Remembering Renee Davis: Mother, Cultural Advocate, Victim of Police Violence

by Rae Rose

(This article originally appeared on Last Real Indians and has been republished with permission) 

On Oct. 21, 2016, Muckleshoot tribal citizen Renee Davis was shot and killed by King County Sheriffs who were conducting a welfare check in her home. Renee was pregnant at the time of the shooting. Her family continues to demand justice.

Listening to the stories of Renee Davis from the people who knew and loved her paints a vivid picture in my mind of a strong, beautiful, and loving woman. Renee’s story is the story of an Indigenous woman, a future leader, a proud member of the Muckleshoot tribe, and a dedicated mother of three beautiful girls with a baby boy due only months away.

Renee Davis didn’t have the most stable of childhoods, she and her sisters were in and out of foster care. Through it all Renee strived to be there for her sisters, later reconciling and caring for her mother. Renee always gave of herself because she didn’t want anyone to suffer; through everything her heart remained open to everyone around her. It is clear that Renee was a survivor with the strength and love to give to others even when she herself was hurting.

Renee’s story speaks to her resilience, her desire to grow as a person, to her devotion and love of her children. Her story is filled with the dreams Renee fought to reclaim. Renee took back her culture by hunting, fishing, and learning all she could learn of her Coast Salish heritage. She did this not just for herself, but also for her children, the children she worked with, and her tribe’s future. It is clear that Renee had so much to live for and so much left to give. Renee was a light to those who knew and loved her. Her life was brutally extinguished too soon, in an act of senseless and reckless violence.

As a King County Sheriff’s deputy assigned to the Muckleshoot reservation, Officer Nicholas Pritchett knew Renee. He had responded to domestic violence calls where he admits she was always cooperative and he never felt her to be a threat. About the abuse he responded to, Officer Pritchett states Renee had been a victim to “DV assaults where he [father of her two youngest girls] was pretty brutal to her.” He knew her; he knew the abuse she had suffered, so he had to know the fear that a survivor of domestic violence would feel hearing men shouting and pounding on her house and bedroom door.

Officer Timothy Lewis, an off-duty officer who was not employed to work on the Muckleshoot reservation at the time of the shooting, knew nothing about the woman involved when he arrived, nor did he try to learn anything about her. Officer Lewis had just come from a shooting range, his pastime of choice, where for his day off he had spent eight hours shooting over 400 rounds from an AR-15 assault rifle and his Glock 9 mm pistol.

According to all accounts and court documents, on Oct. 21, 2016, Officer Pritchett was approached by a young man, Renee Davis’s boyfriend and the father of her unborn son, T.J. Molena. T.J. approached Officer Pritchett at 6:30 p.m. only stating that his girlfriend Renee had sent him a text stating, “Well come and get the girls or call 911 I’m about to shoot myself.” The text was sent to T.J. two minutes prior to his approaching Officer Pritchett.

Earlier that day, Renee had confided to friends that T.J. was becoming neglectful, that there had been several incidents that left Renee feeling unwanted and unloved by T.J’s words and actions. Her friends and family believe her text to be a desperate plea for her boyfriend to choose her this one time. A plea that was entrusted by T.J. to Officer Pritchett to answer.

Officer Pritchett was someone who worked as a King County Sheriff on the Muckleshoot reservation. He knew T.J., and he knew Renee Davis well enough to give dispatch her full name and date of birth from memory. He admits he knew Renee to be a victim of domestic violence including being the officer to respond when her abuser had strangled Renee unconscious.

At 6:37 p.m. Officer Pritchett advised dispatch of a suicidal, possibly armed female alone in the house with her two children. Officer Pritchett arrived at Renee’s house at 6:44 p.m. and proceeded to wait outside for backup.

Officer Timothy Lewis, who does not work for the Muckleshoot division and was not even on the clock, was nearby listening to the police transmissions. I don’t know if it was Officer Lewis or Officer Pritchett who decided that the off-duty officer was all the backup Officer Pritchett needed, but it was the first of many deadly mistakes made that night.

At 6:52 p.m., without a thought-out plan or additional backup or medical aid in case of harm, the deputies rushed Renee Davis’s door. There was no noise, no crying, no screaming; there were no sounds of distress at all coming from inside Renee’s home. The deputies Officer Lewis and Officer Pritchett started pounding on the door and the sides of the house loudly and aggressively. They did very little to identify themselves as officers or to tell Renee they just wanted to check on her welfare because of the text she sent. They did not even try to call Renee’s phone or to calmly request her to come to the door; they did not use any plan or talk about tactics to try to set up communication peacefully with Renee Davis.

This yelling and banging persisted for approximately four minutes. The officers, having access to her phone number, never called her or tried in any calm or professional way to reach Renee. They did not communicate that they were concerned about her or that they were sent there by T.J. to check on her. For a young survivor, pregnant, with two young kids it must have been traumatic to hear all the banging and yelling at her door and around her house.

