SPOKANE, Wash. — A Spokane police officer who shot and killed a 35-year-old man in January will not face charges, County Prosecutor Larry Haskell said on Wednesday.
Haskell said Officer Brandon Rankin was "justified" in his use of lethal force that killed 35-year-old David Novak.
Members of Novak's family were in attendance at the press conference and confronted Haskell and Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl about the shooting and the decision not to prosecute.
Novak's sister claimed the family wasn't informed of Wednesday's press conference by the county but instead heard the news from someone else.
"You're cold-hearted, that's what you are," Novak's sister said.
Novak's mother said she was disgusted that the family wasn't informed of the decision before the press conference, which Haskell said is due to state law about the release of records to the public.
"Do you realize how disgusting it is that we have to come to this meeting and find out about our loved one in this environment and in this room?" Novak's mother asked. "The only thing we got was, about 20 minutes before we got in the car to get here, a body cam of my son being shot. That is so disrespectful."
Novak's family claimed they weren't informed of the press conference.
Novak's sister also questioned Haskell on how her brother was supposed to react in 11 seconds. Haskell said the shooting happened 50 seconds after officers arrived.
Novak's sister also questioned the level of training the officers receive and added that blood was found in the driveway despite Novak being shot on his porch.
"You shot my brother on his front porch. How come blood is in the driveway?" she asked. "I'm sorry, you need more training if you can't figure out that's a bat. More training. Disgusting, cold-hearted, disgusting."
Family members then questioned various part of the investigation's findings and the circumstances surrounding Novak's death.
Novak's mother claimed that Haskell wasn't giving the entire definition of what qualifies a reasonable lethal use of force, and she and Novak's sister questioned why Rankin, the last officer to arrive on scene, was the one who fired the fatal shot.
"The other officers were there way before Officer Rankin got there. They did not shoot," Novak's mother said.
"He was the last cop to show up, he was the first one to shoot," Novak's sister added.
Novak's mother also alleged near the end of the conference that information had been leaked by an officer in the department about Novak's death.
According to Novak's mother, a child allegedly told her grandson that Novak "deserved it" because "he didn't do what he was supposed to do." She claimed the child was told this by an uncle who serves as a Spokane Police Department officer.
“You need to reel your officers in. We expect them to be professionals and we expect them to be trained," she said.
Meidl said that and internal affairs investigation will be carried out to investigate department policies and other issues surrounding the shooting, such as why officers reported seeing smoke from a gunshot if Novak was unarmed, why officers may have not had body cameras turned on and why police thought Novak was armed.
Meidl also said the investigation could take months and that Rankin is back in service with the department. Rankin will not be placed on leave during the investigation, he said.
As to why the officers used deadly force, Meidl said his officers try to "slow the pace of these situations."
"We don't get a lot of active shooter calls in Spokane." Meidl said. "We try to slow the pace down, but in the end, we can only do so much to slow the pace down."
Novak's family claims the area was well-lit at the time of the shooting.
Novak's mother asked if she would be given the same packet of information about the investigation as the media, which Spokane County Spokesman Jared Webley said she would.
Novak's mother and sister called on the department to change going forward to avoid future officer-involved shootings.
"There are so many things wrong with what you just said. You just can't run your department like this. You can't go around shooting people because they're breathing in their driveway, and you can see their breath and think its smoke coming from a gun," Novak's mother said. "There's so many holes in what you guys [Haskell and Meidl] were talking about, but you have to get it together. I'm normally a very compassionate, but I do not accept your apology."
Novak's sister called the system "sick" and said they would be pursuing legal action against the department.
"Your stories are so far off, we’ll see you guys in court. That’s all I have to say, see you guys in court. You guys have no idea what kind of family you’re up against," Novak's sister said. "This system is sick. You guys have no heart for anybody. It's not black lives matter, all lives matter. Every single life matters. My brother mattered, every life who walks these streets matter. You treat us like garbage.”
Family's attorney issues statement
Following the press conference, Attorney Rondi Thorp, who represents the Novak family, issued a statement regarding the decision.
Read the full statement below:
How police describe the night of the shooting
Spokane police responded to call on Jan. 7 about a man shooting at people inside a residence on W. Montgomery Ave. The suspect was identified as 35-year-old David M. Novak.
Authorities said the 911 caller said Novak appeared to be drunk when he walked over to three men in front of a residence. During the conversation, the complainant said Novak started using racial slurs toward the three men and stated multiple times he was a member of the “KKK,” according to authorities.
Novak then grabbed one of the three men and attempted to hit him, police said. The man broke free and told Novak to leave the property, authorities said.
Police say Novak walked back to his house, threatening to shoot and kill the men while he did. The men called 911 shortly after the encounter.
According to police, a responding officer told dispatch they had heard a gunshot and moments later a confrontation led to Novak being shot by Rankin. While Novak did retreat into his house after being shot, he was found lying inside and was pronounced dead on scene.
While it was initially believed that Novak was armed and had fired shots during or before the confrontation, Spokane Police said on Jan. 8 that no gun was recovered from the crime scene. Instead, officers found a bat.
Why shooting was justified
During the press conference, Haskell said Rankin believed Novak was armed with more than one weapon and an officer reported that he had a shotgun and a semi-automatic pistol.
Haskell said officers gave Novak commands to get on the ground and drop the "gun" and he didn't comply. He instead walked toward the house.
Haskell said Rankin believed Novak was still armed and feared for the safety of officers and that he could take hostages if he were able to go inside the house.
Rankin had a reasonable belief that Novak was still armed and, therefore, posed a continuing danger to officers and the community, if he successfully evaded police, Haskell said.
Haskell said the law allows for the mistake of fact.
"Under the facts reasonably relied upon at the time, Novak created an immediate and lethal threat to officers and, potentially, to others. The statutory requirements in effect at the time are met. The requirement of 'reasonable belief' was met. Probable cause was met. The evidence demonstrates Rankin acted with a good faith belief that his actions were justified under the statute and were intended for a lawful purpose. Under such circumstances, RCW 9A.16.040 precludes criminal liability for his actions," Haskell wrote in a press release.