SEATTLE, WA – The family of MiChance Dunlap-Gittens, a 17-year-old Black youth killed in 2017 by suburban Seattle sheriff’s deputies as they fired shots
into the rear of his body, late today filed a federal lawsuit against King County, Washington and County Sheriff’s Deputies Det. Michael Garske, Sgt. Todd Miller, Det. Joseph Eshom and Det. Reed Jones. Dunlap-Gittens, known as “Chance” to his friends and family, was a few months away from graduating from high school when he fell victim to a recklessly designed and supervised sting operation. Officers fired off a hail of 12 bullets, some of which struck Chance in the rear of his head, leg, and buttocks while others bore into the rooms and walls of an occupied nearby apartment.
The preventable tragedy began when the officers set up a sting operation to catch a 16-year-old friend of Chance’s whom they wrongly believed was involved in the death of an officer’s son two days earlier. Neither youth had anything to do with that crime.
Learning via surveillance on Facebook that the 16-year-old was trying to get customers to sell alcohol to, King County sheriff’s deputies used a phony Facebook account to set up a sting. Pretending to be someone interested in purchasing the alcohol, they set up a meeting in Des Moines, WA, a southern suburb of Seattle, with an undercover van loaded with armed sheriff’s deputies. When the youths arrived at the meeting point, the deputies immediately burst out of the van and began shooting. This was an entrapment by Deputies that senselessly and carelessly left a teenager dead.
While some officers later claimed Chance drew a gun when they leapt from the van, the physical evidence defies this assertion: Chance’s arms were holding several bottles of alcohol that the sheriffs had induced the boys to carry to the van when he fell to the ground after being shot numerous times.
In addition to the actual shooting, the whole operation speaks to horribly over-the-top mismanagement by department leadership, “about the supervision and oversight of an undercover operation that employed 15 deputies and detectives, a helicopter and a K-9 unit to arrest a 16-year-old boy,” said an investigative article in the Seattle Times.
While the officers made statements justifying their killing of Chance, the Times noted that Eshom “had been singled out previously for statements he reportedly made in a 2009 use-of-force incident that ending up costing King County $10 million. He and his partner — neither clearly identified as police officers — chased a man for several blocks in downtown Seattle before his partner shoved the man into a wall, resulting in a catastrophic brain injury. According to sworn testimony, a paramedic said Eshom told him the man ran into the wall head-first and injured himself. Surveillance video surfaced showing Eshom’s partner pushing the man hard and intentionally into the wall. The county settled the lawsuit. The victim died in 2015 from his injuries.”
Similar important contradictions appear in the deputies’ accounts of Chance’s killing. In an interview recorded that evening, a neighbor said he saw a deputy pick up a gun and move it closer to Chance’s body. The state crime lab found none of Chance’s DNA on the gun, the chamber was unloaded, nor had it been fired.
A copy of today’s lawsuit, Alexis Dunlap, individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of MiChance Dunlap-Gittens; and Frank Gittens v. King County, Michael Garske, Todd Miller, Joseph Eshom and Reed Jones, No. 2:19-cv-01535, can be found here.
Chance’s mother, Alexis Dunlap, and his estate, are represented by Tiffany M. Cartwright and Timothy K. Ford of the law firm MacDonald Hoague & Bayless, David B. Owens of Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law, and Patricia Bosmans of P. Bosmans Law. Chance’s father, Frank Gittens, is represented by James Bible of the James Bible Law Group.
MacDonald Hoague & Bayless is a civil rights firm dedicated to expanding freedom, justice, equality, and opportunity for all, working for more than 65 years on issues of national importance, ranging from loyalty oaths at the height of the Cold War to restrictions on immigration and abuses of police power today.
Loevy & Loevy is one of the nation’s largest civil rights law firms and has won more multi-million-dollar jury verdicts than any other civil rights law firm in the country.
James Bible is a nationally recognized attorney specializing in personal injury and criminal defense who practices in the State of Washington.