At 6:54 p.m. off-duty Officer Lewis admits he attempted to break into Renee’s home by removing a screen from the living room window. As off-duty Officer Lewis attempted to break into Renee’s home, he saw Renee’s two young daughters. He persuaded the young children to let them into the house. By his account, Officer Lewis placed Renee’s 2- and 3-year-old daughters in the front of the house where he said “they were safe.”

He did not make a move to ask for help from a neighbor or wait for further backup to help keep the children safe. Upon finding the girls uninjured, Lewis placed them somewhere expecting them to stay. He did not show much care for the two young children worried about their mother. He did not consider or know what anyone who has cared for young children can tell you, that 2- and 3-year-olds are not dogs to sit or stay on command.

Officer Pritchett and off-duty Officer Lewis put them in the cold night and rushed into Renee Davis’s house, guns out. Pritchett kicked Renee’s door, breaking the child lock. Even after all the pounding and yelling, she was not aiming a gun at the door even after being forcibly opened. Both deputies admit that when they entered, Renee was lying passively in her bed, covered in a blanket up to her neck and staring blankly at the door. They saw no evidence of Renee being injured at this time, even though they entered her bedroom with their guns drawn.

Officer Pritchett and off-duty Officer Lewis broke into Renee’s bedroom, guns drawn and pointed at Renee. They started shouting different commands at her. According to Officer Pritchett, Renee, deeply saddened and despondent, did not respond, but instead just said “no”. By their own admission, they did not try to calmly talk to her even though she did not move. Off-duty Officer Lewis pointed his gun directly at Renee while Officer Pritchett ripped off the blanket covering Renee. Her children were right behind them at this time.

Here is where their stories unravel. According to court documents, off-duty Officer Lewis had this to say: “Renee had a gun near her right hand, either laying on her bed or against her leg or somewhere drawn with the muzzle facing the foot of the bed.”

Officer Pritchett stated that “Renee had a gun resting between her legs in her right hand.”

Both officers admit that the gun was not loaded and that the magazine for the gun was in Renee’s left hand.

The officers state that they yelled at Renee to drop the gun simultaneously firing their guns at close range. After being shot three times, Renee slumped over and told officers, “It’s not even loaded.” Which should have been obvious to trained officers as they saw the magazine clip in her opposite hand.

After these two officers shot Renee in front of her two young children, they watched her fall to the floor. Less than one minute had transpired from when they coerced Renee’s daughter to open the door until they shot Renee in her bed.

The deputies disagree as to what happened next. According to Officer Pritchett’s testimony, Pritchett claims as Renee lay there bleeding to death, he and then off-duty Officer Lewis had a conversation as to what they should do with Renee’s gun. In court documents, Pritchett claims he had a conversation with Lewis where they both decided Officer Pritchett should put the gun in his utility belt, which he said he did. According to Lewis, he did not see Officer Pritchett pick the gun up off the bed and had no conversation with Pritchett about the gun.

According to Auburn Police Officer Derek Pedersen, who arrived after Renee was shot, the gun was in Renee’s hand when he arrived. Three officers who are supposed to protect and serve our communities, and three different stories that don’t add up.

At 6:59 p.m. the officers at the scene state they allowed medical to enter, but an eyewitness states no ambulance ever came to help Renee. At 6:59 p.m. when they supposedly let medical personnel in, Pritchett and Lewis went outside to get “their story straight” according to court documents. This violates not only the integrity of the officer’s stories, but also the King County Sheriff Office’s policy.

A close family friend went to Renee’s neighbor to check on Renee’s children. Upon opening the door, the older of the two girls told this friend “they hurt my mommy.” Distressed, her daughter kept saying, “They hurt my mommy.”

The two officers who shot and killed Renee Davis are using primarily RCW 4.24.420 for their defense. According to the Washing State Legislature, this law states, “It is a complete defense to any action for damages for personal injury or wrongful death that the person injured or killed was engaged in the commission of a felony at the time of the occurrence causing the injury or death and the felony was a proximate cause of the injury or death.”

Using RCW 4.24.420 as their defense “forecloses any inquiry into the responsibility that the deputies or the county may have had.” This statement was issued by the trials court when they spoke of “some issues that you can tell I find somewhat troubling.” They go on to say, “We acknowledge that Davis’s death is tragic and echo the trial court’s sentiment that the application of RCW 4.24.420 here is problematic because it precludes claims where law enforcement officer’s actions and training may have been unreasonable given their knowledge that the individual they were confronting was suicidal and armed.”

This is why, disregarding their initial statements, both officers now claim Renee pointed the gun at them. They claim they were afraid of Renee Davis after breaking in and forcing their way into her home, into her bedroom, yelling and with their guns pointed at Renee while she lay motionless in bed. Pritchett and Lewis claim they were frightened by the young pregnant woman holding a gun in one hand and a magazine in her other hand.

