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News / Northwest

Snohomish County pays $1.9M to settle suit over deputy’s killing of man in crisis

By Mike Carter, The Seattle Times
Published: January 26, 2023, 9:04am

SEATTLE — Snohomish County has agreed to pay $1.93 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the wife of a emotionally troubled man fatally shot by a deputy after his family called police for help.

The settlement was reached Jan. 20 following mediation between the family of Ryan Dean Hemmingson and the Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, marking the third time in recent years that the county has paid $1 million or more to settle a lawsuit stemming from a deputy’s use of deadly force.

Deputy Anthony Zayas shot Hemmingson three times after deputies forced their way into his wife’s apartment in response to a call about him wounding himself with a pocket knife — reportedly ignoring pleas by family members to let them help persuade him to surrender.

Tom Mumford, an Everett attorney representing Valerie Egleston, Hemmingson’s wife, said the pocket knife was found under Hemmingson’s body, its blade folded.

“This death was so unnecessary,” Mumford said Wednesday. “If they had just attempted to slow things down and to de-escalate this situation, Ryan Hemmingson would be alive today.”

Zayas, for his part, left the department in 2020 after he was charged with third-degree rape for having sex with a 14-year-old girl he met on the dating app Tinder, according to documents and news reports. He was acquitted of the charge in 2021 after testifying that the girl had misrepresented her age.

According to court documents, the sheriff’s office was called to Egleston’s apartment the evening of Nov. 9, 2019, after Egleston’s son, Nickolas Kelley, called 911 to report that Hemmingson, 44, had been drinking and stabbed himself with a pocket knife.

Within four minutes, according to the lawsuit, Zayas and five other deputies arrived at the apartment, lining up outside with their firearms drawn.

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“Nickolas Kelley asked the deputies not to just barge into the house and requested that he be allowed to work with them to reason with Mr. Hemmingson in order to de-escalate the situation,” according to the lawsuit.

“Mr. Kelley’s requests were ignored, he was rebuffed and was told to stay out of the way,” the pleadings said.

The lawsuit said there was nothing in the 911 call indicating Hemmingson was dangerous or posed a threat to the deputies. His self-inflicted injury was superficial, according to court documents.

Even so, five of the six deputies “placed themselves in a stacked formation” outside the apartment door with their sidearms drawn, while the sixth, identified as Deputy Brent Reid, called out to Hemmingson to surrender, telling him he was “not in trouble,” according to the pleadings.

When Hemmingson didn’t reply, Reid opened the unlocked front door, entered the apartment and continued to order him out of a back room “in an aggressive and authoritative tone,” the lawsuit said. Hemmingson complied and walked toward the deputies, according to the documents.

“He did not verbally threaten the deputies,” according to the pleadings. “In fact, he did not speak to them at all.”

Even so, a deputy identified in the lawsuit as Jonathan Krajcar “fired several pepper balls at him, striking him repeatedly.” That’s when Zayas fired his service weapon, striking Hemmingson three times in the chest and abdomen.

“Mr. Hemmingson fell to the ground,” the lawsuit said. “As he lay on the ground bleeding to death, the deputies ordered him to show his hands. Mr. Hemmingson replied, ‘I’m trying.’”

Hemmingson was taken to a hospital, where he died in surgery, according to the lawsuit.

An internal investigation into the shooting cleared Zayas of wrongdoing. No criminal charges were filed.

The lawsuit claims Snohomish County’s “training and policies are nonexistent and/or deficient in how to deal with individuals suffering from emotional, physical and mental impairments.”

“The deputies actions … were negligent, reckless, outrageous and deliberately indifferent to Mr. Hemmingson’s civil rights,” the lawsuit concluded. “They entered his home in an unreasonable manner, failed to de-escalate the situation, failed to listen to Mr. Kelley, and failed to gather additional information about the situation before taking lethal action.”

Snohomish County has paid a total of $4.65 million to three families to settle wrongful death and civil rights lawsuits resulting from killings by deputies.

In 2021, the county paid $1.75 million to the family of Cecil Lacy Jr., an unarmed Tulalip tribal member who died while struggling with deputies in 2015. In 2020, the county paid $1 million to the family of Nickolas Michael Peters, a 24-year-old Edmonds man who was shot and killed after a car chase in 2018.

County prosecutors provided The Seattle Times with a copy of the settlement agreement in Hemmingson’s death, outlining the $1,937,500 payment to Egleston without admitting liability. The county offered no other comment, saying the agreement speaks for itself.

Egleston’s lawsuit alleged civil rights violations, wrongful death, assault, outrage and wrongful hiring.