NBCNews Exclusive: American Policing - Most Officers Never Fire Their Guns, Others Kill Many

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The video is brief but disturbing: Moments after two Seattle police officers kick down an apartment's front door, a shirtless man appears on camera, lumbering slowly toward them with a 4-inch switchblade in his hand.

Inside a nearby bathroom was the man's barricaded girlfriend, who had dialed 911 after she said he threatened her life and his own. Within 6 seconds, the officers opened fire. Ryan Smith, a Black and Latino 31-year-old, was killed in a burst of 10 shots on May 8, 2019, according to police records.

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The officer who pulled the trigger first — and fired eight of the bullets that killed Smith — was Christopher Myers, 54, who has earned an array of commendations in his three decades at the Seattle Police Department, including officer of the year and a medal of honor. He was once heralded as an officer with an "unbelievable degree of patience" who cared deeply about the people on his beat.

Most officers never fire their guns. But some kill multiple people — and are still on the job.

Myers, who is white, also belongs to a rare but significant class of American law enforcement officers: He's used deadly force multiple times in his career, firing his gun in four separate incidents in the last 11 years. Three people were killed in the shootings and one was seriously injured. All but one were people of color.

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The Seattle Police Department declined to say whether Myers acted appropriately in each encounter, though officials gave him an award in at least one case. And according to the independent unit within the department that investigates allegations of wrongdoing, the Office of Police Accountability, only Smith's killing was referred for review, and there was no finding of misconduct.

 In an interview with NBC News, Myers attributed his repeated use of deadly force to a combination of factors, including threats posed by armed suspects, a willingness to rush toward danger and a confidence honed through years of experience and tactical training. He denied any racial bias in the shootings.

 "I don't expect any of my calls to escalate into shootings," he said, adding: "Unfortunately, some people don't yield and sometimes force the situation."

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But his conduct has been questioned by judges, lawyers, officials and relatives of the people who died at his hands. For Smith's mother, Rose Johnson, Myers appeared far too ready to pull the trigger. And the killing of her son — who she said was having a mental health crisis — left her struggling with an unresolved question: "How many people can a police officer kill before they're held accountable?"

As cities grapple with high-profile killings by police and protesters fill the streets to demand justice, this is a question some police reform advocates are beginning to ask — particularly in places like Vallejo, California, where at least 14 officers were accused of bending the tips of their badges to mark each of their fatal shootings. (Vallejo Police Chief Shawny Williams called the alleged badge-bending "very troubling" and called for an outside investigation into the practice. The department's deputy chief said the probe is ongoing and declined to comment.)

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Read the full exclusive on NBCNews.com

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