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Mother Speaks out About Son's Shooting by King County Sheriff's Deputies

Darla Sampson said her son, Eric, who was shot to death March 20 following a vehicle pursuit with King County Sheriff's deputies, made some bad choices in his life but didn't deserve to die.

When Eric Sampson was about 13, he and a friend were caught stealing paintball guns from Lake Retreat, a camp and retreat facility in Ravensdale. 

"We marched him back over there," recalled his mother, Darla Sampson. "He had to apologize and then work there at least a year free in order to pay his debt. He learned a valuable lesson from that."

In fact, Eric continued to work at Lake Retreat for several more years. "He was a very hard worker and they could depend on him," she said.

When he got his driver's license a few years later, he was thrilled. "He drove too fast, like many teenaged boys do," Sampson said. "He got a few tickets, and he paid them and moved on. He wasn't happy about them but he paid them."

Discontent with System

At some point, however, Eric's perspective on his traffic citations evolved into one characterized by frustration and even hostility. "He started to get what he thought were stupid tickets," his mother said.

Sampson recalls one instance when Eric decided to do a half-doughnut in the parking lot of Safeway in Enumclaw. It was later in the evening and there were no other cars around, but he was cited for reckless driving, she said. He received another reckless driving citation after burning out at a stop light and smoking rubber. "He was frustrated with the system and he just felt overwhelmed; it started to compound."

Eric wasn't able to pay all his fines, though he'd been working since he was 14. Prior to his death, he was working with friends on setting up a vehicle restoration business, Sampson said. Nonetheless, with regard to his fines, "he put his head in the sand like an ostrich and figured they'd go away. I tried to tell him it wasn't going away, but he was 19 and didn't want to follow his parent's advice."

It all caught up with him when Eric, 19, was driving through Buckley. A Buckley police officer ran Eric's vehicle plates, which turned up his outstanding warrants for the unpaid traffic citations. 

Buckley Police Chief Jim Arsanto said Eric was compliant with the officer until the officer went to inform him that he would be arrested for those warrants. He drove off, Arsanto said, leading officers on a low-speed pursuit, with speeds reaching 5 to 7 mph over posted speed limits ranging from 25 to 45 mph depending on the location.

The pursuit wound through Enumclaw and eventually into the jurisdiction of the King County Sheriff's Office. Deputies who ran his plate located his vehicle near his Ravensdale home but he wasn't there; he was seen walking down the road carrying a machete and headed to a deputy's car, whose hood he reportedly slashed with the weapon, according to police reports.

Two deputies fired Tasers at him but did not appear to subdue him. Three deputies then fired multiple shots at Eric. They, along with a response team from the Maple Valley Fire Department, tried to revive him but couldn't.

Eric's  official cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds, and the manner of death is homicide, according to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office. 

A Mother Reacts

"He was a good boy," Sampson said. "He had some problems but he was maturing. He was just out there, not hurting anybody. He was trying to work and earn money. He wasn't doing drugs. He didn't even smoke. He just didn't deserve to die like that."

Still, he should have taken care of those traffic citations, she said. And he shouldn't have run from the officer in Buckley. 

Given the circumstances, Sampson said she wouldn't have blamed the deputies if they did fire one or two shots at Eric, but the number of bullets he took appears to be much higher. She said in her conversations with local police, they told her Eric was shot anywhere from 13 to 15 times.

Sheriff's Sgt. John Urquhart said this week he wasn't aware of the exact number but "a good number of shots were fired by the three deputies."

The King County Medical Examiner's Office has not released this information while the investigation continues.

"They didn't have to chase or hunt him down like that," Sampson said. "They knew where he lived. ... There are people raping and murdering and robbing banks--he just didn't pay his traffic tickets. There was no reason to shoot him as many times as they did. And that's my opinion even if this wasn't my son. He didn't have a gun. He wasn't able to shoot them or hurt them from the distance he was at. One officer should have been told to take the shot. Shoot him once or maybe twice if he didn't stop. But for three officers to load him full of bullets and say they tried to save him after--that is so absurd to me."

Compounding Sampson's grief and frustration was a note attached to Eric's record, indicating that he had previously made comments threatening to law enforcement.

Sampson paraphrased the comment as something along the lines of, now I know why people kill cops.

