By Michael Rigby
One day after he used a fake gun to escape from a courthouse in Tacoma, Washington, a "three-strikes" prisoner was killed by police in a bungled raid that left one officer wounded. Family members allege the unarmed man was never given the chance to surrender, even though he sought to do so.
The Escape and Shooting
Harold McCord Jr., 36, was no doubt thinking about his future as he sat in a Pierce County courtroom for a brief hearing on June 23, 2003. Convicted a month earlier in the kidnapping and assault of his girlfriend at a Tacoma bus stop, McCord, who had previous convictions for robbery in 1988 and 1991, had been sentenced on June 13 to life in prison without parole under the state's "three-strikes" law.
As the hearing ended around 10 a.m., McCord bolted from the courtroom. One of the courtroom officers chased McCord into the hallway and tackled him. As they fought, McCord pulled out a fake gun, which had been made from cardboard, toilet paper and black ink, and held it to the officer's head.
"Two other officers who were several yards away saw the incident happen and lowered their weapons," said Pierce County sheriff's spokeswoman Lauren Pawlawski. McCord then fled the building. Once outside, McCord hijacked a pick-up truck and drove off. The fake gun was found in the road.
The next day Pierce County investigators received a tip that McCord was hiding out at a Monroe apartment complex in Snohomish County. At around 4 p.m., eight tactical officersfour from Monroe and four from Bothellused a battering ram to knock down the door of McCord's suspected hideout and stormed the apartment. When the police entered, McCord, who was hiding in the bathroom, "started yelling, `I've got a gun,'" said Snohomish County sheriff's spokeswoman Jan Jorgensen.
Monroe police sergeant Eduardo Jany then sicced his police dog on McCord. But when the dog couldn't get through the partially closed bathroom door, Jany told investigators that he feared for his life and fired. The other officers followed suit with a flurry of gunfire, hitting McCord seven times, an autopsy showed.
Jany, 39, was also hit in the fusilladeshot with an AR-15 by Monroe officer Jason Southard. Jany suffered a wound to his left forearm and the amputation of part of his right ring finger, said Monroe Police Chief Tim Quenzer.
Although police at first said that a gun had been found in the apartment, the weapon turned out to be Jany's. McCord was unarmed when he was killed.
After the shooting, Eliza Kruse, 51, a family friend, was arrested and charged with aiding McCord's escape. According to police reports, Kruse and an unidentified manwho later informed police of McCord's whereaboutspicked McCord up in Seattle and drove him back to Kruse's apartment. Kruse later said the escape, which included plans to get McCord false identification and sneak him into Canada, was partly contrived by her husband, James Mathis. Mathis is a prisoner at the Monroe Correctional Complex and the brother of McCord's stepfather, who is also imprisoned at MCC. Kruse also alleged that McCord's family threatened her repeatedly to obtain her help in the escape.
Kruse eventually pleaded guilty to a single count of first-degree rendering criminal assistance. At her sentencing on August 27, 2003, Kruse was sentenced to eight months in jail and fined $500.
Police believe at least five more people aided in McCord's escape. However, Kruse's arrest will probably be the only one because, if a family member aids in an escape, it is considered only a misdemeanor under state law.
A report released by the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office on October 6, 2003, indicated that the raid was botched from the beginning.
To begin with, police entered the apartment without knocking or identifying themselves, even though they did not have a "no knock." warrant. It's risky when heavily armed police storm homes, said Everett attorney Mark Mestel, who won millions of dollars in the 1990s for Snohomish County residents who lost family members or were injured in bungled police raids. "You can see the inherent danger in this when the police start shooting each other," Mestel said. "Certainly, the police can't think that is a good idea."
Moreover, though a negotiator was on the scene, police chose not to negotiate with McCord or use other tactics to get him out of the apartment.
Carl Mack, president of the Seattle branch of the National Association of Colored People, said he's concerned race may have played a role. McCord was black. "I certainly don't believe negotiating tactics were used," he said. "Our concern is excessive force was easily being used against people of color."
The report also noted that police endangered lives by not evacuating the apartment complex, though it was teeming with kids. Witnesses said at least 20 children were hanging out in the playground, swimming in a nearby pool, and running around the parking lots during the raid.
The report further noted that when Jany tried to send his police dog into the bathroom, it became confused and frenzied, biting another officer instead.
The most damning condemnation of the raid, however, comes from McCord's family, who believe that McCord wanted to surrender but was never given the chance.
"My brother was definitely murdered," said McCord's older sister, Kenuetta McCord.
Kenuetta and Ron Thomas, McCord's cousin, said McCord had called another relative shortly before the raid. During the conversation, McCord reportedly said, "`I want to give myself up. What do I do? I don't know what to do.' That was the last thing our family member said came from Harold.'" Thomas said. Thomas added: "He didn't have time to give himself up. We want to know why."
The family's attorney, Bradley Marshall of Seattle, noted that McCord had been shot in the shoulder, chest, buttocks, arm, hand and both thighs, according to the autopsy report. Marshall said the report "indicates that (McCord) was on his knees with his hands behind his back in a surrendering position," when he was shot.
McCord's family called for an inquest early on, but legal wrangling about which countyKing or Snohomishhad jurisdiction, delayed any decision. McCord was killed in Snohomish County but died at Seattle's Harborview Medical Center in King County. After a court hearing on November 4, 2003, King County announced that it would conduct an official review of McCord's death.
However, an inquest only collects information about an incident. Snohomish County prosecutors will still conduct their own investigation to decide if any of the police involved in the raid should be criminally charged. In Washington history, no inquest jury or prosecutor has ever found a police shooting to be unjustified. McCord's shooting death was no exception. On May 10, 2004, a King county inquest jury held that McCord's shooting was justified. The next day, on May 11, 2004, Snohomish county prosecutors announced no police would be criminally charged in McCord's death.
In June, 2004, McCord's ex wife and six children filed claims against Snohomish county, the city of Monroe and Bothell as a prelude to filing suit against the entities for their respective roles in McCord's death.
Another Escape, Another Shooting
Though McCord's death received much media attention, many suspicious shootings by police in Washington receive relatively little scrutiny. Just over a month after the McCord incident, police shot and killed another unarmed escapee.
Thomas D. Guinn, 33, a prisoner serving 175 years for rape and kidnapping, escaped from the Stafford Creek prison near Aberdeen on August 29, 2003. According to prison officials, Guinn attacked a gardener about 10 a.m. and stole his truck, using it to crash through an outer fence. Guinn then abandoned the truck and scaled a second fence topped with razor wire.
Following a trail of blood, police and prison guards located Guinn approximately 90 minutes later. He was hiding in the woods about a mile from the prison.
Terry Pernula, the prison's spokeswoman, said authorities ordered Guinn to surrender but he refused, so they shot him. Guinn was pronounced dead about 1:30 P.M. at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
Sources: The Seattle Times, Everett Herald, Associated Press, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, www.komotv.com
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login