Monday afternoon the Auburn Police Department posted the below press release related to the officer-involved-shooting death of Enosa (EJ) Strickland, on their Facebook page. This timeline was created through the investigation of the Valley Investigation Team, headed up by Federal Way investigators. Their investigation is still on-going.
It should be noted that the VIT is one of three investigations into this incident. The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s office and the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office both perform their own separate investigations. The PCPAO will make the ultimate decision regarding any charges related to this incident.
In the early morning of May 20, 2019, two Auburn Police Officers responded to the scene of a reported disturbance at the Palermo apartment complex which concluded with the fatal shooting of 26-year-old Enosa Strickland.
Following standard protocol for all officer-involved shootings, the Auburn Police Department referred to the investigation of this case to the Valley Investigative Team (VIT) for independent third-party review. The Valley team is still investigating the incident.
The following is based on VIT’s summary of the investigation thus far:
12:48 AM Auburn officers are dispatched to the Palermo at Lakeland apartment complex regarding a possible domestic incident following a call to 911 by a female Auburn resident. The woman stated that Mr. Strickland, an acquaintance, had arrived at her apartment intoxicated and that she had asked him to leave several times but that he had refused to do so. After hearing the sound of glass breaking, she was concerned that he had damaged her car and called the police.
The female caller/witness later told investigators that Mr. Strickland had made repeated attempts to contact her, including multiple previous incidents over the course of the last few months, where Strickland came to her apartment late at night tapping on her door. The female had warned Strickland to stop showing up at her apartment late at night, uninvited and intoxicated; but he continued to do so despite her warning. She stated that when Mr. Strickland was intoxicated his behavior was erratic and that it scared her.
12:57 AM Two officers arrived on scene at the apartments and speak with Mr. Strickland in front of the woman’s apartment in his parked car. Officers noted that Mr. Strickland appeared to be intoxicated, based on the smell of alcohol, delayed movements, and bloodshot eyes. One officer went to speak with the woman while the other remained with Mr. Strickland. Officers described Mr. Strickland as initially respectful and cordial.
The witness indicated to the officer that there had been no physical violence, but that she felt harassed and simply wanted Mr. Strickland to leave.
1:08 AM After finding no damage to the woman’s car, officers determined that they would not arrest Mr. Strickland but that due to his intoxication he would not be able to drive his vehicle. Officers attempted to assist Strickland with making arrangements to get him home safely. Strickland’s phone was apparently not operable, therefore an officer allowed Strickland to use his department-issued phone to make multiple calls and arrange for a ride.
1:10 AM Mr. Strickland places a call to a family member using the speakerphone function to ask them to pick him up. Because Mr. Strickland is unsure of the address of the apartment, officers send a GPS pin drop to the family member following the phone call to provide them with their location.
1:15 AM Mr. Strickland uses the officers’ phone a third time to call the family member and ask how long it will take them to arrive, which they approximate at 10-15 minutes. The officers wait with Mr. Strickland to ensure that he does not attempt to drive his vehicle or return to the woman’s apartment.
In an interview shortly after the incident, the witness indicated that she had listened to the interaction outside through an open window and that the conversation began as civil but that Mr. Strickland’s demeanor changed during the last phone call and after began threatening the officers and using derogatory names towards them.
The witness at the scene further indicated that during this time the officers did not respond to his provocations but that he continued to become more upset, using profanity, and telling the officers that he would run them over and saying, that he could take them both. She also indicated that she was able to hear him hitting his fist into his hand as he spoke.
1:19 AM Mr. Strickland begins walking back and forth near his vehicle, raising his hand to his head then makes a series of rapid hand gestures.
1:23 AM Mr. Strickland steps forward, pointing and gesturing to the officers, then walks back to his car. He then steps forward again and remains animated for several minutes.
1:25 AM Mr. Strickland walks rapidly toward the officers, raising his right hand in an upper-cut motion toward the officer’s face. One officer responds by either pushing/jabbing Mr. Strickland, knocking him backward. As the second officer steps forward to assist, Mr. Strickland punches him in the face. Officers tackle Mr. Strickland to the ground. Strickland and the officer were initially face to face on the ground, however, Strickland was able to push the officer off of him and get to his stomach. The officers then manage to re-engage with one officer near his head and shoulder area and the other officer near his lower back.
Mr. Strickland continues to struggle with the officers on the ground, brandishing a knife in his hand. Officers instruct Mr. Strickland to drop the knife multiple times or he will be shot. The witness also hears the struggle between Strickland and the officers and she hears the officers yelling at Strickland to drop the knife.
During the interview process, both officers stated that despite their commands, Mr. Strickland continued to fight, attempting to free his hands and get to his knees.
Investigators later determined that Strickland either pulled the knife off of the officer’s equipment vest, or it fell and then Strickland armed himself with that knife.
1:26 AM Mr. Strickland continues to fight officers, failing to follow commands to drop the knife. Unable to control Strickland and that the officers feared he would use the knife against them, the officer located near Mr. Strickland’s upper body fires a single shot into the back of Mr. Strickland’s head.
(Time elapsed during ground fight: 33 seconds)
After the shot is fired, and the officer kicks the knife out of the hand of Mr. Strickland before handcuffing him and performing a vitals check. It is determined that Mr. Strickland is deceased.
The witness reported hearing the officers command Mr. Strickland to stop resisting multiple times and to drop the knife, but that he continued to struggle with them. She reported hearing what she believed to be a metal object hit the ground shortly before the gunshot. Investigators determined that before the gunshot occurred, the officer who discharged his firearm had a weapon that was malfunctioning causing him to cycle the metal slide to make the firearm functional. Following the event, the investigators located the knife, an ammunition magazine and one live round that was not fired near him. Investigators determined that the knife and magazine were stored in the same location on the equipment vest.
The event is partially captured on a police vehicle in-car camera from a distance away. In the video, the images are dark as it is partially capturing the event at night and is consistent with what the officers and witness recall seeing and hearing during the incident. These officers were not equipped with body cameras. Only Bicycle Officers, Motorcycle Officers, Animal Control Officers and Parking Enforcement Officers are equipped with a body worn camera.
Once the investigation is concluded, the Valley Investigative Team will turn the case over to the Pierce County Prosecutor for review.
The use of deadly force is a traumatic event and has impacted all of those involved. We understand the grieving due to this loss the friends and family of Enosa Strickland have experienced. Incidents like this are difficult and we appreciate the public’s patience during the investigative and review process.