Seattle Police Mock Slain Teen With Fake Tombstone Displayed In Break Room
Bodycam footage has revealed the disturbing display Seattle police officers used to mock the Black Lives Matter movement and the death of a young Black male.
Newly unveiled bodycam footage from January 2021 shows the break room decorations at the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct that included a mock tombstone marking the death of Damarius Butts, 19, and a flag in support of Donald Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign, The Seattle Times reports.
The footage was obtained as part of a lawsuit over Seattle’s graffiti laws following the arrest of protesters who used chalk and charcoal to write political statements on a precinct exterior wall. Bodycam footage from one officer responding to the vandalism report sweeps the room and shows the Trump flag, a U.S. flag, and a silhouette of a tardigrade—tiny organism known for its extreme resilience, as noted by Live Science.
The bodycam also captured a shelf display featuring a small gray mock tombstone bearing the name Damarius Butts, his age (19), and the date he was killed by officers on April 20, 2017. A small black fist sat above Butt’s name.
The teen was fatally shot by police after fleeing a robbery at a downtown convenience store where he had displayed a handgun and demanded beer. After officers chased him down, an exchange of gunfire took place that left three officers injured—including one seriously, with a bullet in his chest. Butts suffered 11 gunshot wounds and died at the scene.
The police shooting was cleared by the department, and an inquest jury found the shooting justified. But amid the release of the bodycam footage, Butts’ mother is calling for a public apology from the department for tormenting a family that is still grieving.
“I can’t express how hurtful it was to learn that SPD endorsed joking about the killing of my son by displaying a fake tombstone with his name on it,” Ann Butts said in a statement through her attorney, La Rond Baker.
“I didn’t think SPD could take more from me, I was wrong.”
The department has since released a statement claiming they did “not know how that item ended up on storage shelving, we have no reason to believe it was placed as a ‘trophy’ or with any pejorative intent.”
Noting the strong presence of Black Lives Matter protestors following the murder of Georg Floyd, the department said the mock tombstone might’ve been left by the demonstrators.
“Protesters often placed items such as these commemorating subjects of the use of force locally and nationwide around the precinct,” the department said. “It would not be unexpected that items left at the precinct might land on a storage shelf until disposition.”
As for the Trump flag, that was in possible violation of state law and department policy that blocks officers’ involvement in partisan politics while on duty. The department claims the flag was removed and is unaware of who hung it.