In response to an officer-involved shooting of a homeless man, police accountability watchdogs are calling for reform.
On the morning of July 30, Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers responded to a call from a security guard, who reported that he was attacked after he asked a homeless man to extinguish an illegal campfire at Gasworks Park, said Detective Patrick Michaud, a spokesperson for SPD.
Police officers met the man, Larry Flynn, at the park and tried to de-escalate the situation, Michaud said. Flynn broke a glass bottle and brandished it at officers, Michaud said.
Two officers attempted to use Tasers to subdue Flynn, but they had no effect. Police say Flynn advanced on the officers, two of whom opened fire, hitting Flynn multiple times. Flynn died later that morning at Harborview Medical Center.
Michaud could not say how many bullets hit Flynn.
Activists with the Oct. 22 Coalition, an organization that protests police violence, held a vigil for Flynn at Gasworks Park Aug. 3. Women in Black, which organizes memorials for homeless people, will hold a silent vigil Aug. 13 at the Seattle Justice Center on Fifth Avenue for Flynn and seven other homeless people who have died recently.
“These aren’t isolated incidents,” said Cynthia Whetsell, a member of the Seattle chapter of the Oct. 22 Coalition.
The Seattle-King County Chapter of the NAACP is looking into Flynn’s case and hoping to contact family members and hear how they would like to respond to the incident.
“We’re not sure what direction we can take without knowing what the family wants to do,” said KL Shannon, who manages police accountability efforts for the NAACP. “All we know is this homeless black man was slain. We’re hoping that there’s definitely an investigation.”
According to SPD’s Michaud, Flynn is one of at least two homeless people SPD officers shot and killed since Officer Ian Birk killed Native woodcarver John T. Williams in 2010.
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a report that found that SPD officers have a pattern and practice of excessive force. SPD is now under a court-ordered reform effort that includes revising how uses of force are investigated.
Under the reform effort, SPD uses a Force Investigation Team to investigate all uses of force, including in Flynn’s case, Michaud said.
The Force Investigation Team is made up of sworn officers who only investigate police actions.
If the investigation team finds evidence that there is any criminal liability, the case goes through an inquest.