ARLINGTON – A federal civil-rights lawsuit filed Thursday contends two Arlington police officers used excessive force two years ago when they shot and injured a suicidal teen wielding a pocket knife downtown who disobeyed their commands to get out of a car.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of Nina Semone Robinson claims the officers “radically escalated the severity of the crisis” by using force to pull the distraught 17-year-old from her vehicle, breaking a window and pulling her out by her hair.
Officers used a Taser twice to no effect on the teen before firing a total of nine rounds at her, the lawsuit alleges.
The Arlington Police Department has not yet been served with the lawsuit related to the shooting that occurred Feb. 14, 2017.
However, city officials said an independent investigation by the Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team done immediately after the shooting cleared both officers in the use of force. So did the county prosecutor.
SMART is a team of investigators, evidence technicians, records specialists and public information officers from various Snohomish County law enforcement agencies and the Washington State Patrol who respond to, and investigate, police-use-of-force incidents, including law-enforcement-involved fatalities and serious injury incidents.
The morning of the shooting, several people called 9-1-1 to report a person lying in the middle of the road near East Division Street and Olympic Avenue, screaming and crying intermittently. When officers arrived minutes later, they tried to talk to the girl, who was reportedly distraught after a fight with her boyfriend, who was also at the scene, and said she assaulted him.
The girl refused the officers’ commands to get out of the road, walked toward her car, got into the driver’s seat and locked the doors before yelling and rummaging around for something in the center console, according to a search warrant. Officers had the options to detain her for an involuntary commitment or probable cause to arrest her for assault.
When ordered to show her hands, she tapped the blade of a knife on the driver’s window, then held it up to her throat, the search warrant states. An officer drew his weapon and held his weight against the door as the girl tried to open it, while the other officer broke out the passenger window with a baton and deployed his stun gun.
Both officers told investigators the girl lunged at the sergeant with the knife through the broken window, the search warrant notes.
One of the officers said the girl then crawled through the window and faced him. He used his stun gun with no effect. He tried again. The other officer said the girl advanced toward him as he retreated.
The teen, he said, was about 15 feet from him when she raised the knife above her head. He opened fire.
Statements said the girl was told multiple times to drop the knife, and when one of the officers believed the other was in imminent danger, he started firing, too. The girl stumbled to the ground, and both officers rendered aid.
The lawsuit contends that the police department had failed to carry out Crisis Intervention Training that has been on the books for years.
City spokeswoman Kristin Banfield said that at the time of the shooting, the officers had been trained in crisis-intervention techniques to the standard required by state law. The independent investigation showed that the officers repeatedly attempted to de-escalate the situation, including deployment of a Taser to prevent injury to the plaintiff, the officers and bystanders.
Robinson pleaded guilty to two counts of assault on a police officer, admitting she attempted to assault the officers to force a “suicide-by-cop” scenario.
Police Chief Jonathan Ventura said, “This is an unfortunate situation for the plaintiff, and we empathize with her and her family.”
The police department will be unable to comment further due to the pending litigation.