Shooting victim's car sold after SPD fumbles its return
The detective responsible will not be disciplined. The Office of Police Accountability chalks it up to a defect in department policy on impounding vehicles as evidence.
A shooting victim’s family may sue the Seattle police over their son’s car, which was mistakenly auctioned in November 2022, according to documents obtained by DivestSPD.
The father of the victim filed a complaint with the Office of Police Accountability in April, alleging that the homicide detective who impounded the car did not notify the family that the vehicle had been released in mid-October to Lincoln Towing and auctioned two weeks later.
The Seattle police took custody of the 2017 Honda Accord on Aug. 27, 2022, after two young men were found shot inside. The passenger died, but the owner of the car survived and was taken to Harborview in critical condition. Homicide Detective Joshua Rurey responded to the scene and received the family’s permission to impound the car as evidence.
While the Honda was in the custody of the department’s vehicle processing room, Rurey, as the primary detective, was responsible for it under SPD policy. The policy also states that detectives may not release vehicles directly to the owner. It must be released to the contracted towing company under the supervision of a CSI detective.
According to associated paperwork, Rurey authorized the release on Oct. 18, 2022. Lincoln Towing took custody the same day and auctioned the car two weeks later. In his OPA interview, Rurey said that he mailed a letter to the address on the driver’s license of the shooting victim, who was, in Rurey’s words, “essentially brain dead.”
The complainant’s lawyer met with Chief Diaz and explained that several family members had attempted to contact Rurey about the car and other personal items left inside. They could not get the detective on the phone until late December, more than a month after the car had been sold.
Rurey told the OPA that he doesn’t recall when and how often the complainant called him, as he does not document contacts with victims’ families. He said in his interview that he’s “not able to just drop everything and answer every single person's phone call or immediately respond to everyone's texts,” adding that “this is not the only case that I carry, and it's not the only angry, upset family that I interact with.”
However, Rurey’s caseload wasn’t particularly high that year. According to FBI crime statistics, Seattle had 54 murders in 2022, and there were 16 homicide detectives assigned to three squads, excluding sergeants. That comes out to 3.4 homicides per detective or around seven per two-detective team. Moreover, Rurey told the OPA that he had no investigative leads on that shooting, so he had more or less stopped working on it.
While the full investigation has not been released, the OPA database shows a “management action” finding. This means the OPA determined that Rurey did not commit misconduct, but the agency identified an issue with the department’s policy that should be addressed.
The complainant has retained legal counsel and is seeking $17,000 for the car. According to the best available data, they have not initiated a claim through the city’s risk management department, the first step of litigation, but the OPA investigator opined that a lawsuit is “likely.”
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