Everett officer didn't act in self-defense, jury decides April 28, 2010
Everett officer did not act in self-defense, jury finds April 27, 2010
Seven bullets. One for each time that Niles Meservey was struck from behind as he sat in his white Corvette.
Beyond those bullets sat the man who pulled the trigger.
Everett police officer Troy Meade has spent 11 years sworn to protect and serve the community. He never wanted to kill anyone in the line of duty. Meade admits that he did just that.
On June 10, 2009, Meade encountered Meservey in his car in a dark parking lot behind the Chuckwagon Inn. Meservey was drunk and ornery. He refused to listen. He drove into a chain-link fence. He may have put his car into reverse.
Meade unholstered his handgun and fired eight shots into the back of Meservey's car.
Meade says the killing was in self-defense.
Deputy prosecutor Matthew Baldock called what the officer did murder. As he made his closing arguments Friday, he lined the bullets up to emphasize each point.
Now, it's up to a Snohomish County jury to decide if Meade was justified in pulling the trigger, or if he stepped outside the bounds of the law.
Meade is charged with second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter. He testified Thursday that he was afraid that he or his fellow officer Steve Klocker were in danger of being crushed by Meservey's car. He had no other options. There wasn't time to move. There wasn't time to try other tactics, he said.
Jurors deliberated for less than an hour before going home for the day. They are expected to return Monday morning.
Defense attorney David Allen in his closing argument urged jurors not to engage in any “horse-trading.” He feared jurors might consider a compromise and go for manslaughter instead of murder. While a less serious offense, a manslaughter conviction has the same consequences for Meade, Allen said.
It means “game over” for the officer, the attorney said.
Allen told jurors that prosecutors did not prove that Meade acted recklessly, and therefore he must be acquitted of manslaughter. Meade must also be acquitted of murder because he was justified when he fired into the car. He had no other reasonable alternative and he believed he and others were in imminent danger.
“Troy Meade never acted with malice. He always acted with a good faith belief his actions were justifiable,” Allen said, paraphrasing the jury instructions.
Meade acted reasonably when he repeatedly ordered Meservey out of the car, then used his Taser stun gun to try to subdue the drunken man. He fired when he saw the car backing up, Allen said.
“Police officers in certain circumstances have a right, a duty, an obligation to use deadly force,” to protect themselves and others, Allen said.
Baldock told jurors that police officers also have an obligation not to create situations where they must fire their guns.
“At the core of the defense's argument is not Lady Justice being blind but her turning a blind eye to what happened on June 10, 2009,” Baldock said.
He argued that Meservey's death could be traced to a series of rash decisions Meade made that night. He made bad tactical choices that “inched him closer and closer to that first trigger pull,” Baldock said.
Meade had nine minutes that night to figure out how best to deal with an uncooperative drunk who was in a car, boxed in on all sides.
“The best he could come up with was murder,” Baldock said.
Prosecutors are not police officers, Allen said. They haven't walked in Meade's shoes.
“If a situation ends badly, who gets blamed? The police,” Allen said.
Meade isn't guilty of a crime simply because he didn't park his patrol car in the optimal position or because he didn't continue to try to use his Taser or because he didn't retreat, the attorney said.
Jurors must base their decision on what Meade knew that night and what he perceived.
He had seen one of his fellow officers hurt by a fleeing car a few years earlier. Meservey gave no indication that he was going to cooperate, and when the car was put into reverse, the time for options was past.
“It's not officer Meade's fault. He was doing his duty,” Allen said. He wanted to call a taxi for Meservey, get him out of the car and protect him and the community.
Klocker, an eyewitness to the shooting, had time to assess the situation and move to a new position, Baldock said. He had time. Why didn't Meade?
Klocker's emotional testimony last week conflicted with nearly everything Meade told jurors.
Klocker testified that he saw Meade turn from the Corvette and say something like, “Enough is enough; time to end this.” Klocker didn't believe that anyone was in danger that night.
Allen warned jurors against putting too much stock in Klocker's testimony. He seems eager to take a bullet before he defends himself, the attorney said.
“I would say that's silly. I would also say ‘talk is cheap,'” Allen said.
Klocker's actions were not on trial, Baldock said. Meade's were.
Allen said Meservey didn't have a right to be drunk and behind the wheel. He didn't have a right to disobey a police officer's commands.
“Mr. Meservey is not a victim. We can all feel bad a human life was taken,” Allen said. “He's not the victim in this case. Troy Meade is the victim in this case.”
Meade's biggest crime that night was doing his duty, “trying to protect all of us here,” Allen said.
Meservey isn't blameless, Baldock said. He was drunk, trying to evade police and disobeying orders.
“He didn't deserve to be killed for that,” Baldock said.
Key figures in the trial
Here are key figures in the murder trial of Everett police officer Troy Meade:
Niles Meservey was fatally shot June 10 after he refused Meade's order to step out of his Chevrolet Corvette. The gunfire erupted after Meservey crashed into a parking lot fence outside the Chuckwagon Inn. Meservey was drunk. Jurors also heard he was depressed in the days before his death.
Troy Meade, an 11-year police veteran, insisted he was protecting himself and others when he opened fire. He said Meservey had put the car in reverse, and his options were to shoot or to be injured or killed. Meade hit Meservey with seven of the eight shots he fired.
Officer Steven Klocker, an eyewitness, said he saw no reason for Meade to shoot. Meade appeared frustrated with Meservey, and said something like “time to end this, enough is enough,” before pulling the trigger, Klocker testified. Meade denied making that statement.
Washington State Patrol detective Donald Cunningham, part of the special police team that investigated the shooting, said evidence shows Meade was about 3 feet back and 3 feet to the side of the Corvette when he opened fire. Meade probably wouldn't have been hit by the car if it had moved backward, he said. Testimony conflicted about whether the Corvette was backing up when Meade fired.
David Allen, Meade's attorney, was relentless in highlighting weaknesses in the testimony of witnesses who suggested Meade broke the law. His witnesses said Meade's actions were consistent with police practices. He also drew attention to a 2006 incident in which Meade fired his handgun at a suspect who ran down another officer with a car. A police expert testified that perceptions in risky situations can be distorted by past and present exposure to danger.
Deputy prosecutors John Adcock and Matthew Baldock questioned Meade's police tactics and justification for shooting Meservey. They argued there were multiple options for resolving the situation short of ending the man's life.
Gerald Knight, the longest-serving judge in Snohomish County Superior Court, was typically unflappable, even when a juror fainted after seeing graphic photographs of Meservey's gunshot wounds.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; email@example.com.
What the jury must consider
Here, in brief, are the questions facing jurors in the Troy Meade murder case. The actual jury instructions fill 27 pages.
Jurors have been told to first consider Count 1 — second-degree murder. If they vote to acquit on that charge, they must then consider Count 2 — first-degree manslaughter.
To convict on second-degree murder: The jury must find Meade acted with intent to kill, but without premeditation, and that his use of deadly force was not lawful or justifiable. Prosecutors must prove no reasonably effective alternative appeared to exist; and the amount of force used was not reasonable. Actual danger is not necessary for a homicide to be justifiable.
To convict on first-degree manslaughter: The jury must find that Meade killed Niles Meservey by engaging in a reckless act that he knew posed a substantial risk of death or injury. The disregard for another's safety must be a “gross deviation from conduct that a reasonable person would exercise in the same situation” and not legally justifiable.
A police officer is not criminally liable for using deadly force if it is without malice and he believed it was justified. Jurors must take into consideration how the circumstances appeared to the defendant. Meade has claimed he acted in self-defense, and prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the killing was not justifiable.