Seattle, WA – The Seattle Police Department (SPD) has released dramatic bodycam footage of officers’ encounter with an armed drug dealer on New Year’s Eve (video below).
Iosia Faletogo, 36, was in possession of a stolen handgun when he led police on a foot chase that ended in a physical altercation, the agency said in the video release.
He was fatally shot by police during the encounter.
The incident began just after 5 p.m., when two SPD North Precinct officers spotted a vehicle making an improper lane change.
The vehicle had also been flagged by the Department of Licensing because the registered owner’s license had been suspended.
The driver, later identified as Faletogo, stopped the vehicle in the northbound lane on Aurora Avenue North, and initially remained inside his vehicle.
A source familiar with the investigation said that Faletogo provided the officers with what they later learned was a fake first name, The Seattle Times reported.
As the officers went back to their cruiser to run further checks on the driver, four other officers pulled up at the stop.
That’s when Faletogo suddenly jumped out of the vehicle and ran across the southbound lanes of traffic, the department said in the video release.
The video, which included dashcam and bodycam footage from multiple officers, showed Faletogo as he ran from police and turned down a side street.
“The suspect and the officers engaged in a physical struggle, and the suspect produced a handgun,” the department said in the video release.
“Don’t reach!” one officer yelled in the video.
“He’s got a gun!” another shouted. “Get the gun!”
“You’re gonna get shot!” officers warned. “Drop the gun!”
The officers struggled with Faletogo on the ground as he held the gun in his right hand, the video showed.
A moment later, as the weapon was lying on the ground just within Faletogo’s reach while the fight continued, SPD Officer Jared Keller fired a single round, The Seattle Times reported.
Faletogo was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
The King County Medical Examiner’s Office later determined he was killed by a gunshot wound to the head, according to The Seattle Times.
According to investigators, Faletogo was carrying a vial of 263 pills and $1,160 cash at the time of the altercation.
The pills were stamped with a code for oxycodone, and tested positive for acetaminophen and fentanyl, police said.
Investigators recovered Faletogo’s weapon at the scene, and determined it had been stolen during a vehicle burglary in Renton in 2016.
“He could have turned at any time, or just fired while running and killed a number of officers,” an unnamed police officer told KIRO. “I would have shot sooner."
"And don’t forget how dark it was," he continued. "We aren’t running with the ability to create a lot of light when we are in an all-out foot pursuit. We are assessing and running like hell with a utility belt on into the dark, intense, chaotic situation.”
The officer said that no one but Faletogo was responsible for how the altercation unfolded.
“He could have exited the vehicle without the gun and in my opinion, the outcome would have been different,” the officer added. “Once they saw the gun and he was not willing to stop after being warned multiple times to give up the fight or he was going to be shot — that’s it. There is no de-escalating that situation when you are in the middle of a fight like that.”
Police questioned a female passenger who was riding in the suspect vehicle at the time of the traffic stop, and she was later released.
Officer Keller, a three-year veteran of the force, has been placed on administrative leave, as per policy.
According to an anonymous police source, “the firing officer actually broke his hand and tore all the ligaments in it while battling and then shooting the suspect,” KIRO reported.
“I hope that comes out during all the Monday Morning Quarterbacking,” he said.
The Seattle Police Force Investigation Team is handling the ongoing investigation, according to the department’s press release.
Faletogo, a father of two, was on federal probation for other drug-related offenses at the time of his death.
According to U.S. District Court documents, Faletogo served time in King County for assault when he was 19, The Seattle Times reported.
He later spent about three years in Alaska recruiting, importing, and distributing heroin.
His operation was sizable. During one seizure in 2014, federal investigators intercepted a heroin shipment capable of supplying 1,500 people.
In June of 2018, Faletogo pleaded guilty to federal drug conspiracy charges in Juneau, Alaska.
Prosecutors urged the court to sentence Faletogo to five years in federal prison, but Chief U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess gave him probation instead.
Faletogo’s family has alleged that the officer’s use of deadly force was not justified.
“He would not use a weapon, because he has two kids that he loves so much,” his mother, Lisa Elisara told KIRO. “The cops shot him. I don’t know why they shot him, because I heard he was on the ground when they shot him.”
Faletogo’s uncle, Jacob Afalava said he believes the officers simply reacted out of fear due to Faletogo’s large stature.
“He stands about 6’4” when he stands up. He’s Samoan,” Afalava said. “We feel like just by that, the police were threatened by his demeanor or whatever, but he didn’t have to use deadly force and shoot him down like this.”
His family demanded the officers' prosecution under a new state law that makes it easier to prosecute police officers for using force.
The law was approved by voters in 2018 who were told that it would increase officers' training, but mandated training that officers already receive. One of the provisions in the law lowered the standard to prosecute police.
You can watch dashcam and bodycam footage of the officer’s encounter with Faletogo in the video below: