The estate of a 26-year-old man who was shot and killed by an Auburn police officer in 2019 has reached a $5.9 million settlement with the city of Auburn and its police department.
The family of Enosa Strickland Jr., the man Auburn police officer Kenneth Lyman shot and killed 2019, filed the wrongful death suit in federal court in 2022. It was represented in the case by the law firm of Stritmatter, Kessler, Koehler, and Moore.
“The Strickland family came to the Stritmatter Firm looking for answers – how their son was killed, why their son was killed,” according to Melanie Nguyen, an attorney for the firm. “And they wanted to feel like the city acknowledged its conduct and the conduct of its officers. Through this lawsuit and the ultimate settlement, we were able to give the Strickland family this type of closure. And while it will never replace their son, the message is that his life mattered.”
The settlement is the highest paid by the City of Auburn to resolve an excessive use of force claim against the Auburn Police Department or its officers to date. The city released the following statement Aug. 10, but declined to offer any more comment.
“The City of Auburn has reached a settlement with family of Enosa (EJ) Strickland in the amount of $5.9 million for the fatal officer involved shooting, which took place on May 20, 2019, in Auburn, Wash. The Strickland family filed a civil suit against the City of Auburn and the officer on April 20, 2022. The parties elected to go to mediation rather than a lengthy trial to bring closure to this event.
“This settlement is not an admission of any wrong-doing on the part of the City of Auburn,” the city added.
A memo sent from Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Adam Cornell regarding his investigation into the shooting on Feb. 21, 2021, provided additional information about the lawsuit. Cornell decided at the time that Lyman’s use of deadly force was justified, according to the memo.
According to the Cornell memo and the family’s lawsuit, on May 20, 2019, Enosa Strickland Jr.’s ex-girlfriend called the police to report that Strickland Jr. was tapping on her apartment door and refusing to leave.
Just before 1 a.m., police officers Kenneth Lyman and Derek Morse were dispatched to the apartment complex near Lake Tapps Parkway East. When they arrived, they found Strickland Jr. sitting in his car in the parking lot, according to the memo.
Officer Lyman spoke with the caller and determined that Strickland Jr. had not committed any crime, according to the memo. However, the police officers thought that Strickland Jr. was likely intoxicated, so they made him call his mother to pick him up.
While they were waiting for Strickland Jr.’s mother to arrive, the three men chatted and the officers said Strickland Jr. was pleasant and relaxed, according to the memo. His ex-girlfriend, who was listening through an open window, said in the memo that the encounter was non-confrontational at that point.
The officers claim Strickland Jr. walked toward Lyman with his fist raised and fearing he would be assaulted, Lyman reportedly hit Strickland Jr. in the face without warning and tackled him to the ground, according to the memo.
After Strickland Jr. was tackled, both Lyman and Morse were on top of Strickland Jr., who was laying on his stomach on the ground, according to the memo. Lyman was on Strickland Jr.’s shoulders and Morse was on Strickland Jr.’s back.
The officers alleged that Strickland Jr. continued to fight them despite being pinned on the ground, according to the memo. Lyman claimed Strickland Jr. grabbed a knife from Lyman’s chest pocket and was pressing it against Lyman’s leg, according to the memo.
Lyman was carrying a fixed blade dagger-style knife that was unauthorized, improperly stored and illegal for Lyman to carry, according to the lawsuit. The Auburn Police Department manual only allows officers to carry a folding pocketknife. Lyman was in violation of his own department policy by carrying this dagger, according to the lawsuit.
Further, the lawsuit argues Strickland Jr. never actually held the dagger and the officers used the simple presence of Lyman’s dagger to justify shooting Strickland Jr.
The officers reportedly told Strickland Jr. to drop the knife or he would be shot, and the officers claim Strickland Jr. didn’t drop the knife. Lyman then let go of Strickland Jr.’s arm to draw his pistol and attempted to shoot Strickland Jr., but his gun malfunctioned, according to the lawsuit.
Lyman reportedly cycled another round and shot Strickland Jr. in the back of the head point-blank, killing him while he was face-down on the ground.
Strickland Jr.’s ex-girlfriend heard the entire incident unfold and told investigators that when police told Strickland Jr. to drop the knife, Strickland Jr. responded, “what knife?”
She also said after they issued the command to drop the knife, she heard something metal hitting the ground — which was likely the knife — followed by a gunshot moments later, according to the memo.
The officers claimed the knife was in Strickland Jr.’s hand after he had been shot point-blank in the back of the head, according to the memo.
Although the officers said Strickland Jr.’s body was limp after being shot in the head, Lyman said he grabbed the knife from Strickland Jr.’s hand and tossed it away while Morse put handcuffs on Strickland Jr., according to the memo.
Strickland Jr.’s parents arrived on the scene minutes later at 1:33 a.m. and found their son lying on the ground, handcuffed with blood dripping from his head, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit claimed the family was entitled to damages due to the emotional pain and suffering officer Lyman caused by using excessive force against Strickland Jr.
According to a press release issued Aug. 10 by the Stritmatter firm, the case posed many challenges:
• Excessive force claims against the police are challenging claims, rife with legal technicality and many legal protections for officers;
• Strickland was intoxicated, and the defendants clearly intended to leverage this point as much as possible;
• Strickland was not alive to testify on his own behalf;
• The officers failed to activate their dashcam audio before or during the event, and thus there is no audio documentation of the incident, including corroboration of key verbal exchanges during the incident;
• The internal investigations of the incident were inadequate and failed to gather or analyze key evidence, which is now gone.
According to the Stritmatter firm, in its investigation and litigation of the case, it uncovered significant evidence to show that the Auburn Police Department routinely allowed its officers to engage in inappropriate use of force and forego de-escalation tactics, resulting in injuries and death to civilians.
The Stritmatter firm claimed the department also failed to investigate use of force, and failed to adequately discipline excessive use of force, and multiple officers appeared to have lengthy use of force histories that had resulted in citizen complaints, lawsuits, and even criminal charges. Officer Lyman had an extensive use of force history with the department, had been found in violation of department policy, and had never been disciplined.