Portrait by Kelly Bjork

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“We’ve responded to shootings in progress but not to the extent of what this incident became,” said Officer Anthony during the July 2013 inquest of the officer-involved shooting that occurred at the Twilight Exit. Like Anthony, I’d also been asked to testify in court. After my turn, I stuck around and watched everyone give statements. The case took three days. On the stand, Officer Anthony was a sharp-looking man with a fit build, tan skin, and an upright posture, and he wore his hair shaved to military standards. Early on, the deputy prosecuting attorney established Anthony’s basics. He was originally from Nebraska, he said, he was 31 at the time, and he was employed by the City of Seattle as a Patrol Officer. Prior to his job with the Seattle Police Department, he spent eight years in the United States Army. He joined when he was 19. After basic training, he became an infantry soldier, which is “a grunt, basically.” In the years following, he was deployed twice, both times to Iraq. Anthony served as an infantry squad leader in the first tour. In the second, he was promoted to platoon sergeant and had forty soldiers directly under him. Among his many duties, Anthony was responsible for planning and executing various missions, everything “from Search and Rescue; to what we call Search and Destroy—basically, going out and trying to find the bad guys,” he said. There was also the task of “winning the hearts and minds of the local populace,” he said, but “the biggest priority for me was to make sure that my soldiers all came home in one piece and alive,” he said.

The night of the shooting at the Twilight Exit, Officer Anthony was covering the east precinct in the Central District during third watch, or the 7:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. shift. He wore the standard-issue uniform: a sky-blue button-up collared shirt, a visible gold badge, several official SPD patches, navy cargo pants, a gun belt. He was working with a partner that night, a different guy than usual. The men played paper-rock-scissors for driving privilege, and Officer Anthony lost. Hours in, during a routine patrol, the officers spotted a couple teenagers running from a store and ended up arresting one. Then they returned with him to the precinct to start paperwork. That’s when emergency tones sounded over the police radio, followed by the announcement of a shooting-in-progress at the Twilight Exit. Officer Anthony knew the location well. It was within his district, and he’d been inside the bar “a few times on related police matters: car prowls, theft of purses, suspicious people. Things of that nature,” he said. To Anthony and his partner, the young man’s crime no longer seemed important. They released the teenager so they could respond more immediately to the scene. Officer Anthony grabbed the car keys from his partner, as he was “going a bit slow for my taste.” He activated the lights and sirens while he drove. “We were flying down the streets pretty fast,” he told the attorney. “We were hauling, sir.”

En route, another broadcast came on, indicating the situation involved “multiple victims and the suspect was still inside the bar.” Another broadcast came moments later, indicating there was an open line, meaning a caller was on the phone with 911 and wasn’t free to talk—but people could be heard yelling in the background, and a gunshot had sounded. Officer Anthony considered this caller’s situation. Perhaps the caller was within earshot of the suspect, or perhaps the caller was hiding while the suspect made “his way through the bar trying to find other people,” said Officer Anthony. When the gunshot sounded, the situation became “what we call active intelligence, which means we know for a fact that something is going on as police are responding,” he said. “I figured we needed to get there as soon as possible to save some lives,” he said. “I think I mashed the pedal down to the floor.”

When Officer Anthony arrived on scene, he parked his vehicle and quickly approached the building. Several witnesses stood outside in groups, pointing in the direction of the bar as he moved past. They were “visibly hysterical, upset, crying,” he said. As Officer Anthony got closer to the Twilight, he saw a group of officers gathered around a door and preparing entry. They’d picked the wrong door, the main entrance was around the corner and up the alley. “I tried to get their attention and yelled, ‘You can’t get in there, you gotta go this way, you gotta go this way,’” he said. As he ran through the alley, Officer Anthony remembers slipping in a pool of blood. “That was the first thing I knew,” he said. Once he got to the Twilight’s doorway, he joined two officers who were already stacked near the door with guns drawn. A female witness suddenly appeared from nearby, probably Lexi. “She actually had blood on her, on her clothing. She was obviously scared. I didn’t have very long contact with her,” Officer Anthony said. “She ran at me, directly at me, as I was running towards the door. [She was] saying, ‘He’s shooting people, he’s shooting people inside.’ All I said was, ‘Go, go, go.’ It didn’t appear that she was injured… I just wanted her to get immediately out of the area so we could address the threat inside the bar,” he said. Anthony saw “a couple other people towards the dumpster. I didn’t notice exactly who was there or what they were doing,” he said. (It’s likely he was referring to me, outside with Steve. Greg was with us too, but he was around the corner and out of Officer Anthony’s view.)

