In January 2017, 17-year-old Des Moines student Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens was shot to death by King County Sheriff’s officers during a misguided sting operation. The high school senior and his 16-year-old companion, DaJohntae Richard, had been set up by detectives to believe they were selling bottles of alcohol to a teenage prostitute as part of a transaction arranged on social media. The arrest team mistakenly believed that Richard had been involved in a hit-and-run days earlier that resulted in the death of 22-year-old Moises Radcliffe, the adopted son of a Seattle police officer.
Richard and Dunlap-Gittens were expecting to meet a 15-year-old girl when three plainclothes detectives jumped out of an unmarked van instead. A dozen rounds were fired at Dunlap-Gittens as the teenagers fled, hitting him at least five times before a fatal blow was delivered. Both of the boys had firearms, and the sheriff’s office initially and incorrectly reported that Dunlap-Gittens had fired at the deputies. The detail wasn’t revised for over a year, even after learning that neither boy had fired their guns.
“As he ran up the hill for the safety of his home, Chance was shot numerous times before the shot in the back of his head,” says a complaint filed by the high school senior’s parents, Alexis Dunlap and Frank Gittens. The complaint was filed in September 2019 and also claimed that the county had “failed to train, supervise and discipline the officers adequately and that the operation fell short in numerous ways, including by asking the teenagers to approach the van and by having the arrest team jump out at night while wearing street clothes and tactical vests.”
While the Sheriff’s Office conducted an internal review after the shooting that discouraged the tactics used by the undercover officers, none of the deputies were disciplined, and they were cleared of wrongdoing. The King County Office of Law Enforcement Oversight, which provides independent oversight of law enforcement authorities, commissioned an administrative review report of the incident. The oversight office sharply criticized the Sheriff’s Office for not following up with at least 20 recommendations in the report to improve its policies after the shooting. The Seattle Times reported that Michael Gennaco, a former civil-rights lawyer with the Department of Justice who has reviewed more than 600 officer-involved shootings, said no discipline or remedial action was taken against anyone, suggesting acceptance of a poorly planned and executed operation that fell outside department policy and cost a teenager his life.
A settlement for $2.25 million was announced on May 4, along with a promise by Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht to pursue a new policy requiring her deputies to use body and dash cameras. The policy is to be named after Dunlap-Gittens, and King County stated in the announcement that it “extends its condolences to the Dunlap-Gittens family and apologizes for the loss of life.”
Any motion to implement dash or body cameras into the King County Sheriff’s office requires approval from the King County Police Officer’s Guild, which has historically opposed such reforms.