Meeting brings more tough questions for Bellevue police

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by HEATHER GRAF / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @HeatherGrafK5

KING5.com

Posted on April 22, 2013 at 11:44 PM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 23 at 6:10 AM

SEATTLE -- It's been exactly one month since Bellevue Police stormed a South Seattle neighborhood and shot and killed a robbery suspect.  On Monday, angry residents who say it never should have happened held a community meeting aimed at getting answers.

Bellevue Police Chief Linda Pillo was in attendance, along with several members of her team who were closely involved in the incident.

It happened as Bellevue Police tried to serve a warrant on a robbery suspect in Seattle.  Pillo says suspect Russell Smith tried to run over the officers with his vehicle.  She says the officers involved feared for their lives and had no choice but to shoot him.

Neighbors on 43rd Avenue South, many of them families with young children, were forced to hunker down inside their homes as it all played out.

"Pop! Pop! Pop! I assume it was gunfire, I've never heard that before," said resident John Russell.

He was one of several residents to tell their version of the police shooting at Monday's community meeting.

"As many of you know, on March 22nd, our dead end little street, our sweet little community turned into a war zone," another resident said, choking up as she addressed the crowd.

Members of the Seattle Police Department who were present at the meeting apologized that they didn't better communicate with residents in the area, and promised to do better next time.

From Chief Pillo, concerned residents got an apology, but few answers.

"I am so sorry that you went through such a frightening experience, and I thank you for sharing your stories," she said.

Major Mike Johnson, also with the Bellevue Police Department, said he the community would get each one of their questions answered, in time.

"When all the dust settles, you will have the answers," he said.

Still, his responses to several of the crowd's questions seemed to further anger residents.

"From my vantage point, folks, we were hoping to contact and arrest a career, violent criminal," he said.  "We had options.  We had options.  We believe this was the best option."

That statement did not sit well with the victim's family, sitting in the front row.

"Just arrogant, about 'yeah, we took his life and he was a career criminal and that's what we do with career criminals, we show up with tanks and we shoot them down'," said Smith's brother, Gregory Cook.

Residents aren't alone in their frustration with Bellevue Police.  Several Seattle City Council members have already demanded an explanation.

Even the Deputy Mayor spoke up at Monday's meeting, questioning whether Bellevue Police would have done what they did, had they been serving a warrant in Bellevue.

The crowd erupted in applause at that comment.

Chief Pillo says she wishes she could provide a better explanation, but won't be able to until the investigation into what happened is complete. 

That could take several months.

Until then, she says she is standing by the actions of her officers.

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