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Wednesday, October 23, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Family waits weeks for ruling in death

Times Snohomish County bureau

EVERETT — It's been nearly two months since an Everett police officer shot and killed an armed man during a domestic dispute, and still no decision has been made on whether the shooting was justified.

Unlike in King County, where shootings by officers routinely result in inquests, a relatively new law in Snohomish County requires the medical examiner to decide whether to order an inquest. Thus far, Medical Examiner Norman Thiersch has not made a decision.

Thiersch said he is awaiting information from an assistant medical examiner before deciding. He said he has no deadline for when a decision has to be made.

The family of Dalton Culp, 32, the man killed by the Everett officer Aug. 31, has repeatedly called police for an explanation about what happened. Culp's mother said department officials have told her that they can't release anything until the Medical Examiner's Office determines whether to hold an inquest.

Sgt. Boyd Bryant, an Everett police spokesman, has declined to comment on the case, citing the same reason. Bryant declined to release the name of the officer, who has less than two years on the force, because he has not been cited with any wrongdoing.

The officer, 22, returned to work about two weeks after the shooting. He had been placed on administrative leave but allowed back to work after a psychologist deemed him healthy, Bryant said.

In King County, County Executive Ron Sims has the sole discretion over the inquest process.

"Mr. Sims himself renders the final decision whether an inquest will be held," said Sgt. Kevin Fagerstrom, a spokesman for the King County Sheriff's Office. "Typically, if a death occurs as a result of a police action, an inquest is held."

The Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office rewrote its policies in 1999 to give Thiersch the power to make that decision. The earlier policy had made inquests mandatory for fatal shootings by police.

The first use of the new policy came in 1999, when Thiersch declined to launch an inquest into the 1999 death of a Bothell man who had been chased north of Lynnwood by King County sheriff's deputies. The man raised a shotgun to the deputies and was shot three times.

Thiersch said the shooting was "very straightforward."

Culp was killed after Culp's girlfriend called 911 to complain about her boyfriend's abusive behavior. The woman, who spoke on the condition that her name would not be used, said Culp had shown up at her house drunk that night. When she told him to leave, he "flipped" and threatened to kill her.

Shortly after calling 911 about 2 a.m., the woman walked out of the house in the 1500 block of McDougall Avenue. As she walked toward the officer who had been dispatched, Culp pointed two guns at her. The woman said that she screamed and that the officer shot Culp.

An autopsy determined Culp had died of multiple gunshot wounds.

"It was me or him, and right now, I'm glad I'm alive," Culp's former girlfriend said. "He was holding two guns on me. ... The shooting was absolutely, positively justified in my mind."

The woman said she and Culp met when they were both enrolled in the state's prison-guard training program. Culp was kicked out of the program and enlisted in the Navy, and had been scheduled to begin training in Virginia on Oct. 30.

Culp's parents, Hilton Culp and Jane Pickett, both want a resolution.

"We would like to know something, one way or the other," Pickett said, speaking from her home in Texas. "We're all kind of left hanging. We'd like some answers."

Jennifer Sullivan: 425-745-7801 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com.

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