Two cases in which police in Pierce County shot and killed Black men in their 20s are getting renewed attention following weeks of protest sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Bennie Branch, 24, and Said Joquin, 26, were shot and killed in separate incidents eight months apart.
Activists with the Black Lives Matter movement have called for more information about the shootings and accountability for the police officers. Families of both men have filed legal claims alleging officers used excessive force.
The focus on Branch and Joquin comes after activists, in a series of vigils and protests, drew public attention to the killing of Manuel Ellis by Tacoma police in March, prompting Gov. Jay Inslee to order a new investigation into the case.
Branch also was killed by Tacoma police, but six months earlier, on Sept. 8.
An officer shot Branch on an East Tacoma street around 2:30 a.m. as his mother looked on nearby, according to a legal claim filed by the mother, Brendelin Branch.
Branch had an Airsoft or BB gun on him, but his mother says it had been dropped to the ground and slid away before the officer shot him, said Crystal Lloyd, the mother's attorney. The claim says some of the bullets fired at Branch hit him in the back.
"Police officers should not be killing people unless they are posing an imminent threat to the officer or the public," Lloyd said. "And in this case, Bennie was not a threat to anyone."
Lloyd said Branch's family has not yet seen results of an investigation into the shooting by the Pierce County Sheriff's Department.
"Every loss of life is tragic, and the loss of Bennie Branch has been felt deeply across our community," Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards said in a statement to KNKX. "When a death occurs in the course of policing, we have a responsibility to ensure that it is investigated appropriately. The filing of a claim does not in any way change that responsibility. At this time, we are waiting for a thorough and just investigation to be complete."
The second case that's getting renewed focus is the shooting of Joquin by a Lakewood police officer during a traffic stop.
Joquin, who worked at a warehouse, was pulled over the afternoon of May 1 and shot at "point blank range" while his hands were up, according to a claim filed by Joquin's mother, Dawn Korter, and his sister, Deatura Joquin.
In a June 6 op-ed in the Suburban Times newspaper, Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson offered condolences to Joquin's family and said the shooting was under investigation.
"The facts and the law will determine our course of action, not bias, emotion or self-interest," Anderson wrote. "If any wrongdoing is identified in the report, there will be accountability."
Joquin's death is one of at least 30 cases under review by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson's office to evaluate whether investigating agencies followed rules stemming from Initiative 940. The rules, which went into effect early this year, were meant to minimize conflicts of interest and secrecy when law enforcement agencies investigate use of deadly force by police.
Branch was killed before the rules went into effect.