Hours after a car slammed into a demonstration on Interstate 5 in Seattle on Saturday, killing one protester and severely injuring another, Mike Brown, a detective with the King County Sheriff’s Office, allegedly shared a meme on his Facebook page.
Brown, who has been a police officer for more than 40 years, has been suspended as the department investigates that post and other offensive content on his Facebook page, King County Sheriff Mitzi G. Johanknecht said.
On Wednesday, the driver accused of hitting the protesters, Dawit Kelete, 27, was charged with vehicular homicide, vehicular assault and reckless driving, while relatives of 24-year-old Summer Taylor, the protester he allegedly killed, held a tearful news conference to describe the activist’s deep commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement and other causes.
The family called for Brown to be fired and for the sheriff’s office to discipline any other officers who liked or reshared his posts.
“That guy needs to be fired now,” said Matt Taylor, the father of Summer Taylor, according to the Seattle Times. “I think anybody who was liking it, sharing it or doing anything else with it should be fired. I think that’s beyond obvious. It’s disgusting and it’s unfathomable to me.”
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who is Brown’s cousin, also condemned the posts, calling them “just flat wrong, particularly from a law enforcement officer.”
The case, and the fallout in the King County Sheriff’s Office over the Facebook posts, comes amid a rising glut of cases where drivers have barreled into protesters who have joined the nationwide movements against police brutality and racial injustice.
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Images of posts allegedly made on Brown’s personal Facebook page began to go viral last weekend, soon after the horrific crash on Interstate 5. State troopers had closed the highway for the Black Femme March early Saturday morning when prosecutors say Kelete sped a white Jaguar XJL around barriers and into the crowd. Video captured by bystanders showed the Jaguar throwing Taylor and another demonstrator, Diaz Love, 32, high into the air. Taylor later died, and Love was severely injured.
Brown is accused of responding to the tragedy by sharing offensive posts to Facebook.
In one post, according to images published by KING-TV, he wrote, “I see a couple of people got infected with Covid-19 from the hood of a car on I-5 last night.”
In the other, he wrote “Gee …” above the “All Lives Splatter” meme. He also appeared to make a joke about the fatal shooting of 19-year-old Lorenzo Anderson, who was killed inside Seattle’s “protest zone” last month.
“I will take swift action to thoroughly investigate when the conduct of Sheriff’s Office members fails to reflect our core values and violates Sheriff’s Office policy,” Johanknecht said in a statement announcing Brown’s suspension.
Prosecutors on Wednesday added new clarity to what happened in the fatal crash. Kelete, according to charging documents reviewed by the Times, allegedly drove the wrong way up an exit ramp that had been closed by state troopers for the protest. Traveling at “freeway speeds,” the car struck Taylor and Love before stopping further down the highway.
Taylor died later that morning after suffering “catastrophic injuries,” the Times reported, while Love survived with internal injuries, two broken legs and a broken arm.
Kelete passed a sobriety test after police responded, the New York Times reported, but later told jail officials that he was withdrawing from Percocet, a narcotic, and had another “untreated addiction,” per the charging documents. Investigators said they found a substance “similar to crystal methamphetamine” in his car.
Kelete’s attorney described the crash as a “horrible, horrible accident,” telling the Associated Press “there’s absolutely nothing political about this case whatsoever.”
Kelete is being held in jail on a $1.2 million bond and is scheduled to be arraigned later this month.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday outside the family’s home, the parents and brother of Taylor, who used non-binary pronouns, described them as an animal-loving advocate with a passionate commitment to equality. Taylor had been tear-gassed and pepper sprayed while protesting in downtown Seattle earlier this summer, the family said — a level of dedication they hope will inspire others.
“I also hope that something positive can come from this tragedy,” Matt Taylor told reporters. “If people are talking about Summer, it will help push change.”