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Kootenai prosecutor backs deputy in shooting

Kootenai County Deputy Sheriff Charles Sciortino was justified in shooting Victor Leon in the chest and right arm during a confrontation March 14, county Prosecutor Bill Douglas said in a report released Monday.

Douglas said the officer, who fired his .45-caliber pistol four times at Leon, was justified in using deadly force when Leon, driving a Dodge pickup truck, allegedly drove in a manner that could have harmed bystanders.

Leon, who led police on a long chase after he was shot, ignored repeated commands to exit the vehicle, Douglas said. A video camera in a police car depicted the suspect “violently backing up his truck and car dolly-type trailer, striking three vehicles,” including Sciortino’s patrol car, the prosecutor wrote in his report.

Sciortino later said he thought the truck was going to strike a woman, and that was the reason he fired at Leon and the truck.

“Sciortino’s belief that Leon would cause deadly harm to the civilians was reasonable given the close confines of the driveway, front yard and adjacent roadway,” Douglas wrote.

Leon’s injuries were described as minor, and he was charged with felony eluding an officer and jailed. He has yet to enter a plea. The taped sequence of events leading to the shooting spanned less than three minutes. “This was sufficient time for Sciortino to reasonably assess Leon’s suicidal nature, issue several commands for Leon to exit the truck, and (assess) that Leon’s violent act of backing up a 6,000-pound pickup truck and trailer posed a danger to innocent third persons,” Douglas said.

Sciortino, 35, has been on paid leave since the shooting. He is expected to return to work this week, after Sheriff Rocky Watson reviews the report from Douglas, department spokesman Capt. Ben Wolfinger said today.

He was one of three deputies dispatched to a domestic violence call at 11877 N. Kelly Rae Drive in Hayden the morning of March 14. Leon, 30, was fighting with family members, according to a police report.

When Sciortino arrived about 9:44 a.m., Leon was in the truck’s driver’s seat and his family members were standing by the driver’s side door “attempting to stop him,” the report stated.

Leon reportedly began to back up the truck in what Deputy Darrell Oyler described as “a series of reckless maneuvers.” The report said “several family members were in harm’s way” and that Leon’s wife was injured.

Wounded from the shooting, Leon drove off, leading officers on a high-speed chase through Hayden, Dalton Gardens and Coeur d’Alene, then into Shoshone County. The chase ended when he ran out of gas in Kellogg.