Tired and ready for resolution, Spokane police negotiators called an officer who already had experience talking Josh Levy down from suicide attempts. What he told them changed their strategy in ending a 20-hour standoff July 27 on the Monroe Street Bridge.
Officer Dave Shurick, a negotiator with the Poulsbo Police Department in Western Washington, told them Levy was unpredictable – a troubled man with a history of changing his mind at the last second. One suicide attempt in May stuck in Shurick’s memory: Levy had agreed to have officers pull him to safety, only to decide to jump off a bridge once a deputy got hold of him.
The Kitsap County sheriff’s deputy immediately wrapped Levy in a bear-hug, and assisting officers pulled the two back to safety.
“Those are of concern, you know, because you’re balanced on the edge of the bridge,” said Deputy Chief Mark Duncan of the Bainbridge Island Police Department, which handled four of Levy’s suicide attempts in the past few years. “But that’s what police officers and firefighters do: They put themselves in danger to save others.”
When Shurick talked to Spokane police July 27, he was concerned for Spokane officers’ safety because of Levy’s unpredictability, he said.
Spokane negotiators took Shurick’s tip as a sign that Levy “could have the propensity to take an officer with him in order to commit suicide,” said Lt. Judi Carl of the Spokane Police Department.
She was negotiations commander during last week’s incident that ended when Levy, 28, jumped off the Monroe Street Bridge to his death.
Shortly before 3:20 p.m., he had agreed to come off the ledge to urinate in the cover of a portico. An officer tried to take Levy down with a Taser but only one prong made contact. That’s when Levy jumped.
Chief Anne Kirkpatrick said at a news conference Wednesday that her officers decided to use a Taser when they learned Levy had grabbed a deputy May 13 and tried to pull them both off the Agate Pass Bridge, which connects the north point of Bainbridge Island to the Kitsap Peninsula.
That was her understanding of what officers told her during an incident debriefing earlier that day, Kirkpatrick said in an interview Thursday.
“The message was he had tried to pull an officer over a railing,” said Kirkpatrick, adding that she was not in contact with commanders as last week’s incident unfolded.
Police reports and authorities involved with Levy’s attempt on the Agate Pass Bridge told a somewhat different story.
“The deputy’s report did not indicate that (Levy) was trying to pull him with him, (Levy) was just trying to lean back to jump,” Duncan said.
Carl said her negotiators were never told Levy intentionally tried to pull an officer off the Agate Pass Bridge, but said that what Shurick told them about Levy’s unpredictability led them to look at options to detain him involuntarily.
“Knowing that at the last minute, if we had negotiated a solution, he had shown in previous incidents that he was not opposed to changing the surrender agreement,” Carl said.
Levy had agreed to surrender numerous times during the Spokane standoff, but never followed through, Carl said. When he agreed to urinate under the portico, he had not agreed to be detained or to be shocked with a Taser, she said.
“If the Taser had been effective, we would not be talking today,” Carl said.
Levy was not Tasered during his other suicide attempts, but he had been tackled and detained involuntarily, Duncan said.
During another suicide attempt, Duncan saw a jumper get hit by a Taser, “and it worked absolutely, absolutely beautifully,” he said.
It also is not unusual for suicidal people to struggle once police grab them, Duncan said.
Levy, whose paranoid schizophrenia may have contributed to his unpredictability, had a long history of attempting to and succeeding in jumping off bridges in Western Washington. The Agate Pass Bridge was the site of three suicide threats; during one, he jumped into Puget Sound before authorities arrived, Duncan said.
Shurick, who got to know Levy during two attempts on the bridge, said he understands the difficulties Spokane police faced last week.
“I felt for those people on that night. They spent 20 hours, and that’s an incredible amount of time,” he said. “It’s a hard job, being a negotiator. It’s an extremely hard job.”