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Washington´ Tukwila to pay $350,000 to settle lawsuit by man hurt in police shooting

Mike Carter, The Seattle Times on

Published in News & Features

SEATLE — The city of Tukwila has agreed to pay $350,000 to settle a federal lawsuit filed by a man who was seriously injured when an officer accidentally shot him in the back during a late-night stop and altercation.

Francko Gratton was shot in the back by Officer Jessica Armstrong after Tukwila officers responded to an early morning report of a suspicious vehicle in a neighborhood on Nov. 13, 2020. Gratton was in the car with his girlfriend, according to pleadings.

The car belonged to Gratton's aunt and it had stolen license plates. When police discovered this, they pulled up behind the running vehicle, emergency lights flashing, and tried to contact the driver on a loudspeaker, according to a recitation of the incident contained in court documents. When neither Gratton nor his passenger responded, three officers approached the car with weapons drawn.

Armstrong, who came up on the driver's side, was armed with an AR-style patrol rifle, according to investigative documents filed in Gratton's federal lawsuit. The documents note the driver's side door abutted bushes and that the car's windows were fogged.

One of the officers on the passenger side made contact with Gratton's girlfriend, who rolled down her window and spoke to them and, at their request, stepped from the car. An officer asked if she knew the license plate was stolen, and she replied, "I have no idea."

Gratton, sitting on the driver's side and talking to the officer through the open passenger door, said he didn't know anything about the stolen plate, but then put the vehicle in reverse and began to back up, turned the steering wheel to the right, and appeared ready to shift the car into drive, according to police reports and court documents.

Tukwila Police Sgt. Phil Glover jumped through the open door, grabbed the gear lever, and shoved it into the park position, according to the pleadings. He struck Gratton with a flashlight and repeatedly told him get out of the car, according to documents, which rely partly on body-camera video of the incident. Glover is heard yelling, "Hey! Don't do ... Do you want to get shot!? Do you want to get [expletive] shot!?"

At the same time, Armstrong — who was at the driver's door — was trying to open it when Gratton suddenly quit struggling, opened his door and attempted to exit the car.

 

"Officer Armstrong began to pull Plaintiff from the vehicle with her left hand when her rifle, which she was holding in her right hand, discharged," wrote U.S. District Judge Tana Lin, in an order that ordered the case to trial. Armstrong "already had her rifle pointed at Mr. Gratton's back and her finger on the trigger," the order noted.

The .223-caliber round entered his upper back, glanced off his scapula and exited a few inches away, according to a doctor's notes filed as an exhibit in the case.

The judge found adequate evidence for a jury to weigh whether Armstrong was negligent or used excessive force, but dismissed Gratton's claims the officers were racially motivated.

"Francko continues to live with the trauma of having been shot in the back by a law enforcement officer," said James Bible, one of Gratton's attorneys. "The physical injuries have healed, but the emotional scars remain."

The pleadings indicate Armstrong was on four months' administrative leave following the shooting, which was determined to be an accidental discharge due to improper handling of the weapon.

An internal investigation sustained charges of violating that policy and the department's use-of-force policy, and Armstrong was disciplined with two days off without pay and required to receive additional training.


©2024 The Seattle Times. Visit seattletimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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