Moving swiftly, Officer Anthony positioned himself alongside the entrance. “I think training just kicked in. It almost becomes second nature, habit if you will, that we respond in the way that we’re supposed to,” he said. Officer Anthony didn’t find out who was behind him until much later, but he and the others had automatically formed an entry team. “It’s what we call a Diamond Formation,” said Sergeant Marc—he’d supervised the officers that night and provided separate testimony. As the sergeant explained, one person goes in front, two are off to the sides, and one is at the end. The unit moves together, while each person covers a unique section of the room in accordance with his position. The formation “gives a more concentrated front, and it’s the greatest field of view, with the most eyes out. The men aren’t stacked up right behind each other, looking at somebody’s back,” he said. “We move these folks in very quickly, giving loud verbal commands, and then we would move to what we call contact. That is, making eye contact or voice contact with the suspect. At that point, we try to either start some kind of negotiation or, we stop the acts of violence through force… Generally, it’s deadly force at that time, sir.”

As explained in court, the officer’s formation response was in compliance with their active-shooter training, according to Sergeant Marc along with the lead investigator Detective Frank. As police guidelines indicate, someone is considered an active shooter if he is armed, if he has potential victims in place, and if he has made an action to do harm. The strategy was developed just after the Columbine shooting. “It was determined we needed to have a more viable option of how to interdict these folks while they were actively harming people,” said Sergeant Marc. “Instead of responding by doing stopping and containing, as police officers historically have been taught, they are taught to immediately form what we call an entry team, to enter the affected area and to address and eliminate the threat as quickly as possible before there could be any more loss of life,” said Detective Frank.

Let’s get back to the Twilight now. As Sergeant Marc described, the structure of the building’s entrance created more obstacles for his team. The door rests in a small cove at the end of a slanted walkway, and “it’s a very tight space in there. It’s what we could call a Fatal Funnel, which is where we have very limited movement laterally. So if someone was to try to harm us, or shoot at us, or throw something at us, we don’t have very much protection. There’s always potentials for ricochets, and if you can’t move, you’re always able to get hit,” he said. “That’s our most vulnerable point, when we’re forced to go through that door, and the bad guys know it. We’re wanting to limit the amount of people that we’re gonna put in. My goal is to clear that Fatal Funnel as quickly as I can, and get the [officers] into a more open space where we can take advantage of cover.”

Photo Credit: Seattle Police Department

Officer Anthony stood before the entrance. “I was extremely nervous because I finally realized I was actually the Point, or the first person going into the bar. This meant there was nothing protecting me as I entered the door other than my gun and my body armor,” he said. Anthony said he’d been a point man “many times” prior. As the position demanded, Anthony would be responsible for leading the group to locate the suspect once the team made it inside the building. At the time, Anthony believed the suspect was a white male and he was holding a gun, but it was difficult to recall much more about him. As Anthony described his emotional state, “I’m about to enter probably the most terrifying situation that I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. “You know, I’ve been through this before in the military. It doesn’t get any easier. As a matter of fact, the more you start entering these types of situations… the more that you come to realize what is about to happen,” he said. “The fact is, I can actually hear a female screaming inside the bar. I can hear a muffled man’s voice that is definitely angry. I could not tell you what he was saying. But you could hear the animosity in his voice… And the fact that I’ve been in this bar, [and I know there are] many places that somebody with a gun that just shot two people could be hiding and waiting for police. Because we came in with our lights and sirens. Whoever’s in there with a gun right now knows that the police are coming in,” he said.

“I physically told myself, ‘Breathe.’ Before I did anything, I just kind of looked at the door, and I took a deep breath just like this, and I tried to refocus,” he said. “At that point, sir, my whole sole responsibility is to keep my focus and all my attention on what is directly in front of me. That door becomes the primary entry because that’s the only way into the bar. I didn’t give an affirmative tap, I didn’t say anything to anybody. I basically waited until I felt somebody behind me pushing me. And then I just opened the door, sir, and yelled ‘Seattle Police.’” (Sergeant Marc had been standing just behind Anthony, and he’d made this nonverbal command. In typical training, “I would take my left hand and then slap him on the shoulder so that he knows that I’m gonna make entry with him, but it also kinda lets him know that at that point he needs to move,” said the sergeant.)

Officer Anthony swung the door outward, but before he or anyone behind him could prop it open, the door swung itself closed. “My nerves played into it,” said Anthony. The motion had allowed him a quick glimpse inside. “The entryway into the bar was in complete disarray. There was some blood on the floor, chairs had been knocked over. The bar was eerily quiet. I couldn’t hear anything now, and I didn’t see anybody,” he said.

