March 28, 2007 in City

Shot transient identified

By and The Spokesman-Review
 

Jerome Alford, the transient shot to death by police Saturday, started showing up to the House of Charity late last summer.

He rarely stayed overnight but came almost every day to eat, shower, pick up mail and read.

“He would try to stay away from trouble,” said Ed McCarron, director of the House of Charity. “I just can’t imagine that he had a problem with anyone.”

The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating the fatal confrontation, released Alford’s identity Tuesday afternoon after the Spokane Police Chaplaincy program notified Alford’s brother and sister in Georgia of his death, said sheriff’s Sgt. Dave Reagan.

But investigators are continuing to withhold other key details, including whether Alford was armed during the confrontation with Spokane police Sgt. Dan Torok. The two struggled during a midmorning confrontation downtown and Torok radioed for help, then at some point shot Alford in the chest.

The death left many at the House of Charity stunned.

Alford, a 33-year-old black man with ties to Texas and Georgia, didn’t talk or socialize much and stayed out of trouble at the shelter, House of Charity officials recalled.

“He was looking to go to culinary school in Portland, and he was just generally looking for work in Spokane,” said Bill Tierny, the House of Charity’s sleep coordinator.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, Torok observed Alford engaging in unspecified suspicious behavior and tried to contact him. Torok told authorities Alford punched him and fought with him. After Alford ran away and Torok caught up with him, another fight ended with Alford being shot in the chest with Torok’s service pistol.

Pictures taken shortly after the incident show Torok bleeding from injuries sustained during the fight.

On a House of Charity form, Alford wrote that he was interested in the culinary arts and had experience as a forklift operator and Bradley Fighting Vehicle driver. He carried identification from Texas and wrote that he had a previous address in Alaska. He did not indicate whether he had been in the military.

“My interest is just labor,” he wrote on the form, “for a place to live for now and (to) look for work in the meantime.”

McCarron said Alford did not display any alcohol or drug problems at the shelter but added, “There were some mental health issues.”

Alford’s record in Washington involves mostly a few traffic infractions in Grant and Adams counties in 2004 and 2005. But he did have at least one earlier contact with Spokane police. On Dec. 16, a different officer gave Alford a $103 ticket for consuming Tilt, a berry flavored malt beverage, in a public place. Alford was near Pacific Avenue and Division Street – only a few blocks from where he would have his fatal confrontation with Torok three months later.

Also Tuesday, county officials said they would not conduct a coroner’s inquest into the shooting.

“At this point there is no justification to conduct an inquest,” said Spokane County Medical Examiner Sally Aiken in a statement delivered by Spokane County spokeswoman Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter.

“They know he was shot in the chest. They know the officer did it,” Wheatley-Billeter explained.

Unless some new, unexpected information about the shooting arises, there is no need for an inquest, she said.

An information sheet about inquest protocols being written by the Spokane County prosecutor’s office and Aiken’s office describes situations where inquests would be used and where they wouldn’t in Spokane County.

“Absent a legislative mandate, for an ME to conduct an inquest in cases where there is sufficient facts to determine the cause and manner of death would be improper and a waste of taxpayer resources,” the document labeled “General Inquest Information” states, later adding, “the appropriate use of inquest is when it can be conducted in a timely manner and directed to clarifying issues of the death that cannot be answered using routine investigation or forensic science.”

Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker said last summer that he would ask Aiken to conduct such inquests when people die in police custody, but in a Tuesday interview he said that doesn’t apply to all cases, including this one.

“In this situation, it’s pretty easy to determine the cause of death,” Tucker said. “You took a bullet, so you are dead.”

While coroner inquests may bring police-involved death investigations into the open, they have more to do with how the person died than other information related to the incident, which is determined by other investigators and the prosecutor’s office, Tucker said.

“I know that when people see homicide, they think someone has to be held accountable, but excusable homicide and justifiable homicide are also in the statutes, so we have to determine if it’s one of those,” he said.

Tucker said that’s done by his office, not the medical examiner.

He added that possible conflicts of issue surrounding such cases have been resolved by new Spokane police policies mandating outside review.

The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the shooting as part of the Police Department’s new protocol calling for outside review of fatal incidents involving Spokane officers.

Torok is a 17-year veteran of the Spokane Police Department, according to a Sheriff’s Office news release. He was awarded the Police Department’s Silver Star in 2002 for his role in capturing two people who fired guns at Spokane’s Intermodal Center.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email