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Originally published Thursday, May 9, 2013 at 8:49 PM

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Police explain lack of video record in fatal North Seattle shooting

Seattle police Thursday provided additional details about why there is no video record of a February incident in which officers shot and killed a mentally disturbed man outside his North Seattle home.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Seattle police Thursday provided additional details about why there is no video record of a February incident in which officers shot and killed a mentally disturbed man outside his North Seattle home.

The lack of dash-camera video or audio of the shooting has caught the attention of the court-appointed monitor overseeing police reforms and has prompted questions by the Seattle City Council’s Public Safety Committee.

Initially, the department said that eight officers responded to the 911 call of a hostage situation at the home, although the total number of patrol cars was not disclosed. However, on Thursday Seattle police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said 11 officers responded to the Feb. 26 call in 10 cars.

All of the cars were equipped with dashboard cameras. Five of the cameras were activated and five were not, Whitcomb said.

None provided any video of the shooting of 21-year-old Jack Sun Keewatinawin or the scene, Whitcomb said.

Audio of the incident should have been captured by body microphones worn by the five officers whose cameras were operating. However, Whitcomb said the transmitters apparently were out of range of the vehicles or had not been turned on.

He explained that, from a tactical standpoint, officers would not have activated their overhead lights or sirens — which automatically starts the dash camera — when approaching the home due to the nature of the call: that Keewatinawin was holding his father hostage at knife point.

Announcing their approach with lights and sirens could have aggravated what police believed was already a dangerous situation.

“This required a ‘quick and quiet’ response,” he said.

He said that most of the officers also parked some distance from the home, out of sight, so as not to alarm Keewatinawin. That explains why none of the events was captured on the video cameras that were operating, Whitcomb said.

The incident occurred at shift change, and Whitcomb said some officers sped from the precinct to the scene without logging into the precinct video system, which Whitcomb said is a “laborious and cumbersome” process that can take several minutes.

“In these situations, every second counts,” he said.

Whitcomb acknowledged that some of the officers had not been trained in using the dash-camera system, even though every patrol car in the department has been equipped with the cameras since 2007.

SPD policy requires that officers activate their dash cameras and record, if feasible, all enforcement-related activities. The officers also wear small microphones, turned on manually, that can capture conversations even when not on camera.

Interim Police Chief Jim Pugel said he is looking into the incident and the City Council’s Public Safety Committee has also asked for more information from the SPD on what happened.

The department is in the process of installing a new patrol-car camera system that is easier to use and involves multiple cameras on every vehicle, Whitcomb said.

According to police, Keewatinawin was shot after he brandished an 18-inch piece of steel rebar and approached an officer who had slipped and fallen on wet ground in a neighbor’s yard.

Before the shooting, officers had twice tried to use a Taser to control Keewatinawin, but the barbs failed to penetrate a thick jacket he was wearing.

Keewatinawin’s brothers, Montano Rojo Northwind Sr. and Hawk Firstrider, each called 911 after they received disturbing phone calls from their mentally ill brother. They said he raged about an imagined attack and stolen money.

The man’s father, Henry Northwind questioned the police version of events.

He said his son fell to his knees and pulled the rebar from his pants and that the officers surrounded him in a half-circle and opened fire. Northwind said he did not see an officer fall to the ground.

A court inquest to examine the shooting has been ordered.

Mike Carter: mcarter@seattletimes.com or 206-464-3706

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

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