Spokane’s police chief is so confident that one of her officers acted appropriately in Saturday’s fatal shooting of a man that she ordered the officer to issue a rarely used statement to investigators rather than submit to standard questioning,, she said Wednesday.
Chief Anne Kirkpatrick said she ordered Sgt. Dan Torok to issue a statement about his actions; if he had refused, he could have been fired, she said. The contents of the statement, however, can’t be used against the officer in a criminal investigation.
“There’s nothing from the independent investigation … that makes me feel the officer did anything but what he had to,” Kirkpatrick said.
But the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office says its investigation into the shooting death of 33-year-old Jerome Alford is still continuing.
It declined to take Torok’s statement regarding the shooting. Sheriff’s officials were confused about the practice and didn’t believe they were legally able to accept such a statement, called a Garrity letter, Kirkpatrick said. “The investigators don’t typically receive it,” she said.
Kirkpatrick is the only person authorized to give Torok the order to issue such a statement.
Torok shot Alford in the chest during a confrontation near downtown Saturday. Law enforcement officials won’t say whether Alford was armed. The sergeant suffered injuries to his face and knuckles during the altercation, officials said. Torok radioed for help twice during the encounter.
Torok is on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure, while the shooting is investigated.
On Wednesday, after the sheriff’s office declined to take Torok’s Garrity statement, spokesman Sgt. Dave Reagan sent out an update that said: “Sgt. Torok has elected to not provide a voluntary interview regarding Saturday’s shooting. There is no other new information in the case. It is anticipated that it will take several weeks to get crime lab results and to examine other evidence before the investigation is deemed complete.”
Kirkpatrick said that wasn’t true. “Dan (Torok) never refused to give a statement,” she said. He still can be questioned by investigators, she said. And she’s received numerous apologies from those involved in the investigation.
“This is deep to me,” said Kirkpatrick, referring to a police officer in Federal Way, Wash. – where she served as police chief before coming to Spokane last year – who was killed when his gun was taken during an altercation in 2003. Kirkpatrick said she was unaware if that’s what happened in the situation with Torok.
Not much is known about the homeless man who died.
Alford was known as a regular visitor at the House of Charity in Spokane where he first showed up last summer.
Antoine Robinson said he met Alford at Larry’s Barber Shop.
“I was going to help him put together a resume,” Robinson said. “I help out a lot of people who are trying to make it here.
“He didn’t have a lot of experience in one particular area,” Robinson said. “He wanted to do labor.” Torok is a 17-year veteran of the Spokane Police Department, officials said. 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.
Torok was one of seven officers who responded to a North Side Zip Trip a year ago in a confrontation that resulted in the death of mentally ill janitor Otto Zehm. Torok was not involved in the initial confrontation with Zehm, but assisted other officers in restraining Zehm after he arrived. For a short time, Torok was the ranking officer at the scene. During that struggle, Torok said he struck his knee into Zehm’s left side. “When my knee struck him, I heard him exhale and I was able to force his arm behind his back,” Torok said in his statement to investigators.
Torok was standing one aisle away when other officers noticed that Zehm was not breathing, according to court records.
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