A year later, legacies from fatal shooting of David Walker

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Sixty Seattle police officers now carry nonlethal electric tasers, and hundreds of others are trained to better handle crises involving the mentally ill.

Those are among the legacies of David John Walker, who was shot to death by Officer Tommie Doran a year ago today in a confrontation that was caught on tape and broadcast repeatedly on local television, sparking fierce debate about police, race and deadly force.

While early public discussions, at least, revolved around the fact that Walker was African American and Doran is white, police contend Walker's death wasn't a racial incident, but the tragic outcome of one of thousands of annual calls involving mentally disturbed people.

Doran was one of dozens of officers who were following Walker as he skipped down Taylor Avenue North. An hour earlier, Walker had fired two shots in a supermarket parking lot.

When Walker made a sudden movement with a kitchen knife, Doran was the only officer to fire his service weapon.

The shooting prompted the department to buy nonlethal weapons and increase training.

Threat of a lawsuit

Legal action seemed imminent when Walker family attorney Mark Leemon announce a $5 million claim against the city July 7.

The claim, alleging the shooting was unjustified and violated Walker's civil rights, was a necessary precursor to a lawsuit.

But no suit has been filed. Walker's sister, Luana, said she no longer retains Leemon and is looking for a new attorney. The family has three years from the shooting to sue, and Luana Walker said the Seattle Police Department, and Doran in particular, must be held accountable for their actions.

Walker, who suffered from bipolar disorder, should have been helped instead of hurt, she said.

"We have bad cops on the force, and (Doran) is one of them," she said. "I can't see killing a sick person."

Lawyers who routinely file legal actions against the city say a lawsuit could be difficult. Walker fired a weapon, and clearly presented a danger. Even if the family proved the city was wrong, proving damages would be tough: Walker had no children, no dependents and a spotty employment history.

Doran now a detective

Now a robbery detective, Tommie Doran still carries a gun but wears a suit instead of a uniform. He's grown a mustache.

A six-member inquest jury ruled that he had reason to fear Walker, and Doran was returned to patrol. He was promoted to detective and avoids public attention.

He said, though, that all the scrutiny after the shooting was hard on him and his family. But he got through it, and he thinks he made the right decision when he fired the shot that killed Walker.

"I'm happy where I'm at," Doran said yesterday. "I feel I've had the support of the department and a lot of good people. I want other officers who've seen all that I've been through to know that as public as it is, it's endurable, and I hope they don't hesitate to protect the safety of themselves, their fellow officers and their community."

Shooting a 'catalyst'

Just weeks after the shooting, then-Chief Herbert Johnson formed an internal group that recommended the department buy electric tasers and send more officers through special training.

"The Walker incident had nothing to do with race, and everything to do with the violent behavior of a mentally ill person," said Assistant Chief Clark Kimerer. "It was a catalyst for us to look at use-of-force options."

Police have used tasers 20 times this year. Several involved mentally ill or suicidal people and ended peacefully.

But tasers and greater sensitivity would probably not have prevented Walker's death, Kimerer said: "I've looked at that situation many, many times. It doesn't look like the options we've implemented would have changed the crisis."

Police have become the social agency of last resort for the mentally ill, Kimerer said. And it will take more than law enforcement to prevent future tragedies.

"By the time we get there," he said, "it's truly a crisis. It's incumbent upon society to limit crises."