Wrongful death lawsuit says an SPD officer’s lie led to Seattle man’s suicide

SEATTLE — A wrongful death lawsuit just filed in June claims a lie told by a Seattle police officer directly led to a Seattle man killing himself.

Three years after the incident, the family and friends of the man are suing the city.

Porter Feller was 40 years old when he died by suicide.

“He was an amazing friend, and he was a great son,” said Renée Thomas, Feller’s mother. “I was devastated,” she said. “He was my person.”

“Porter was a good man. He was creative, artistic, never hurt anybody. But he was fragile. Very fragile,” said attorney Mike Maxwell. Maxwell and Greg Marshall are the two attorneys representing Feller’s mother and his two friends in the lawsuit.

In May of 2018, Feller hit another driver in a minor accident at E. Madison and Pine in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood and left the scene. No one was hurt.

Dash camera video from the Seattle Police Department obtained by friends and attorneys shows an officer later looking for Feller.

In the video, you can hear Officer Matthew Kerby saying he plans to use a ruse.

“It’s a lie, but it’s fun,” Kerby says to another officer with him.

Body camera video then shows Kerby telling the lie to Feller’s friend, identified as Maggie Parks in the lawsuit.

“He was involved in a hit-and-run earlier and left a woman in critical condition,” Kerby says.

“God d--- it. When did that happen?” Parks asks.

“It was earlier today. She might not survive,” Kerby says.

“Whew, just a second. I’m shaking,” Parks later says as she looks in her phone for Feller’s number. “Oh my goodness. I’m sorry; that’s a little bit hard news to hear.”

The officer got Feller’s phone number. But an investigation by the independent Office of Police Accountability (OPA) found that Kerby never followed up with Feller nor another officer handling the case. The original investigation was first reported extensively by the Seattle Times.

Meanwhile, the OPA investigation indicated according to friends, Feller became increasingly worried he had somehow hit and killed someone without realizing it and feared he would go to prison.

Five days later, Feller committed suicide using a lethal combination of drugs, leaving behind some of his belongings and a note.

“Notably, the night before he took his own life, he directly told his roommate that the incident was causing him to feel suicidal feelings,” the OPA report read.

The report found that it is “clear that the ruse was, at least in part, a cause of the subject’s suicide.” The report also indicated Kerby “abused his discretion” and that “the specific ruse used here shocked fundamental fairness.”

Feller’s mother said if the officer had not lied, her son would have been alive today.

“Oh, yes. Or if he had simply finished his job and called Porter, and it had been dealt with, he would definitely be here,” Thomas said.

Now Thomas, Parks, and Feller’s roommate at the time have filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

“I was absolutely appalled. I have never encountered an officer of any police force who thought their job involved some personal entertainment,” said attorney Greg Marshall.

“When police lie, it causes a breakdown in the trust between the community and police,” attorney Mike Maxwell said.

Feller was Thomas’ only child.

“There is a huge hole in my life that cannot be filled. And every milestone in life, every event, every — there’s nobody to share it with,” Thomas said. “The only way to make change with the police department is to make them pay,” she said.

Kerby was suspended for six days without pay after the OPA investigation. He is currently still an officer with the Seattle Police Department.

KIRO7 reached out to the city attorney’s office for comment. A spokesperson said in an email, “We are reviewing the complaint and intend to investigate the brought claims in this matter.”