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News / Northwest

Deputies’ gunfire ‘legally justified’ during fatal Ballard eviction, prosecutor says

By Lauren Girgis, The Seattle Times
Published: November 3, 2023, 7:30am

Editor’s note: This story references suicide. If you or a loved one is in crisis, resources are available here.

King County deputies were legally justified in returning gunfire during a March shootout that left a woman dead and a deputy injured while trying to serve an eviction notice, according to the Snohomish County prosecutor.

The violent encounter erupted during what was supposed to be a routine eviction in Ballard. The investigation found that the 29-year-old woman, who went by Eucytus, fired at officers first and hit Deputy David Easterly twice. The two other deputies returned fire but did not hit Eucytus, according to investigation findings. The woman died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The Seattle Times names people who died by suicide only under limited circumstances — for instance, when the death occurs during a high-profile news event.

Law enforcement swarmed the apartment complex that afternoon, and the shooting launched a monthslong investigation by the King County Independent Force Investigation Team. The Snohomish County prosecutor’s review of the investigation was obtained through a public records request by The Seattle Times.

A King County Superior Court judge in December 2022 had ordered Eucytus be evicted from her unit in March. Eucytus had barricaded the apartment, according to the investigation, and placed spikes on the floor.

Easterly, who sustained critical injuries, was released from the hospital nearly seven weeks after the shooting. A 25-year King County Sheriff’s Office veteran, Easterly decided not to return to duty and retired.

Snohomish prosecutor Jason Cummings’ office was assigned to review the case because of a conflict of interest between the King County Sheriff’s and Prosecuting Attorney’s offices, as one of the involved deputies is married to a prosecutor’s office employee.

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Lawfully returning fire

Washington state law says a law enforcement officer’s deadly use of force against another person is permissible “only when necessary to protect against an immediate threat of physical injury or death to the officer or another person.” The law also mandates officers use “reasonable care” when determining whether to use deadly force, which includes using “all de-escalation tactics that are available and appropriate under the circumstances before using physical force.”

According to the investigation findings, Eucytus fired several times when Easterly pushed the door open and concluded that Deputies Benjamin Wheeler and Benjamin Miller returned fire. Wheeler fired three rounds and Miller fired five.

Senior deputy prosecuting attorney Bob Langbehn wrote in a memo to Cummings that the deputies made “extensive efforts” to resolve the incident without the use of lethal force. Langbehn recommended to Cummings that the deputies not be criminally charged.

“Though detectives had voices that would be characterized as commanding, they also remained calm and polite during these interactions, stating at one point ‘Hey bud, you realize if you come out now, you’re not in trouble right?’” Langbehn wrote.

Deputies spoke to Eucytus for several minutes, telling her she was not under arrest but needed to come out.

Several neighbors told deputies they had heard what sounded like hammering and heavy equipment at night from the unit. Eucytus told a tenant that she planned on barricading herself in.

Scene outside Unit 6

Kirkland Detective Adam Haas was charged with leading the investigation for the interagency force investigation team. The team included representatives of Washington State Patrol and Kirkland and Bellevue police departments.

Haas’ investigative summary report details the circumstances that led to the shooting through officers’ body worn camera footage, neighbors’ Ring camera footage and witness statements.

The deputies began the eviction around 9:30 a.m. Many of the witnesses who had contact with Eucytus before the eviction would later tell police she didn’t seem violent but was afraid of experiencing homelessness. One neighbor, who shared a wall with her unit and had known her for five years, told investigators she told the property manager that it would behoove deputies to bring a mental health professional. The resident’s caretaker told police later that she had heard Eucytus yelling “I can’t live out on the streets” during the eviction.

A property manager received a text from Eucytus that morning, according to the report. She wrote “Why don’t we take this opportunity to de-escalate the situation. You send the sheriff away and put in writing no eviction will take place for a month, then you can inspect and we’ll negotiate our options.”

