SPOKANE, Wash. – There have been several cases in Spokane where police officers have used deadly force this year. The latest happened at the end of November.
Each time deadly force is used, it prompts an investigation. The case is then forwarded to the prosecutor’s office for review to decide if the deadly use of force was justified or if the officer will face any criminal charges.
In September, two Spokane Police Officers spotted a man wanted for an unsolved homicide out of Reno, Nevada. Police said they received a bulletin with his photo on it and were told he should be considered armed and dangerous. The officers tried to stop him, but police said he took off and led them on a high-speed car chase. Police said the man eventually tried to run on foot, but when he failed to climb a fence they said he turned and charged an officer. Then, the officer fired his gun twice hitting the man in the arm. He was taken to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries. Fast forward three months, Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell ruled the use of deadly force justified.
"My task and my statutory duty is to apply the current law to the incident and then we make a determination based on those factors I spoke about,” Haskell explained.
First, the officer must have probable cause to believe that if the person isn't apprehended they pose a threat of serious physical harm to the officers or other members of the public. Second, the suspect threatens an officer with a weapon or displays a weapon in a manner that could reasonably be construed as threatening. Another factor is that there is probable cause to believe that the suspect has committed any crime involving serious physical harm.
"The ones that we see most often, involve a situation where somebody is either committing a felony right there in front of the officers or they are known to have committed a felony," Haskell said.
Haskell said if the criteria to use deadly force is met, it is preferred that the officer give a warning ahead of time that they will use deadly force if the suspect does not comply.
"I've never reviewed in my three years here, so far, I've never reviewed an incident involving a use of deadly force by an officer by someone who was actually obeying police requests," Haskell said.
Haskell also explained that the condition of the suspect does not play a part in deciding whether or not a shooting was justified.
"The analysis doesn't depend on whether the suspect is injured or whether they are deceased, it's what are the circumstances and facts known to the officer at the time that they pull the trigger," he said.
Even if deadly use of force is found to be justified by the prosecutor's office, the officer could still face disciplinary action within the police department. Haskell said that is because some agency’s use of force policies are more restrictive than the law. He said he does know of cases where that has happened to officers in Spokane.
“They will do an internal investigation and they will make a determination whether or not a given officer in this circumstance violated department policy and they're free to take whatever actions are consistent with their internal policies," he said.
Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl is currently reviewing the department's use of force policy to see if anything needs to be changed.