In June 2017, a Kent police officer shot and killed Giovonn Joseph-McDade, 20, after a traffic stop turned into a car chase. According to the police, Joseph-McDade tried to run an officer over after getting trapped in a cul-de-sac, and the officer opened fire, killing him.
In the summer of 2018, Kiana Keni and her sister Kerina released a track on Soundcloud called “Justice for Giovonn,” a 4:43-minute song that put the police on blast, questioning the chain of events and demanding accountability.
“Officers are the new gangsters / You don’t know if they’re going to kill or save you,” Kerina Keni raps as a slow siren wails in the background and Kiana croons backup vocals.
The Keni twins’ cousin, Iosia Faletogo, helped them produce the track, which grew from a shorter, stripped down version originally released on YouTube in July 2017, just weeks after the shooting, into a rich, evocative piece of music. On New Year’s Eve 2018, Faletogo was shot at close range by Seattle police officers. A compilation of body camera and dashboard camera footage shows Faletogo fleeing a vehicle on foot and being tackled by police. Faletogo had a gun, but it fell out of his hand during the struggle.
In the audio, an officer says, “He’s reaching.” Then comes the shot.
At a press conference held in the Seattle Vocational Institute on Jan. 4, Kiana Keni told reporters that her cousin was “a man of many talents and ambitions” who had always supported her and others in their musical endeavors. He wanted to be a producer, she said.
“We are his voice now and we are going to continue to speak for Iosia because we want justice,” Keni said.
Faletogo is the first person killed by police officers in King County since Washington voters passed Initiative 940, a measure that requires additional police de-escalation training, an independent investigation into police killings and lowers the standard for prosecuting a police officer who uses deadly force.
Now Faletogo’s family, working with community organization Not This Time, are speaking out about Faletogo’s life and demanding a transparent investigation into the shooting, which the Seattle Police Department has already begun. Because the city of Seattle is under a Department of Justice consent decree, it’s not clear that the requirement for an independent investigation applies in this case.
“We need an independent investigation where cops are not investigating their friends,” said Andre Taylor, who founded Not This Time with his wife, Dove, after Seattle police shot and killed his brother Che Taylor in February 2016.
“We need an independent investigation where cops are not investigating their friends."
Although Initiative 940 went into effect in December, a month after it received overwhelming support in King County and was passed by voters statewide, elements of the law have not been completely worked out, including the details around the independent investigation. Taylor is one of many trying to hammer out those nuances.
In the meantime, he called on King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg to hold police accountable.
In previous shootings, including that of Taylor’s brother, the prosecuting attorney’s hands were largely tied by Washington state law which required attorneys to prove that a police officer had acted with malice while using deadly force, an extremely high standard.
“Well, Mr. Dan Satterberg, that law no longer exists, and we expect you to follow the law, the new law,” Taylor said.
The family used the emotional press conference to introduce their image of Faletogo to the world to counter what they described as an incomplete narrative advanced by police and news media after his death.
Their Faletogo was a devoted father and loving family member who was ripped from their lives by officers all-too-ready to open fire. They painted a portrait of a man who took his sons to the carnival, who loved music and football, who taught other men in his family the value of vulnerability and who loved his mother’s chicken soup.
His aunt, Kerina Ngauamo, told reporters that on the day of his death he hadn’t been feeling well and had asked his mom to make the dish, which she did.
It is these simple moments of love and family that shone through in their retelling of his life, of him coming over and complimenting his aunt’s home on Christmas, of family barbecues and values. He was supposed to spend the New Year with them.
“We waited,” Ngauamo said. “Unfortunately, he never showed up.”
Ngauamo said that it took the police seven hours after the incident to inform the family, and that they hadn’t yet been able to see his body. His father, Mane Faletogo, said that the cemetery had told him that they needed to reconstruct his face. Faletogo was shot in the head.
Mane Faletogo acknowledged that his son had a criminal record. According to the Seattle Times, a judge in Alaska put him on probation in June after he pleaded guilty to bringing heroin to an Alaskan town called Petersburg in 2014. However, the Times reported, the judge believed that he was doing the work to turn his life around.
When Faletogo died, he was carrying $1,160 in cash and a vial containing 263 pills that tested positive for fentanyl — a powerful opioid — and acetaminophen, a common ingredient in over-the-counter pain medication.
But there is more to his memory than the circumstances of his death, the family said. Faletogo had recently quit his job with the city of Seattle due to an injury and wanted to do everything in his power to give his young sons every advantage in life. The family will take turns taking care of the kids, Mane Faletogo said.
“Even now at bedtime they ask, ‘Where is my daddy?’” Ngauamo said. “How do you answer that?”
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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