January 23, 2004

Chief says officer justified in shooting tires of fleeing truck

The Spokesman-Review
 
Holly Pickett photo

Brian Edward Gorder is being held in Spokane County Jail. Officer Tom Warner fired shots at the pickup Gorder was driving. Photo by Holly Pickett/The Spokesman-Review
(Full-size photo)

A Spokane Valley police officer won’t be punished for firing his gun at the tires of a fleeing truck.

Officer Tom Warner was justified when he fired five rounds in December because he believed the truck driver was trying to injure him, Valley police Chief Cal Walker said Thursday.

“For us, his actions are absolutely reasonable,” Walker said.

Under normal circumstances, police department protocol prohibits shooting at or from a moving vehicle, Walker said.

But the morning of Dec. 15 was far from normal.

Brian Edward Gorder, 25, allegedly stole a 2002 Ford F-250 from a North Division business where it had been left running unattended. He took it for a joy ride, according to police documents.

Soon after, police spotted the pickup in Spokane Valley and began a lengthy pursuit. According to court documents, the truck veered into oncoming traffic as it headed north on Greene Street.

With one tire flattened by a spike strip, and facing a police roadblock on Greene Street, the pickup veered off the road, up a steep berm and into the parking lot of an apartment complex, according to court documents.

Warner’s patrol car got stuck trying to follow the Ford up the grassy berm. Warner then jumped from his car and tried to detain the pickup’s driver, commanding him several times to stop.

Instead - according to Warner, another officer and a witness - the truck swerved toward the officer.

Warner jumped out of the way and fired at the tires as the pickup went past. The shots hit the wheels, but did not flatten any tire, Walker said. A short time later, the pursuit was called off.

In a jailhouse interview, Gorder denied any involvement and said he plans to fight the charges.

According to court documents filed soon after his arrest, Gorder admitted to using methamphetamine several hours before taking the truck and told Detective Dan Spivey that he knew if he did something stupid, police would end the pursuit.

They did so shortly after the truck sped away from the apartment complex.

But a few minutes later, Spokane police saw the truck pull into the NorthTown Mall parking lot. Deputy Ron Mulvey chased the driver into the mall and arrested him.

Police identified the driver as Gorder, who was booked into the Spokane County Jail on a charge of stealing the truck and eluding police. He’s been in jail for the past five weeks on a $50,000 bond.

Gorder might have even more trouble. This week, detectives forwarded paperwork to the prosecutor’s office to charge Gorder with second-degree assault for allegedly trying to hit Warner.

“A vehicle can be a deadly weapon,” Walker said. Warner decided not to shoot at the driver, even though justified under the circumstances, because it would have put himself and people in nearby apartments at risk, Walker said.

Warner has been with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office for 14 years.

“Mr. Gorder put the public at risk,” Walker said.

“That’s absolutely false,” Gorder said Thursday. “The last thing I’m trying to do is run a cop over.”

Gorder was released from jail in September 2003 after serving time for eluding and unlawfully possessing a firearm, according to the state Department of Corrections.

Gorder said he needs help for his addiction, not punishment.

“I’m not a bad person,” he said. “The issue is I have a drug problem. Once I get going on this stuff, I do things I normally wouldn’t do.”


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