AARON ROBERTS, killed the night of May 31 by a Seattle police officer, so feared being arrested and shot by the cops that he kept

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Changing story

New information emerges as lawyers debate the death of Aaron Roberts.

AARON ROBERTS, killed the night of May 31 by a Seattle police officer, so feared being arrested and shot by the cops that he kept an armored vest in his closet, says his attorney.

But Roberts, 37, may have writ his own obituary the night he died by ingesting or shooting up three illegal drugs, including enough heroin to kill a lesser man, says the cop's attorney.

Those conflicting portraits—an African-American man who may have been unjustifiably shot almost in the manner he feared, or one who put himself in harm's way with a mix of drugs and an irrational reaction to a traffic stop—could be reconciled at a coroner's inquest. Meanwhile community ferment over the shooting continues (see "Preaching Revolution Now").

Last week, at a pre-inquest hearing, Judge Barbara Linde made key decisions about the inquest that resulted in a major victory for Roberts' family.

It is now clear that neither Roberts nor the officer who killed him, Craig Price, will be the Oct. 1 inquest's focus, if the Roberts family has its way.

To Roberts' relatives, the officer responsible for the death of their loved one is nine-year veteran Greg Neubert. He repeatedly shouted for his fellow white police officer to shoot as Neubert was allegedly being carried along a Central District street by the car of Roberts.

Douglas Wilson, the Roberts family's attorney, called Neubert dishonest—"he's been a liar for years"—and sought court orders to prove it by probing the cop's psychological state, service record, and court record.

In a major victory for the family, Judge Linde ruled Friday that Neubert could be a designated "party" to the inquest (the cops' attorneys had argued the law designates only the actual shooter—in this case, Price—as the hearing's centerpiece). But Linde also ruled against the request to review Neubert's mental state and past court testimony. To Wilson's protests, she also decided that the inquest jury could hear about Roberts' alleged use of drugs.

One of the officers' attorneys, Linda Marchese, said Roberts was "clearly impaired" by cocaine, ecstasy, and heroin in such strength it could have killed anyone unaccustomed to using it. She called "irresponsible" Wilson's claims that Neubert has a history of lying on the witness stand and said the implication of asking for a psychological study of Neubert "is another wholesale assassination of his character."

Wilson wants to introduce what he says are 15 questionable prior police acts by Neubert, including allegedly threatening to turn over a street gang member to a rival gang for justice. Judge Linde says she will review some of Neubert's records in camera and decide their value later.

ACCORDING TO Neubert's own statement and a police investigative report, the officer contends that after stopping Roberts for a traffic violation, Roberts left his car running and the gearshift in park. After being asked by Neubert for ID, Roberts inexplicably grabbed the officer's right wrist, police say.

"Suspect Roberts then drove off while still holding onto Ofc. Neubert's arm," says the report filed by two SPD detectives. "Neubert was unable to free his arm and ended up running next to the car."

That account differs notably from the way the events were described in previous police statements. Until this week, police have claimed that Roberts dragged Neubert along the street. Now they have quietly dropped that claim.

The SPD detectives say Neubert "yelled out to his partner that he couldn't get free and feared that he would either fall underneath the rear tire of the vehicle or would be crushed by another vehicle as they were about to travel through the oncoming intersection."

Neubert says Roberts pulled him almost halfway into the car—"the lower part of my body was hanging out the vehicle," he wrote in a statement a few days after the incident.

The police report says Neubert was able to grab onto the gearshift on the right side of the steering column, apparently coming almost nose-to-nose with Roberts. Neubert "pulled the vehicle into park and the car's gears began to grind. During this time, suspect Roberts began elbowing Neubert on the top of his head, trying to throw him from the vehicle.

"Near the intersection of 23rd Ave. & E. Union St., Neubert observed Price enter the vehicle from the front passenger door. He observed Price with his handgun out and yelling at suspect Roberts to stop the car or that he would shoot. Ofc. Neubert heard one shot just before the car struck the concrete planters." Neubert landed partially under the car with his head next to a spinning rear wheel, he said.

It took only seconds. Roberts was hit by one shot to the lower chest. Neubert said he would have shot Roberts while inside the car but couldn't get to his gun.

Neubert, who arrested Roberts last year for robbery (the charges were later dropped), claims he did not recognize him May 31. Neubert, in his report, does say Roberts referred to Neubert by name, indicating the ex-con Roberts possibly remembered the cop (Roberts has been arrested for or convicted of theft, eluding police, and assault).

Roberts' family, noting the changing police versions of the shooting and contradictory witness reports, questions many of the officers' claims.

For example, as attorney Wilson puts it, how, with Neubert almost in his "lap," was Roberts simultaneously able to steer the car, shift the gears, and pound on the officer's head with his elbow? Roberts also, according to Neubert's statement, shifted into reverse and let go of the steering wheel to grab at Price's gun.

If Price was able to get into the car and struggle with Roberts, why wasn't Neubert able to get out? Neubert doesn't explain, saying only that he yelled at Price two or three times to shoot, "fearing" he'd be hurt in "a collision with a building or other large cement obstacles."

At Friday's hearing and in legal briefs, Wilson suggested the police story was fashioned to construct a favorable scenario. He says Neubert "initiated the confrontation by aggressively entering the vehicle." Neubert's life was not in danger because the car was "not traveling at a high rate of speed at the time the shot was fired," Wilson argues.

The family thinks Roberts was unnecessarily handcuffed after he'd been mortally wounded and suggests his dying body was dragged or beaten by police. Although the medical examiner's office says Roberts wasn't beaten or dragged by anyone, autopsy photos show several scraping-type wounds on his face and a large red patch of missing skin on his forehead.

"There are still so many conflicts," says Wilson, "and so few answers."

randerson@seattleweekly.com

 
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