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South Seattle Neighbors Want Answers About Police Action

KUOW Photo/Patricia Murphy

On March 22, 2013,  around  5:00 a.m., a SWAT team from the Bellevue Police Department showed up at a tiny dead-end street in Seattle's Columbia City neighborhood. They were there to arrest a suspect on a warrant for robbery.

Things did not go smoothly.

The suspect, 51-year-old Russell Smith, was shot and killed by Bellevue police. The frightening incident locked down the neighborhood for hours. Now, neighbors want answers about how this happened and how decisions were made.

Neighbor Karin Kallander says she and her 11-year-old daughter hunkered down as the concussion grenades exploded.  

“There was like 19 gunshots. It was like 'dah-dah-dah-dah-dah,' that kind of sound. And at that point we thought that we were being attacked,” says Kallander.

She says everyone was scared and confused.

Kallander says police weren’t telling them anything. Her husband says police pulled suspect Russell Smith’s body out of the car and left him lying in the street.

After the shooting, she says Seattle SWAT showed up too. “I don’t even know how many police cars were here," Kallander says. “We were literally watching an armored vehicle pull up and watching men put on their bulletproof vests and load their military style weapons, put on helmets. “

Then she says things took a turn towards the surreal.

“There’s a coffee van that pulls up for all of them and people are walking around with boxes of doughnuts, I kid you not," says Kallander. "They’re standing around chatting, drinking coffee. And my daughter's out in the yard and I ask them, should we be concerned and they say 'no.' Half of me believes him because they're just standing there drinking coffee. But the guy next to him is loading his semi-automatic assault rifle. It was weird. It was weird.”

Seattle police say that when Bellevue SWAT officers arrived that morning to serve the warrant, they discovered the suspect sitting in the front seat of his car which was parked in the driveway. They say that when Smith saw the officers he forcefully backed up his car, while ignoring commands to stop. Police say Smith then hit a parked truck, switched the car into drive and stepped on the gas.

Three Bellevue officers shot and killed him. The officers have since been placed on leave.

Neighbor John Russell had a bird’s-eye view that morning from his house across the street. He says many neighbors dispute police accounts of what happened.

“We all have different parts of what we saw and what we heard that don’t add up," Russell says. “I think certainly for me and for some folks, it gets to a fundamental issue of who gets to decide how to serve a warrant and it’s not your neighborhood police, what’s the oversight? What are the protocols?”

He says neighbors are still trying to recover from the incident. “My daughter still wakes up three weeks later. She’s still waking up and she can’t go back to sleep,” says Russell.

Seattle police say they’re investigating.

Tonight, city leaders and police from Seattle and Bellevue will meet with neighbors to hear their concerns.

Seattle City Council President Sally Clark plans to attend. Clark and Seattle Councilmember Bruce Harrell have both voiced their concerns over the actions of the Bellevue Police Department and have asked for a complete accounting of events.

John Russell will attend the meeting but he doesn’t expect to get many answers.  He understands that an investigation may take time. All they can do right now he says is keep asking questions.