“I calmed my nerves once again by taking a deep breath,” Officer Anthony said. He swung the door a second time, and an officer behind him propped it open as Officer Anthony entered the building. “I was able to freely start taking small steps into the main area of the bar. I yelled ‘Seattle Police’ twice,” he said. “I wanted to clearly announce myself not only to the suspect in hopes that we would have a peaceful end to this situation, but to also let everybody else know who was trapped inside that help was coming.”

Anthony observed a blind spot in the lounge, along the far wall, just beside the u-shaped bar. It seemed like a potential place for someone to hide. “I had to forcefully will my legs to start walking towards the bar,” he said. “Within a moment, a male stood up from the exact spot," he said. (In his written statement, Anthony described the suspect as a bald white man in a gray long-sleeved shirt.) "He immediately took one step. The first thing I noticed was the most intense look I had ever seen on a human being. He had something in mind. He stared directly at me, never once wavering his eye contact with me. I believe he had every intention now of shooting at officers and not willingly giving himself up. As I was staring directly at him, he continued to walk out from behind the bar and completely into view. He was no more than twenty feet away from me. He said something that I could not make out. I clearly watched as he brought his right arm from below his waist. As he was raising his right arm, I could clearly see a dark, almost a light-brown colored semi-automatic handgun clinched in his right hand,” said Officer Anthony. “As I perceived it, the world’s starting to slow down, sir. As I told people before, it literally felt like the most loneliest I’d ever been.”

Anthony heard a single gunshot, saw James’s right arm rise from the recoil, and saw a muzzle flash. “I felt something zing past my ear, then I felt a sharp little thud in my shoulder. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was,” he said. (“I thought maybe I did get shot. I had a slight hole in my uniform shirt that I found later. I’m not sure what caused it. To this day I still can’t tell you what exactly, if anything, actually hit me,” Officer Anthony later added.)

Sergeant Marc summarized the rationale behind the response that followed. When someone is “bent on taking their action, then we have to take our action,” he said. “Once somebody starts shooting at us, they’re not gonna generally stop. So we need to protect ourselves, to go home at the end of the night to our families. So we have to engage that person and the best way to engage in limited area like this is to open fire with handguns and return fire, sir.”

To Anthony, things continued to feel slowed-down, he said. “When I initially started firing… I didn’t even think I was hitting him, and I kept shooting until I actually saw him start to fall,” said Anthony. Once James was on the floor, Anthony said he stopped firing immediately. When the attorney asked for details, Officer Anthony discussed the fundamentals of marksmanship. He mentioned his department’s standard handgun had “a little tritium dot at the front of the barrel that glows and then two little ones at the back that also glow. We try to line them up so they’re perfectly even with each other, which means the gun is in line. You focus on the front sight… Whatever you’re shooting at is supposed to be somewhat hazy, somewhat blurry. That helps to give you the best, most precise rounds at the time,” he said. “We make sure we have a clear shot because we don’t want any errant rounds to strike innocent bystanders. We’re taught to aim at the biggest part of the body, which tends to be the upper torso. It’s usually the quickest way for us to eliminate a threat. We’re trained to shoot until the threat has stopped—which means he is no longer able to actively engage us or actively able to harm anybody else until we can render the scene completely safe to provide aid,” said Officer Anthony.

Inside the Twilight, and after the suspect James was down, the other officers moved to search for victims and secure the building. In the initial chaos, witnesses had provided a range of descriptions for the shooter. The officers were told the suspect was a white male, but then other people said he was black, so there was a chance there was more than one suspect involved, remembers Anthony. In the midst of these duties, Sergeant Marc had an officer handcuff the suspect James. Though he appeared deceased after receiving multiple gunshot wounds, Detective Frank explained the gesture was protocol. (The cuffs “completely eliminate a threat to the safety of everyone. This person has already shown he’s a danger to the officer and to others. There’ve been situations in police experience where you may think a person is down and out, and all of a sudden—and I’ve personal experience with this—all of a sudden, they’re not down and out. They’re up. There may be weapons in close proximity, and it’s just best practices to alleviate that problem,” said Frank.) Moments later, Sergeant Marc directed Officer Anthony to stand over the suspect, which was another protocol in an officer-involved shooting. “It allows the officer to catch his breath and gather his thoughts and compose himself or do what he needs to do to get himself right,” said Officer Anthony.

Afterwards, Officer Anthony was escorted from the bar in order to “get away from the ensuing media and everything else that was coming.” As he waited in a patrol car a couple blocks away, Anthony grew introspective. “I was very thankful nobody else was injured. You also have the time to process and understand that you were just involved in possibly taking the life of another human being, which is something nobody wants to do unless they absolutely have to,” he said. “You think about things you could’ve done better, you think about things that could’ve went wrong, but all in all, you try to be as thankful as possible. And if you’re religious or not, I said a quick little prayer.”