Niles Leo Meservey, a 51-year-old resident of Stanwood, Washington, was drunk and belligerent when he slumped into the seat behind the steering wheel of his Corvette last June 10.
Meservey had been cut off by the bartender after he had inflicted his unwanted attention on a couple of women at a nearby club, briefly dragging one of them onto the dance floor.
Several people were worried about the prospect of the intoxicated man attempting to drive home when he clearly presented a risk to himself and others. One of them, Trisha Tribble, called 911.
“We’re really concerned about a guy leaving the parking lot of Chuckwagon [Inn] on Evergreen Way — in a white Corvette, he’s extremely intoxicated,” Tribble told the dispatcher.
Several officers from the Everett Police Department soon arrived; among them were Troy Meade, an 11-year-veteran, and Officer Steven Klocker. Meade arrived at about 11:39 PM; Klocker reached the scene a little less than five minutes later.
At the time Officer Meade arrived, Meservey was hedged in by cars on either side of his Corvette, and cut off by a parking lot fence in front of him. Meade pulled up behind Meservey’s car, effectively boxing him in.
Joanne Hancock, who was smoking outside the Chuckwagon Inn when the police arrived, went inside to tell others concerned about Meservey that “They’ve got him!” The news prompted a small group of people to go outside to watch the arrest.
By the time Klocker arrived to provide “backup,” Meade had spent perhaps five minutes trying to convince Meservey to get out of the car. Klocker would later report that Meade’s tone and attitude toward the intoxicated man were “belligerent,” and that he “used language which made him [Klocker] uncomfortable because of the nearby civilians.”
“I don’t know why the f**k I am trying to save your dumb ass,” Meade snarled at Meservey, according to Klocker’s account.
Both Meade and Klocker withdrew their portable electro-shock torture devices (more commonly called Tasers). Meade, who was closest to the driver, shot Meservey with his Taser through the open driver’s side window, inflicting two separate strikes — one five seconds long, the other six seconds’ duration.
“Why in the f**k did you do that?” muttered the drunken man, who — predictably enough — didn’t want to stick around for any more abuse. He reached for his keys and started the car, but he had nowhere to go: It lurched over a concrete curb and ran into an unyielding chain-link fence.
Bear in mind, once again, that Meservey was entirely boxed in. It was possible, albeit with some difficulty, for Officer Meade to reach through the window and seize the car keys, rather than escalating the situation by using potentially deadly force.
But Meade’s pointless escalation didn’t stop with the two Taser strikes.
After Meservey’s brief attempt to drive away, Meade — according to the official police account — took up a position near the left rear wheel of the Corvette, and pulled his gun.
“Time to end this,” bellowed Meade, according to Klocker. “Enough is enough.” From a distance of six to seven feet, Meade fired eight shots into the car, murdering Meservey.
When several other police officers arrived a few minutes later, Meade was seen pacing back and forth near the murder scene.
“I’m out of it,” he exclaimed to one of the new arrivals. “I want my Garrity.”
The “Garrity Rule” — adapted from the 1967 Supreme Court ruling Garrity v. New Jersey, which involved a ticket-fixing scandal — triggers an enhancement of the right against self-incrimination that only the government’s armed enforcers enjoy: Any statements made after the magical Garrity incantation is uttered can only be used for the purpose of a departmental investigation, not for criminal prosecution.
Klocker, who witnessed the entire incident, pointed out to investigators that when Meservey’s body was pulled from the car, the prongs of Officer Meade’s Taser were still firmly embedded in his shoulder.
“I’m thinking as I ‘m dragging him … why didn’t we [shock] him again?” Klocker told investigators. If escalation had been “necessary,” Klocker thought, Meade would have used the Taser again, or resorted to pepper spray. “I would never have shot [Meservey]… I don’t think we had reached that level of force yet,” Klocker concluded.
What seems obvious to someone not indoctrinated in the state’s view of discretionary killing is this: There was no reason to use force of any kind in this situation, beyond the minimal amount necessary to take the keys away from Meservey. Once that was accomplished, the intoxicated man had nowhere to go, and it would have been a matter of patiently waiting for him to leave his car, or fall asleep.
Rather that choosing an approach of that kind, Meade (who was involved in a prior lethal shooting a few years ago) went up the escalation ladder very quickly — vaulting from confrontational and abusive language to lethal violence within a matter of minutes.
Meade did provide an ironic service of sorts by offering such a compelling display of the fact that citizens face the risk of lethal violence in every encounter they have with law enforcement personnel. Making that point was obviously not worth the price of a man’s life.
Meservey’s daughter has filed a $15 million wrongful death claim against Everett. Meade has been charged with first-degree manslaughter and placed on paid vacation (aka “administrative leave”); unlike a private citizen charged with lethally shooting an unarmed man six times in the back, Meade is loose on his own recognizance.
Meade’s attorney defends the murder as the result of a “split-second decision” (it wasn’t, as we’ve seen) and predicts, with tragically justifiable confidence, that the officer will be acquitted in court. It’s entirely likely that Meade wouldn’t have been indicted if it weren’t for rising public concern over recent police shootings in Everett.
Trisha Tribble, who called 911, was mortified by the death of Meservey, whom she described as “this drunken guy, [who] was obviously out of his mind.”
“There was no reason for him to die,” she commented after the slaying.
And that was the trouble with Tribble’s actions the night of June 10: Any time we seek “help” from the state’s armed enforcers, we’re effectively inviting them to use lethal force.
(Thanks to LRC reader J.C. Warren for the tip.)8:03 am on November 1, 2009 Email William Norman Grigg