdemeanors or traffic infractions.
Officers must consider the time of day, the traffic volume and the neighborhood. They and their supervisors must constantly re-evaluate conditions as the chase unfolds, the rules say.
Under most circumstances, police are discouraged from shooting at a fleeing car.
The pursuit from Bothell to Everett was one of at least four police chases in Snohomish County that ended in a death in 2013.
Bothell's internal investigation wrapped up in October, records show. The sergeant who was involved also was investigated and was cleared of wrongdoing. He has been on the force 25 years.
Internal investigations aim to examine officers' conduct and whether they followed department policies. Of the four fatal pursuit cases in the county last year, only the Bothell and Lake Stevens police departments have completed internal reviews.
In April 2013, a Lake Stevens officer was pursuing a suspect in a stolen car when the car missed a curve and crashed into a house. The man's passenger, Nicholas Peterson, 26, was killed. The driver, Rodrique Johnston, 42, was high on methamphetamine, prosecutors allege.
Johnston is awaiting trial for vehicular homicide.
Lake Stevens police Cmdr. Dennis Taylor found no policy violations by the officer, records show.
Two weeks after the fatal Bothell pursuit, Lynnwood police chased a woman with a misdemeanor warrant into Mountlake Terrace. There, Shelly “Shellshock” Rose Collins crashed the car into a van driven by Jerry Bennett, 72, killing him. She was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
Weeks after the May 24, 2013, crash, lawyers representing Bennett's estate filed a $1 million claim against the city of Lynnwood. The claim is pending.
In October, two Snohomish County sheriff's deputies chased a suspect with a history of DUIs who took off eastbound on U.S. 2.
Eric Breum, 55, crossed the center line, struck another vehicle and was killed.
That case remains under investigation by the Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team, which handles incidents where officers use potentially fatal force.
An internal review will follow.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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