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Investigative report provides details into Bellevue SWAT fatal shooting
Whether Bellevue SWAT members were justified in fatally shooting Russell Smith as he allegedly attempted to strike officers in his car in what seemed to be a desperate attempt to flee a blocked dead-end street in Columbia City, and explaining the differing perspectives among law enforcement about the events of March 22, will likely be taken up during an inquest hearing potentially starting next year.
Considered a career criminal by law enforcement, Smith, 51, already had an extensive rap sheet before officers responded to his residence on the 5000 block of 43rd Avenue South in Seattle with an arrest warrant. Smith was suspected of at least three robberies in Bellevue and two in Seattle going back to November 2012. He was believed to be armed and dangerous.
A 428-page investigative report submitted to the King County Prosecutor's Office ahead of a six-member jury inquest hearing – ordered by King County Executive Dow Constantine in June – provides more than a dozen accounts from Bellevue and Seattle police officers there that morning. None of the residents witnessed the fatal shooting as all had been asleep at 5 a.m. and awoke to the sounds of gunfire and explosions.
With Seattle SWAT down the road ready to provide back-up, Bellevue officers approached Smith's home expecting to catch him and his brother, Rydell, 46, off-guard. Rydell Smith was suspected of aiding his brother in committing the robberies, but was not home at the time of the warrant services and later cleared as a suspect.
A Seattle laborer, Smith was found warming up his Mercedes Benz in the driveway of his residence. Bellevue SWAT members approached the vehicle – all officers reporting in their statements – wearing tactical gear plainly identifying them as police.
Bellevue Ofc. Ben Bradley reports after Smith was ordered out of his car, he heard someone trying to break out a window before the vehicle was put in reverse. Ofc. Jacob Childers was identified as trying to break out the passenger-side window with the butt of his rifle as Smith reversed down the driveway and then struck a pickup, pointing his Mercedes south toward the dead-end side of the street.
Bellevue Detective Bryan Hershberger reports seeing Smith's face before he accelerated forward toward officers on the sidewalk leaving them little clearance to move out of the way.
“I could see Russell get a very angry facial expression on his face," Hershberger reported. "Russell scrunched his eyebrows and glared at me as I pointed my duty rifle at him. I yelled, 'POLICE! STOP' several times in a loud clear voice.”
However, Bellevue Ofc. Curt McIvor reported seeing Smith shift gears in his vehicle and then crossing his arms over his eyes as he accelerated toward the officers, who were able to move to either side of the Mercedes as they opened fire.
“I saw one team member (unknown) firing with their rifle when they were in front of the car near the passenger side of the front bumper," reported McIvor. "I saw the team member continue to fire and step to the side to avoid being struck by the vehicle, ending up by the passenger door.”
Jacob Bement, Casey Hiam and Jacob Childers, all 28, were identified as the shooters responsible for the 21 shots that struck the Mercedes and the eight that struck Smith, all bullets striking him in the left side, except the fatal head shot through his right. An investigator would later report all 21 shots striking the vehicle would have slowed the velocity of the bullets and minimized the threat to surrounding neighbors.
McIvor reports Bement and Hiam later joined him to continue serving the warrant at Smith's home where his brother was believed to still be inside. All three officers involved in the shooting were later relieved and sent to the Seattle Police Department.
Seattle Police Sgt. Kevin Aratani reports Seattle SWAT members moved in on Smith's location following the gunshots, but were told to stand down.“Upon arriving and running towards the suspect's residence, we were all ordered back out as the scene was not safe and secure," Aratani reported. "We asked if there was an outstanding running suspect and were told no.”
Smith was officially declared dead at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle – though he was considered dead before arriving – where Bellevue Detective Ellen Inman responded to recover his clothing and other personal items to turn in to the Seattle Police Department. Bellevue Police Chief Linda Pillo requested the Seattle agency handle the officer-involved shooting investigation. Among Smith's belongings turned over by Harborview staff was a plastic bag containing miscellaneous pills, reported Inman. No firearms were recovered from Smith's body or vehicle.
A Washington Department of Corrections officer reported Smith showed up at the Seattle office at least once a month and no substances were found in his urinalyses. Officers had a chance to arrest Smith at the office prior to March 22, but reported lacking enough evidence at the time.
The jury inquest hearing was slated to start last week at the Bellevue Courthouse, but was delayed after Smith's family retained an attorney. A pre-inquest hearing is now set for Dec. 19 with a hearing date not yet set.
Read a statement released by Bellevue Police Chief Linda Pillo following the shooting here.