SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash — Spokane County has agreed to a $1 million settlement to the family of a man with mental illness, who was shot and killed by a Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputy in 2019, while he was unarmed. County Commissioners unanimously approved the settlement on Tuesday during their meeting.
"A million-dollar settlement speaks louder than any denial of wrongdoing. It's never enough, and it won't bring Ethan back, but his mother is going to use it to do great things for people struggling with mental illness in the Inland Empire," attorney Braden Pence said in a statement provided to KREM 2 News.
The family of Ethan Murray, 25, said he struggled with mental illness. Deputies were called to the Mirabeau Apartments in Spokane Valley in May 2019 after reports Ethan was running around the complex without a shirt and behaving strangely.
Investigators said he was threatening deputies, claiming to have something in his pocket and ignoring commands. Deputy Joseph Wallace chased Murray outside the complex while yelling commands and identifying himself as a deputy, according to the prosecutor’s office. Eventually, the prosecutor’s office claimed Murray took a defensive stance and raised his arms as if he would punch Wallace.
According to the prosecutor’s office, the deputy claimed Murray pulled what he believed to be a knife out of his pants pocket. Believing Murray meant to stab him, Wallace pointed his pistol and shot Murray several times, the prosecutor’s office said.
Investigators never found a weapon on Murray but determined the object he pulled from his pocket was a pair of black sunglasses.
The Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office determined that Wallace was justified in his use of lethal force because he had a reasonable belief that Murray was armed with a deadly weapon and posed a threat to him.
The family of Murray filed a Civil Right lawsuit against Spokane County and Deputy Wallace in July 2021. The firms that represented Ethan's estate and mother include Mazzone Law Firm and Budge and Heipt. The $1 million settlement will bring an end to the lawsuit.
"Many things about this case made us want to go forward to trial. In the end, the County's offer communicated at least some respect for Ethan’s humanity and for the toll his death took on his family. For Ethan's mother, Justine, the lawsuit was always about shedding light on the systemic bias that mentally ill people face. The end of the case does not mark the end of her grief or her advocacy," Pence said.
Since his death, Ethan’s mother has launched the Ethan Murray Fund which says it offers financial support for mental health, homeless and addiction services.
Full statement from attorney Braden Pence:
A million-dollar settlement speaks louder than any denial of wrongdoing. It's never enough, and it won't bring Ethan back, but his mother is going to use it to do great things for people struggling with mental illness in the Inland Empire.
It was difficult to accept that a County deputy “accidentally” dropped a knife hours after the shooting that happened to perfectly match the knife described by the shooter, but it was simply shocking that the County allowed the dropped knife to be removed from evidence without further investigation. This sequence, the "accidental" dropping of the knife followed by its sudden disappearance from the chain of custody, stinks of a coverup.
The 30-day delay in the shooter’s statement is emblematic of the double-standard afforded to officers. Anyone who kills in the name of self-defense faces immediate arrest and questioning, except for law enforcement officers, who typically get a month of paid leave before having to answer any questions, followed by a promotion, as the shooter received in this case.
What had Ethan done to deserve deadly force? It is an indisputable fact that he was unarmed, that the 911 caller described no crime, and that the massive investigation following the shooting resulted in no corroboration of shooter’s claim that Ethan had “threatened” anyone. During the days leading up to the shooting, multiple other officers successfully interacted with Ethan without resorting to escalation or violence. Before the shooter chased Ethan into the woods, the police presence was working: Ethan was walking away from the officers and public.
There were some disputed facts in this case, but those would have been easily resolved if the shooter had been wearing a body cam. We are relieved that County deputies have finally begun wearing this essential equipment.
Many things about this case made us want to go forward to trial. In the end, the County's offer communicated at least some respect for Ethan’s humanity and for the toll his death took on his family. For Ethan's mother, Justine, the lawsuit was always about shedding light on the systemic bias that mentally ill people face. The end of the case does not mark the end of her grief or her advocacy.