She believes that note influenced how the deputies responded to the standoff with her son and that had it not been there, the outcome may have been different. "It was a remark he made, and it's a question of freedom of speech," she said. "You should be able to express yourself and your anger without them reporting you as a danger. He wasn't out here making bombs. There is no stash of guns. He wasn't out there stalking cops. It was just one comment he made to a cop who stopped him and he told that cop how mad he was. ... I think the cop who put that in there should be accountable as well." 

What's Next for Police

The three deputies involved remain on administrative leave. According to Urquhart, a general administrative investigation into the shooting is ongoing to see if the deputies followed the use of force guidelines in the department's general orders manual.

This is part of a larger investigation that is done anytime there is a fatal incident or a very serious use of force by deputies. "It is as big and broad and as in-depth as any homicide investigation we would conduct, even if police officers were not involved," he said.

One piece of evidence that won't exist in this case is any video recording of the encounter. According to Sampson, police told her that there was a police vehicle at the scene that had video equipment mounted, but it wasn't turned on as the equipment would only activate if the vehicle's siren lights were on -- and they weren't.  

When the entire investigation is complete, said Urquhart, the case will go to the King County Prosecutor's Office; if the office needs more information, the Sheriff's Office will provide it.

Then a formal inquest will take place to provide all the facts to the public and the Prosecutor’s Office. "Everyone will testify under oath, and the family of the man who was shot will be represented by an attorney and have an opportunity to ask questions of anyone and everyone," he said.

The Prosecutor's Office will then review the investigation again as well as any new developments revealed during the inquest to see if state law was followed in terms of use of force.

"Then, and only then, we will have our shooting review board to see if the whole thing fell within policy," he said.

The Sheriff's Office hopes to wrap up the initial investigation in the next couple of weeks to send to the Prosecutor's Office, he said.

In the Aftermath

More than 200 family members and friends gathered for Eric's memorial service last weekend, including his high school teachers and youth pastors. "We've had awesome support from friends, family and our church community," Sampson said.

Having just lost her son, however, she continues to fight her own frustration with what she perceives as a poor response from law enforcement as well as questions over what more she could have done. 

"Obviously he wasn't thinking straight," she said, fighting tears. "When you have a person not thinking straight, you have a counselor or a mediator. If you have someone standing on a ledge, you try to talk them down--you don't say 'jump.' This happened right across the street from where I live. They could have called me."

As a parent, the hardest part is never knowing what might have happened say, if she'd gone to pick him up that night. Or if she could have gotten there in time and stood between her son and the deputies. "He made bad choices and he's tried to make them right," Sampson said. "We did teach him better--we did hold him accountable to his bad behavior. But when they turn 19, they make their own decisions."