They accuse Renee Davis of assault for allegedly pointing an unloaded gun at the two men who broke into her home. They did not take the time to talk to her or try to get her to come out and talk to them. They did not take the time to secure her young children’s safety. In less than a minute they entered Renee’s home without a warrant or permission from the person living there and broke through her bedroom door to shoot her three times. Not only did she bleed to death, but they dragged her body, leaving a bloody path in their wake.

If the officers were at all concerned about the young pregnant mother and children inside the home, why didn’t they call for medical aid before breaking in? Why didn’t they try to deescalate the situation by talking to Renee, by giving Renee a chance to respond? Why didn’t they ask her to open her bedroom door herself? If they were so concerned about the children, why didn’t they take them to safety or at least put the children in the back of Officer Pritchett’s patrol car? There are so many questions left behind by these two officers’ rash and unprofessional actions. Questions that will continue to haunt the family and friends left behind and bereft from the loss of Renee Davis’s young life.

These two supposedly scared officers knew Renee had a permit to carry concealed weapons. Officer Pritchett knew Renee well enough to know she would never hurt anyone else. Officer Pritchett knew that she was the one who was hurt every time he responded to a call. Even after all her last boyfriend had put her through, Renee never sought to hurt anyone else. In her text she said she was suicidal, which in itself means she meant to only harm herself in her pain.

RCW 4.24.420 is a law that needs to be amended. A law that does not allow for police accountability. This is a law that creates an unfair and often violent divide between the officers who are supposed to serve and protect our Indigenous communities, communities of color, and the people who want to believe in them. Renee Davis is just one of many victims lost to police violence and ignorance. Her death was senseless and cruel. Her loss can still be felt by the community and family that has to go on without her strength and love.

Officers should be held accountable. Their day-to-day job requires them to go into situations where fear is a natural factor. They have little to no training in how to identify or differentiate between those who need help because of situational or circumstantial hopelessness to those suffering from mental health disorders. Officers need and deserve this critical education and guidance.

If these officers are going to continue serving our Native communities and other communities of color, they need to know us as people. We are more than victims, assailants, targets, or suspects. We need to have them trained to identify the situation and understand the underlying issues of the communities they serve. Fear is not an excuse for murder when there are so many options to help without inflicting unnecessary harm.

If the police want to open honest conversations regarding change in working with Native communities and other communities of color, the first thing they have to do is own up to their mistakes. They need to apologize for the pain they caused and state honestly when their coworkers use excessive force. I truly believe officers who have no connection to the communities they are supposed to serve should make those connections or not work in our communities at all. I believe the last vestiges of the “good ole boy” system and the systematic racism that is fed into police departments is suffocating true change. An anonymous source within the police department fears repercussions but admits any objection made by this person in regards to their coworkers’ actions of excessive force will be met with severe retribution, effectively stifling any change from within.

If all officers have to say is that they are scared, of course they will say that even when it is not true. It is a job where you are going into tense situations; it is natural to be scared. What is not natural is not trying to deescalate the situation or trying to minimize the damage inflicted by the officers responding to these situations. Officers need to be held responsible for their actions, and violence should always be a last resort, not the first as it was in Renee’s case. There is no way to justify the murder of a young pregnant woman in front of her two young daughters just because you can.

The police culture of shoot first is only going to become worse if officers continue to not be held accountable for their rash and unjustified actions. A light to her tribe, her children, and the future she envisioned has been eliminated, coldly and without remorse. Her sisters, her closest friends, her beloved children, her tribe, everyone who knew and loved Renee Davis now have to live without her because of the rash actions of these two officers. The officers responsible for her murder are not being held accountable and continue to show little to no remorse for the lives they took.

Those left behind are left to wonder what might have been. We are all deeply saddened by the loss of Renee Davis, an Indigenous woman of the Muckleshoot tribe. Renee Davis can never be replaced or forgotten. Say her name; for true change demands justice for Renee Davis. Do not let Officers Nicholas Pritchett and Timothy Lewis forget what they have taken from us the night they shot Renee Davis multiple times and watched her bleed to death. To them, she is just another dead Indigenous woman of color; to us, she is another murdered Indigenous sister we will carry forward in our fight for Indigenous rights.

My name is Rae Rose, and I live in the Pacific Northwest. I have always, always loved stories. I love writing, reading, listening, and imaging the words coming to life. My youth was not the happiest, and it is not an exaggeration when I say stories saved me more than once.

Every story I tell carries a seed of truth: mine and of those who were not able to survive. Every story is special and personal to my heart. It is my hope that you enjoy the stories and find comfort, love, and laughter in my words.

Photos of Renee Davis from the Remembering Renee Davis Facebook page.