Seattle, WA – The family of a 17-year-old who was shot and killed by King County sheriff’s detectives in 2017 will settle a civil-rights lawsuit for $2.25 million.
King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht issued an apology to the family of the teen and promised to pursue a new policy that would require her deputies to use body and dash cameras. The policy was named in honor of the teenage shooting victim, Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens.
According to Tiffany Cartwright, the Seattle civil-rights lawyer representing the teen’s mother, the settlement also includes a provision that Johanknecht will meet with Dunlap-Gittens’ parents and go over the office’s upcoming response to a report on the shooting issued by the county’s Office of Law Enforcement Oversight in February.
In a brief joint statement announcing the settlement, King County stated that it “extends its condolences to the Dunlap-Gittens family and apologizes for the loss of life.”
The teen’s father, Frank Gittens, said the non-monetary provisions of the settlement, including the push toward dash and body cameras, is a “major victory and I think Chance will be smiling down on us.”
“I don’t want any other family to go through what we went through,” he said. His attorney, James Bible, said that a “lot of work remains to ensure this agreement is lived up to.”
Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens was a 17-year-old high school senior who wanted to be a lawyer, when he was killed as he tried to flee from three plainclothes detectives on the night of Jan. 27, 2017.
The detectives jumped from the back of an unmarked van on a dark street and chased Dunlap-Gittens and his 16-year-old companion, DaJohntae Richard.
Both teens had been deceived by sheriff’s detectives into believing the van contained potential customers who wanted to purchase bottles of alcohol Richard had been trying to sell on social media. According to Richard’s testimony, Dunlap-Gittens was with him because he was helping him carry the bottles.
Inside the van was actually an arrest team that mistakenly believed Richard had been involved in a hit-and-run accident two days earlier that killed the adopted son of a Seattle police officer.
The first deputy out of the van and the officer who fired the first shot, identified as Sgt. Todd Miller, had been one of the first deputies on the scene of car accident and had tried to save the dying man’s life. Questions were raised internally about whether Miller might have been emotionally invested in the case and whether he should have been in the van.
The other deputies who fired were Joe Eshom, who fired three rounds, including the fatal shot to the back of Dunlap-Gittens’ head; and Reed Jones, who fired eight rounds. The raid had been planned, in violation of sheriff’s department policies and protocols, by Detective Mike Garske, according to department findings and court documents.
After the shooting, all the deputies were cleared by a King County Coroner’s Inquest. None of the deputies were disciplined or charged.
Both Richard and Dunlap-Gittens had guns when the encounter took place. Richard said they had the guns because they were worried they might get robbed.
Detectives said Dunlap-Gittens reached for his weapon and they shot him to defend themselves.
The sheriff’s office initially reported that Dunlap-Gittens had fired at the deputies and didn’t correct that information for more than a year, even after tests showed that neither Dunlap-Gittens’ or Richard’s gun had been fired.
Dunlap-Gittens was shot five times, with four of the bullets striking him in the back as he ran up a driveway toward his apartment. One of the bullets hit him in the back of the head. He died later that day.