Teen was emptying gun when it fired and killed his friend, records say

A teenager who accidentally shot his friend in the back while driving around in Lakewood was attempting to empty his handgun when the weapon fired, according to court documents.

Pierce County prosecutors on Friday charged Devonte Henderson, 16, with first-degree manslaughter for the shooting death of Jullien Alan Scott Suzuki, 18.

He pleaded not guilty at arraignment. Superior Court Commissioner Craig Adams set bail at $25,000.

“In our community right now we seem to have an epidemic of matters involving firearms and death,” Adams said. “Firearms are dangerous. Firearms are right now causing all sorts of our people in our community all sorts of grief.”

He went on to say: “I cannot imagine what it’s like to be 16 and faced with a criminal matter like this. ... This is not a good way to start your adulthood. It is, however, not irredeemable. You can come back from this.”

Also charged is Coell Ivey Lee Howard, 18, who pleaded not guilty Thursday to first-degree rendering criminal assistance and was released on his own recognizance.

Police said Suzuki, Henderson and Howard were passengers in a car when the shooting occurred about 8 p.m. Monday.

Charging papers give this account:

The teens had been hanging out for most of the day, and there had been no conflict between them.

All three passengers were carrying handguns, which the driver told Lakewood police was for protection from “rival street gangs,” records say.

In the backseat, Henderson attempted to empty the magazine from his handgun, and Howard warned him to be careful because there was a round in the chamber.

“No sooner had Howard said this when the defendant’s gun fired,” prosecutors wrote in charging papers.

The driver pulled into a convenience store near 100th Street Southwest and Lakewood Drive Southwest after he realized Suzuki had been shot in the back.

Howard and Henderson grabbed their guns and fled the scene on foot before officers arrived.

Suzuki was pronounced dead at the scene.

Howard told police he hid the guns in a nearby bush and went back for them later. He claimed the driver told him and Henderson to take the guns and run, though the driver denied that.

The driver remained at the scene and spoke with detectives after the shooting.

Howard was arrested three days after the shooting, and Henderson turned himself in Thursday.

Supporters of Henderson outside court said that he and Suzuki had been very close.

“He’s very loving,” said Melissa Martinez, who described herself as a parental figure to Henderson. “He’s caring. He’s a really good kid. He loved Jullien. ... This was a total accident.”

Staff writer Alexis Krell contributed to this report.
Stacia Glenn covers crime and breaking news in Pierce County. She started with The News Tribune in 2010. Before that, she spent six years writing about crime in Southern California for another newspaper.