Video shows that the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct’s break room is decorated with the mock tombstone of a Black teen who died in a 2017 police-involved shooting.
The mother of the man killed said she couldn’t “express how hurtful” it was to find out the officers displayed the fake grave marker.
A heartbroken Ann Butts said, “I didn’t think SPD could take more from me. I was wrong.”
Her son, Damarius Butts, was 19 when he was fatally shot 11 times by local police on April 20, 2017, after running from police after attempting to rob a convenience store. Reports say the young man brandished a firearm and demanded the clerk give him a beer. Officers were alerted and chased him to a loading dock. He and the officers fired at each other, leaving three cops wounded.
The only fatality was the teen, according to the Seattle Times.
An inquest jury ruled the shooting was justified, and the officers involved were absolved from any criminal charges.
Butts’ death is back in the headlines after a video recorded on an officer’s body camera in January 2021 surfaced. It shows a gray replica of a tombstone bearing Damarius Butts’ name and date of death.
The video was released by attorney Braden Pence, who secured it during a separate and non-related lawsuit against the SPD. He said while the video had nothing to do with his case, he thought it was important to show what “disturbing trophies and iconography” the police kept on display.
This mock tombstone was spotted on a shelf in a break room of the precinct. On the tombstone was a raised Black power clenched fist, potentially mocking the Black Lives Matter movement, which gained prominence for addressing police-related brutality against individuals of color.
“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 lawyer, former King County public defender, La Rond Baker.
In addition to the fake grave marker, the officers also hoisted on the wall a giant “Trump 2020” flag.
Concerns are being raised about the propriety of displaying Butts’ tombstone and the legality of displaying a politician’s campaign banner in the workspace.
Legal experts suggest that having the Trump flag up might violate state laws and department policies that govern officers’ engagement in partisan political activities while on duty.
Also present was a sign that said: “Stop Killing Us.”
The department released a statement that noted it had no idea how the “item ended up on storage shelving.”
“We have no reason to believe it was placed as a ‘trophy’ or with any pejorative intent,” the SPD said.
A spokesperson explained that individuals who perceive BLM as being against the police often placed items that commemorated instances of local and national use of force around the precinct. They added that it’s not surprising that such items would end up on the shelf.
The precinct has confirmed the items have been removed.