A nearby tenant’s Ring camera footage captured the scene outside Unit 6 in the two-story, fifteen-unit building. Ring cameras don’t record continuously but activate whenever they detect motion — therefore, Haas wrote, he had to stitch several clips that cut out together.

Easterly walked up to the door first, according to the investigation, followed by Miller and Wheeler. He knocked and shouted “Eucytus. Sheriff’s Office. Come to the door please.”

The video cuts out shortly after, but moments later, it shows Miller approaching with a black ax. It was used, a property manager who accompanied them later told police, to knock the deadbolt off.

Haas wrote Eucytus replied “I will defend myself.” The video cuts out and then activates again, recording one of the detectives mid-conversation as they said “shelters and some options.”

Eucytus yelled from inside the unit, “I’m not going (indiscernible) to the street! I won’t go back! I won’t do it again! I won’t!” The deputy replied, “Will you come out here and talk to us at least?”

The camera is reactivated a minute later, showing Easterly bent down by the door. He said to his partners he did not see any barricade, according to the report. He pushed on the door and then the video cuts out. When it restarts moments later, six shots are heard from the audio, Haas wrote.

Easterly is heard moaning in pain.

“David, stay down, come here, come here! I’ll cover you,” Miller said to Easterly, according to the report. Easterly rolled out through the front door onto the walkway on his back, dropping his gun.

Ten minutes later, video shows SPD officers in a tactical stack with a ballistic shield and guns drawn. The ten-minute gap, the report noted, would include the additional gunshots.

At some point, Eucytus retreats and fires a self-inflicted gunshot wound, which officers don’t witness. The sheriff’s office cleared the unit with two drones and a SWAT entry.

Eucytus was found on the bathroom floor.

Haas wrote there was a 9 mm handgun and several magazines of ammunition inside the apartment. Eight shell casings were found in the parking lot and walkway in front of the unit.

A deputy wrote he had to “carefully navigate each step” inside because there were more than 50 spikes on the floor. Metal sheets were on the floor of the living room, and one was used to block the front living room window.

Because of the severe nature of Easterly’s injuries, he could not immediately be interviewed, Haas wrote. Investigation of Easterly’s ballistic vest showed a bullet that matched the rounds located in the firearm recovered from Eucytus’ unit and the matching cartridges under her bed.

Miller’s council advised he would not issue a statement during the processing after the shooting, Haas wrote.

The medical examiner said the only injury Eucytus sustained was the self-inflicted gunshot wound that killed her.

The eviction process

The process of eviction leading up to the deadly March confrontation underscores the complexities of the legal process and tenants’ rights. When a tenant owes unpaid rent, a landlord typically issues a two-week notice to pay rent or vacate. When that time is up, the landlord can initiate civil proceedings. If the landlord prevails, a judge will order the writ of restitution. Only sheriff’s office deputies, though, can physically evict someone.

According to a tenant ledger submitted to King County Superior Court, Eucytus had lived in the unit since at least April 2019 and paid the monthly rent of $1,150 and other necessary fees until June 2020. By the end of 2022, Eucytus was ultimately set to be evicted over $6,355 in unpaid rent.

A lawyer from the Housing Justice Project, which represents tenants facing eviction, argued in court documents that Eucytus had been financially unstable since the start of the pandemic, when her machining classes at South Seattle College were canceled.

“If evicted, I will be irreparably harmed as I do not have family or friends to help and am facing homelessness,” Eucytus said in a court declaration, adding she had unsuccessfully applied to jobs and had no income.

A friend, Rachel Kay, told the Times in March that Eucytus, a transgender woman, was afraid of becoming homeless. Kay said they met through their involvement in the Seattle chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. Eucytus was passionate about social justice, animal rights, helping the poor and ending racism, she said.

“I want people to remember that they were a person committed to making a better world, but ultimately they couldn’t care for themselves,” Kay said of Eucytus, who used she/they pronouns. “They couldn’t get the help that they needed.”