TR Burdulis April 02, 2011 at 11:36 PM
That's exactly what happens when the hiring policy of King County Police is to hire Ex Military who are trained from the get go to KILL, people die. I see the same thing here, something is very, Very wrong. Same with the tasar carrying cops in every school, just wrong. I feel for the family as I also have children that age.
Darla Sampson April 03, 2011 at 03:22 AM
It is criminal to execute someone in a firing squad gangland style execution, when one or two shoots would have done. We need to hold police to a high standard. We can not trust police when we see them kicking people in the head when on the ground and handcuffed (happened in Seattle a few months ago), or shooting a guy walking Down the street ( Seattle policeman was found to have shot the man unjustifiably, but is not getting charged with a crime--why not?). Just a very few examples. Police abuse their positions all the time. I see them speeding, not using turn signals, not coming to complete stops. We must keep their feet to the fire of high standards. Yes, Eric made many poor choices that night, but so did the police. One or two shots from one officer would have ended the traffic violator chase, and maybe Eric would still be alive, and I would not have had to bury my son over basically traffic tickets.
FRANK LIEE April 03, 2011 at 05:58 AM
HEY PETER MAXWELL ARE YOU FOR REAL, NO CAMERA, WHO SAID HE USED A WEAPON TO THE COP CRUISER, THE COPS DID, WE ALL KNOW KING COUNTY COPS THINK THEY ARE GOD. THERE ARE THE WORST POLICE DEPTMENT IN THE UNITED STATES, THEY BULLY PEOPLE AROUND THEM PROTECTED. LET ME GET BACK TO THIS POOR 19 YEAR OLD WHO WAS MURDERED THATS RIGHT MURDERED, IT DON'T TAKE 18 HIT FROM A 40 CAL OR 45 CAL PISTOL TO STOP SOMEONE, MORE LIKE 1 OR TO STOP OR KILL, THESE POLICE OFFICER HAS TO QUALIFY TO KEEP THIER JOBS WHICH MAKES THEM MARKSMANSHIP, THEY QUALIFY ONCE OR TWICE A YEAR, YES THIS KID WRONG BUT NOT 18 ROUNDS IN HIM TO STOP HIM, THAT 18 ROUNDS OF MURDER. SO BEFORE YOU SAY WHAT YOU DID, USE THAT PEA BRAIN YOU GOT OR AT LEAST TRY WITH SOME SOMETHING REASONABLE. IF THIS WAS YOUR KID YOU WOULD NOT SAY WHAT YOU DID. MY BROTHER A POLICE OFFICER. HE HAD NOTHING GOOD ABOUT THESE COPS. ONE THING HE SAID THEY SHOULD SERVE TIME FOR THIS.....
FRANK LIEE April 03, 2011 at 06:06 AM
I'VE BEEN TOLD BY A LAWYER THAT NOT ONE LAWYER WANT TO GO AGAINST THEM, BECAUSE KING COUNTY COPS GO AFTER PEOPLE AND MESS WITH THEM. WHERE IS SUE RAHAR AT WHAT IS SHE DOING ???? OR EVEN OUR GOVERNER ???? KING COUNTY COPS ARE TROUBLE MAKERS, NO LIGHT, SIRENS OR VIDEO, SOMEONE WAS MURDER, ONLY ONE SIDED STORY, THE WAY THEY PLAY....I HOPE THESE COP GET TIME BEHIND BARS... IF WAS ME OR SOMEONE ELSE 25 TO LIFE.....
April Chan April 03, 2011 at 06:12 AM
Hey folks -- I understand this is a sensitive issue that draws out powerful emotions and beliefs on all sides. You're welcome to state your case here and engage in constructive conversations about issues this story brings up. However, please refrain from name-calling and personal attacks. Thanks.
Peter Maxwell April 03, 2011 at 06:50 AM
I do agree that the loss of life is tragic and feel great empathy for the family who lost a son. However, we'll have to agree to disagree on the integrity of the KCPD.
Darla Sampson April 03, 2011 at 12:04 PM
I agree April. Let's try to figure out ways from having this ever happen again, and pressure the people in charge to make changes. The officers should be fired, and police in the future should be trained to use their marksmanship to stop not kill (especially over traffic violations).
Mitch Gill April 04, 2011 at 01:43 AM
I knew Eric and I know the family. Eric did not deserve to die like that. In Iraq, I have never heard of any of my soldiers shooting a hostile 13-15 times no matter what the situation was and ALL of them WERE POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS to us. The police officer who wrote that on the report needs to be accountable for Eric's death as well. Eric was really straightening his life around with restoring vehicles and we were happy for him. This was senseless and with that many shots fired they endangered the rest of us here in the neighborhood. One stray bullet and someone else could have been killed.
Darla Sampson April 05, 2011 at 01:12 PM
There were three police shooting at once--WHY??? Even if three decided they needed to all shot at once, why so many times? Each of the three could have shot once. Yes, it does make a difference to me that they shot him gangland style execution style instead of trying to stop him and help him. They endanger the community with their trigger happy behavior. They could have had a stray bullet go through a house in the area. Would they had pumped him full if he had been in a crowded parking lot? If they had shot only once or twice he may have lived. Mitch is not a bottom feeder. He works, pays taxes and has severed his country. Have you?? Have you put your life on the line for your country, or do you just spout off about things you have no knowledge of, causing more pain to the loved ones of Eric? I am guessing the later applies. He chase was low speed, if you will read the article. He was not driving out of control. Also the tickets that he needed to take care if (yes he was wrong for not taking care of them) were not public endangering tickets (again, maybe you should re read the story again, this time with an open mind). He was wrong to not drop the knife 9we only have the police's word on what went down, since the video was conveniently not running) , but he could not have hurt the police with it, and they could have stopped him with one or two shots.
