Family of man with BB gun who was fatally shot by Tacoma officer gets $3.1M settlement

A $3.1 million settlement has been reached with the city of Tacoma in the police shooting death of Bennie Branch.

A wrongful death claim was pursued by Branch’s family.

His family says Branch was shot in the back while running from police following a traffic stop.

He died after being shot seven times by Tacoma Police Officer Ryan Bradley.

Branch’s family said the 24-year-old was checking on his homeless mother when he got into a confrontation with an officer on Sept. 8, 2019.

In documents from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, Bradley told a detective - “(Branch’s) hand was down at his left side right where the firearm was. I saw his left hand right at his waistband. Unequivocally I believed that he was going to access his firearm and shoot… I had an immediate fear for the officers’ safety that were present, and myself and this woman. So, I fired my department-issued firearm at the male in rapid succession in a single volley.”

The police report said Branch had an Airsoft BB gun, but it was not in his hand when he was killed.

That’s also what Branch’s mother, Brenda, told KIRO 7′S Essex Porter just after the shooting.

“They didn’t even know the gun was in the back of his pants. He never reached for that gun,” she said. “I watched my son take his last breath. He was looking at the sky and took his last breath. I couldn’t even hold him. I couldn’t do nothing. They wouldn’t let me.”

Bradley was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Pierce County prosecutor.

The City Of Tacoma released the following statement regarding the settlement on Tuesday:

Today, the Tacoma City Council approved a settlement in the wrongful death action brought by the family and estate of Bennie Branch, in the amount of $3.1 million.

Every loss of life is tragic, and the Branch family suffered a heartbreaking loss. This family’s loss has been felt deeply across our entire community – specifically amongst Tacoma’s African American community. While the settlement is not an admission of legal liability, the City has agreed with the family’s representatives that this settlement will allow the parties to avoid the risk and expense of trial and is an appropriate resolution of this matter at this time.     The City of Tacoma supports the Tacoma Police Department’s ongoing efforts to build community trust in the department and its officers, including but not limited to:

  • An updated Use of Force policy which requires officers to intervene when they observe excessive use of force by another officer, bans chokeholds, requires de-escalation, bans shooting at moving vehicles, requires warning before shots are fired, and more,

  • Updated Body Worn Camera and In-Car Video Policies, which require officers to activate recording functions whenever they engage with the public,

  • The development of a Community Service Officer program.

To strengthen relationships and ensure TPD’s operations are fair, the department is also currently updating its policies based on suggestions from a recent comprehensive assessment by an impartial third party and with the help of the Community’s Police Advisory Committee. Additionally, TPD continues to implement the recommendations from 21st Century Policing Solutions on how TPD can lead 21st Century Policing in Anti-Racism. To increase transparency, the Tacoma Police Department will soon launch two public facing dashboards that will include regularly updated information regarding crime data and police accountability. The work to transform policing is not being accomplished by TPD alone. Tacoma’s Mayor and City Council Members have been active partners in reforming law enforcement state-wide by supporting recent state laws that:

  • Established requirements for police tactics and equipment,

  • Established the Office of Independent Investigations to investigate potential criminal conduct arising from police use of force,

  • Established a requirement for law enforcement officers to act with reasonable care when carrying out their duties, including using de-escalation tactics and alternatives to deadly force,

  • Defined the rights of juveniles, including guaranteed access to an attorney,

  • Authorized the Washington state auditor to conduct reviews of any deadly force investigation to determine whether the actions of the law enforcement agency, investigative body, and prosecutor’s office are compliant,

  • Enacted uniform standards for recording in-custody interviews,

  • And required law enforcement agencies to notify prosecutors about any misconduct that could cause an officer’s testimony to be doubted, and to verify that potential recruits are not on the local Brady list.

The work of transforming law enforcement won’t happen overnight. But the City of Tacoma and Tacoma Police Department are united and committed to this work - detailed here - and won’t rest until public safety is effective, just, and equitable for all.