On Wednesday, August 14th, the Auburn Reporter published an article addressing the two recent fatal Auburn police officer-involved shootings. This article was subsequently published in the Auburn Reporter’s print edition on August 16th. Unfortunately, the article contained several factual errors.
Though the Auburn Examiner did not initially publish this article, we feel it is vital to ensure correct information is provided to the public. With that in mind – here are updates, verified through multiple sources:
May 20th Officer-Involved Shooting
Shortly before 1:00 AM on Monday, May 20th, officers reported to the Palermo apartments off Lake Tapps Pkwy. They were dispatched to a verbal domestic dispute call. Officers contacted Enosa (EJ) Strickland, 26, in the complex parking lot.
A physical altercation occurred between the two officers and Strickland. During this altercation, Strickland displayed a knife. This knife is believed to have either fallen from or was taken off one of the officers. After commands were given to drop the knife, one shot was fired by an officer. Strickland died at the scene.
As is standard protocol, both officers were placed on paid administrative leave. The Valley Investigation Team and Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office both ran independent investigations into this shooting. A full timeline issued by the Federal Way Police was published June 10th.
Commander Kurt Schwan with the Federal Way Police Department confirmed that their “investigation was completed last week and was sent to the Auburn Police Department.”
According to Adam Faber with the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, their “investigation remains ongoing. I don’t have a timetable or estimated finish date for it.”
Officers Involved Returned from Admin Leave
The primary officer returned from administrative leave June 15th. The second officer in this incident returned from leave May 28th. APD Chief Bill Pierson made the decision to have the officers back to duty.
City of Auburn Communications Manager Kalyn Brady explained that during VIT investigations updates are provided to the department and the Prosecuting Attorney’s office. “Through the process, depending on where an investigation is, the Chief and Commanders are hearing back from that team. [They provide] what they’re finding, where they are, and how they feel the investigation is going. The Chief will take that, especially given that we are so low on officers, and weigh what he is hearing and make a determination on the larger public safety versus whether this will progress one way or another,” said Brady.
Brady explained that the Strickland case moved through the VIT investigation much quicker. “They are far enough into [the investigation] that the Chief has been told that the officers may have made an accurate call,” said Brady. “They are not done with the investigation. But what it is pointing to is they are not finding malice in their actions. So, that is why they are returned to duty. Which is not to say that as the investigation evolves, they won’t be pulled from duty if they find something that makes it clear there was wrongdoing.”
May 31st Officer-Involved Shooting
Officers responded to calls reporting a man throwing things at cars and kicking things just after 6 PM on Friday, May 31st. An officer contacted Jesse Sarey outside the Sunshine Grocery Store on Auburn Way North.
Witness statements indicate the officer informed Sarey he had to leave the property. When Sarey refused, the officer attempted to arrest him. Sarey’s alleged resistance led to a physical altercation. During this altercation, the officer shot Sarey twice.
Sarey was transported from the scene to Harborview Medical Center. He died in the hospital June 1st.
Like the officers in the May 20th incident, the officer involved in this shooting was also put on paid administrative leave. The Port of Seattle Police, as a part of the Valley Investigation Team, took on the investigation of the shooting.
The investigation into the fatal shooting of Sarey is still ongoing. Port of Seattle Public Information Officer Peter McGraw explained that “the difference in the two cases is that this one includes a lot more evidence collected. Therefore [it] requires more time to reconstruct, making for a more complicated investigation. The objective is to have a thorough and complete report, and officers are still working on a couple of unresolved issues at this point.”
“There are so many different components to [the incident], which is part of why this investigation is taking longer,” said Brady. “They are taking the extra steps to re-create the scene. Using technology to align the different dashcam videos and audio recordings [they are re-creating] the scene as to how the entire incident unraveled.”
Brady explained that investigators examining the shooting of Strickland were able to watch the dashcam videos and listen to witness testimony to understand how events unfolded.
Returned to Admin Duty
The officer involved in Sarey’s shooting returned from administrative leave on August 13th. The officer is on administrative duty and is limited to work within the station. Auburn Police Commander Steve Stocker explained that this decision also was one made by the Chief. “The Chief was like ‘I don’t want him sitting at home doing nothing. Let’s get him back into the station, around his peers, doing some work here. Do some in station reports, being productive.’ Which is good for people’s psyche, especially after a shooting like this.”
The Auburn Reporter’s article also included the June 28th shooting at the Belera at Lakeland Apartments. This shooting was mistaken for the May 20th officer-involved shooting. This incident was in no way involved with either officer-involved shooting.
According to police, this fight involved four men. One was shot and killed at the scene, and three were injured. According to Stocker, two of the wounded “showed up” to Multicare Auburn Medical Center and the third was admitted to Tacoma General Hospital. Medical Units transported none of the injured.
This incident remains under investigation by APD Detectives.
Correcting the Record
On Tuesday, August 20th, I reached out to Auburn Reporter editor Mark Klaas to address the published errors. After that discussion, a corrected article was published on-line by the Auburn Reporter. Unfortunately, incorrect information remained within the article.
Ensuring accurate information is published is a vital role journalism plays in our democracy, even at the local level. While anything published for public consumption deserves care to confirm facts, an article of this nature that impacts so many deserved far more consideration.
Choosing to report an error made by another media outlet is not an easy decision. The owners of the Auburn Examiner had multiple discussions as to the potential ramifications of publishing an article of this nature.
“Sometimes, when faced with ethical choices for which there is no “right” answer, journalists can only follow a process that [considers] the interests of various “stakeholders,” Irwin Gratz, Society of Professional Ethics Committee. In this case, the stakeholders are the public. After consulting the SPJ Code of Ethics and SPJ Ethics Line, we concluded it was the correct action to take and in the best interest of the public.
“Accuracy is one of the most important principals of ethical journalism,” Zoe Berg, SPJ Communications Coordinator
The Auburn Examiner is guided by the ethical codes and principles of both the SPJ and Radio, Television, Digital News Association. It is our practice to have two sources whenever possible, also preferring to have supporting documents. We have declined to continue with stories when we cannot confirm facts. Getting it right and maintaining the trust of our readers is what is most important to us.
As a freshman outlet, we know we still have far to go and plenty of room to grow. With those growing pains has and will come mistakes of our own. We have and will continue to acknowledge our mistakes when we make them and will do our best to learn from them. Because just as credibility is the heart of journalism, it is equally critical that accountability remains in journalism.