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News / Northwest

Seattle SWAT officer who fatally shot DV suspect holding infant won’t be charged

By Mike Carter, The Seattle Times
Published: March 14, 2024, 7:40am

SEATTLE — No criminal charges will be filed against a Seattle SWAT officer who in 2020 shot and killed a 24-year-old man who was fleeing officers while carrying his infant daughter in Mount Baker, the prosecutor’s office announced Wednesday.

The King County Prosecutor’s Office said Officer Noah Zech, 40, was justified in firing a single round from his patrol rifle, striking Shaun Fuhr in the head as Fuhr fled through a construction site in the 4100 block of 37th Avenue South after police responded to a report of domestic violence and child abduction.

Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Joseph Marchesano, with the office’s Public Integrity Team, said that given what Zech likely knew when he confronted Fuhr, it was reasonable for him to fear for the safety of the child, his fellow officers and himself — and use deadly force to eliminate that threat, even though Fuhr was cradling the child.

Marchesano said dispatchers had relayed information from two 911 callers — including Fuhr’s partner, the mother of the child — who said he had beaten her, threatened to kill her and fired a handgun. The other caller at the nearby Rainier Playfield reported the gunshot and seeing a man tuck a gun in his waistband and run away with an infant under his arm.

The call prompted a large police turnout, including the SWAT team.

Other information that Zech likely would have heard included a report from the first responding officer, who identified the assailant and said the child’s mother had been badly beaten and likely had a broken arm.

Marchesano said at that point there was probable cause to arrest Fuhr on suspicion of felony domestic-violence assault.

A third 911 caller alerted police that he had seen a man with a child at the construction site, and officers spotted Fuhr rounding a corner and running behind a town house. Marchesano said officers, calling Fuhr by his first name, ordered him to stop.

Zech ran down a parallel street, and he and Fuhr came into the open at the same time, standing roughly 20 feet apart. Body-camera video shows Fuhr apparently starting to round the corner, child clasped to his chest with his right arm, his left hand out of sight, when he encounters the officer. Fuhr appeared surprised, and Zech fired a single round from his rifle, striking him in the head. The child was just inches from where the bullet struck.

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The Police Department said a handgun was found “nearby.”

The shooting caused a public uproar, despite later details that showed Fuhr had violated a protective order and assaulted his partner repeatedly for more than a day, Marchesano said.

Even though Fuhr was the father of the child, “officers had every reason to be alarmed” because of how he’d taken the child, Marchesano said.

“They had no idea what his intentions were,” the prosecutor said. The law allows officers to resort to deadly force if they reasonably believe someone poses a threat of serious harm to the officer or others, he explained.

The city’s civilian-run Office of Police Accountability previously found Zech’s actions fell within the department’s policies. The office also dismissed complaints of biased policing — Zech is white and Fuhr was Black — and failure to de-escalate the situation before resorting to deadly force.

King County Prosecutor Leesa Manion met with Fuhr’s family and their attorneys Wednesday morning before publicly releasing her office’s findings.

A federal civil-rights lawsuit from Fuhr’s family is pending against the city and Zech in U.S. District Court in Seattle. It names as plaintiffs Fuhr’s father and the infant daughter Fuhr was cradling when he was killed.

The lawsuit alleges she wasn’t in danger April 29, 2020, and that police, when they caught up with Fuhr about a half-hour after the initial call, could see he wasn’t armed, wasn’t threatening officers, and was complying with their commands.

“It’s unfortunate the [prosecutor’s office] feels there is insufficient evidence to overcome the officer’s defenses,” said Errin Loyal, one of the family’s attorneys, “Our legal team vehemently disagrees. Some cases need to be taken on for the sake of the fight; to make a statement that what happened to Shaun Fuhr was wrong.”

The NAACP Seattle King County, which last year issued a news release criticizing the Seattle police officer’s use of deadly force as unnecessary and demanding a thorough investigation, didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

In addition to an internal investigation by OPA, the city in a rare move had asked the King County Sheriff’s Office to investigate, along with the SPD’s Force Investigation Team and Firearms Review Board.