Darla Sampson April 05, 2011 at 01:16 PM
Do you deny Undercover that police have been caught doing things they should not have? I gave a few examples of recent bad behavior in my post above. Do you have any comment about those incidents? Police are people just like us, and there are good ones and bad ones. Do you think they are all perfect??? Eric paid taxes work since he was 14, was always working on something. He did not do drugs and he was not robbing banks , rapping or murdering people. He was scared and cornered, and could not see a way out. He was not a danger to the public that night. The police are responsible for over reacting and over kill. They should use their marksmanship to stop, not kill, especially over traffic tickets. Makes me wonder "undercover boss" why everyone else he is brave enough to post under their real name, but you are not. Why not?
Darla Sampson April 06, 2011 at 04:17 AM
They did murder him in cold blood. He did not have a gun trained on them. They had the complete advantage. He had traffic ticket issues. He did not kill anyone. He was not doing drugs or robbing banks. They could have had ONE officer shot one or two times. They did not need to fill him up so that there was no hope of saving him. They should use their shooting skills to stop, not kill if possible. Someone on another site brought up, why didn't they mace/pepper spray him. That is a very good question.
Joey1 April 06, 2011 at 02:14 PM
To the parents and friends of Eric Sampson, I hope someday you find peace and comfort in knowing that you had him in your lives even if it was for such a brief time. Rewinding and re-living the last moments on a comment board will probably not help you find the solace you seek or deserve. Celebrate the time he was with you and what that means, not the hatred and depression that will result in pursuit of a resolution that cannot be changed.
Darla Sampson April 06, 2011 at 06:02 PM
Very good advice Joey :-)
Darla Sampson April 06, 2011 at 06:39 PM
PS: I still think it is very important to change the polices to a stop, not kill policy for future events so that other families are not put through this.
redford April 08, 2011 at 02:59 AM
Well said Undercover Boss. Frank Liee it sounds like you've had a few run ins....
Darla Sampson April 11, 2011 at 12:25 PM
Funny how the ones that are for the cops are the ones that do not use their real names or not use their full names. I wonder why that is? No reason that a marksman should not be able to shoot to stop instead of shoot to kill.
redford April 11, 2011 at 05:31 PM
I don't see anything funny about any of this. Regarding the officers shooting to kill vs. shooting to stop....shooting to stop may have been an option at the beginning of the chase, but the options became more limited with each failure to comply with the officers on the scene.
Sheila Kappes April 11, 2011 at 06:21 PM
If Eric was such a danger then why was the chase called off after 5 minutes? There are NO statements saying he even charged at the officers. He hit the CAR! Unfortunately officers are trained to "shoot to kill." This an obvious case of OVERKILL! Eric was not a danger to anyone. After hearing the first few shots I ran into my home because I was scared to death thinking some idiot was outside unloading his gun. It was in the morning that I learned it was the cops recklessly shooting my neighbor. We will stand behind you Darla 100%, the policies need to change.
Brienna McWade April 11, 2011 at 08:59 PM
There have been a few to use their names, including myself. Unfortunately, as seems to be the case in any message board with a 2-sided argument, some choose to make comments and debate more of a personal attack than necessary. And though no one should be fearful to speak their perspective - usernames are a common online standard for privacy. I think it's necessary to respect commenters from both sides of the issue - regardless of how an individual chooses to call themself.
Sheila Kappes April 12, 2011 at 03:55 AM
I am smart but I never claimed to be an "expert marksman." I'm stating how I feel just like everyone else. I have plenty of family in law enforcement to know what the policies are and that they need to change.
Darla Sampson April 15, 2011 at 07:19 PM
Undercover, are you saying that policepeople are bad shots? Are you saying they do not have to qualify with their marksmanship? They do have to prove their marksmanship and could have easily had ONE officer shot ONE or two times. It was unneeded and over kill to have three officers shoot 13-15 times. There are serval houses in close where the shooting took place, the officers put homeowners in danger with their overkill shooting tactics. Redford if you read the article you will see it was not ahigh speed chase. It was a speed limit following by Enumclaw/Buckley police. Eric was not speeding off, but driving the speed limit or 5 miles an hour over. They stopped chasing him in Cumberland. It was King County Sherrifs that then started the hunt, for the " vicious" traffic offender. It was King County that cornered him and slaughtered him. Instead of shooting to stop as they easily could have, they shoot to kill, and not just kill, OVERKILL. Eric should have put down the knife, but even with that, they could have had ONE officer shoot ONE or two times. The gangland shooting spee was unnecessary.
Darla Sampson April 18, 2011 at 12:04 AM
If someone is on a ledge of a building, the police do not push them or tell them to jump if they are suicidal. If they feel guilty about murdering my son, they should. ONE officer could have shot ONE OR TWO times. There was no need to shoot him 13 to 15 times in a neighborhood. I have put myself in their shoes and I still come up with the answer being ONE policeman shooting ONE to TWO times, not 3 shooting in a free for all hail of bullets that murdered my son, instead of helping him, by shooting to stop him, and getting him mental help if needed, instead of shooting to massacre. If they are unable to control their trigger finger then they need to stay behind a desk, instead of murdering traffic violators. Yes, Eric could have put down the knife, but obviously he was not in a right state of mind and needed help, not murder. If you wish to comment more why not use your real name as I have done. People that hide behind fake names really can not seriously be listened to.
Darla Sampson April 20, 2011 at 07:18 PM
Thank you Undercover. I will never have peace about this. He was my son, who did a few traffic violations such as burn outs, who was overwhelmed and depressed and needed help not death. But I will find it easier to accept, when King County and other police depts, adopt a shot to stop police instead of a shoot to kill. When the policy will be for ONE officer to shoot one or two times, not 2, 3 or more unloading their guns into a person that is not equally armed. This policey of shoot to kill and shoot to OVERKILL is broken and needs to be fixed.
Darla Sampson October 21, 2011 at 12:47 AM
It came out that Eric dropped the machete after the first shots, but officers continued to shoot, even though Eric had dropped the knife. The Machete did not have any blood or bullet damage on it and was from about 8 feet from his body when they finally stopped shooting. They shot Eric a total of 24 for times in about 5 to 6 secs. 6 of the bullets were in Eric's back suggesting they shot him even as he was falling to the ground or on the ground. One officer said he would had continued to shoot Eric as he had fallen to all fours (on all fours and no machete in his hand), but his gun jammed. No pepper spray was tried as a means of non lethal way to end the conflict. No one was in charge that night, they were all just doing their own thing. (Chaos) While one officer was trying to talk to Eric to calm him down, another officer (without checking with the one talking to Eric) trying to run over (the officers own words he used--run over) Eric twice with his patrol car. All of the shooters said they would not do anything different if the situation happened again, knowing what they know. They took a life, and they would not change anything? That is a short overview.
Darla Sampson October 21, 2011 at 12:48 AM
Only the cops lawyers were able to pose questions to the jury of 6. Eric's lawyer was only able to ask two questions. "Did Eric drop the machete during the shooting?" All answered yes he did drop the knife (and since it had no blood or bullet damage he dropped it at the start, but they kept shooting). The other question was "Did Michaels think he was in danger or others in danger when he tried to strike Eric with his car?" The cops lawyers objected to the term runover, even that is the word the officer himself used in his testimony, also the cops lawyers objected to the word immediate threat, so that was taken out of the question, they jury answers might have been different if "immediate threat" had been used) 4 answered yes, and two answered no (Michaels was safe in his car and in no danger, and Eric was backing away from the others, so they were not in immediate danger when Michaels tried to run over Eric). The cops lawyers questions were questions like"Did Eric flee from police" Duh--yes, and "did Stanton find Eric's Car?" Again Duh yes! So out of the 23 questions, only about 5 had anything to do with the actual shooting.
Darla Sampson October 21, 2011 at 12:48 AM
Since it is public record now, the officers names that shot Eric are : Pete Sheridan & CS Hooper (both total 11 times with 40 cal semi auto hand guns ) , Cory Stanton (13 times with a high velocity rifle), William Michaels tried to run Eric over twice in his car. 6 bullets were in Eric's back, and even though Eric's right hand (missing fingers) and forearm were shot up (broken forearms from the bullets), there was NO BLOOD or bullet holes on the machete, because he had dropped it, but they kept shooting. The matter of King County police shooting a citizen, was investigated by King County police, and the inquest was held in a King County Court, with THREE King County Lawyers, and the brother of Sue Rohr (head of the King County sheriffs was involved at the scene-he was one of the tazing officers) so it is a bit (no a lot) of a conflict of interest and the inquest process was a joke, card stacked in favor of King County only.
dexterjibs October 23, 2011 at 03:52 AM
I am sensing a lawsuit being formulated. Hopefully tax payers won't have to write a check.
Darla Sampson November 19, 2011 at 07:13 AM
The tax payers have hired murders on their payroll. Dexterjibs, you really have no idea what you are talking about. You should have come and listened to two weeks of testimony if you wanted to be informed enough to comment. They killed an unarmed man. He dropped the knife, yet they continued to shoot. That is murder, abuse of power, pure and simple.
dexterjibs November 20, 2011 at 07:15 AM
If I understand it, they shot him while he still had the machete in his hands. That is not the definition of an unarmed man. And, i am quite sure you are not giving both sides of the story, just the side you want to give. That is human nature.
ryan November 24, 2011 at 01:49 AM
i miss you buddy

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