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Officer cleared in man’s fatal shooting

Suspect posed threat, deputy prosecutor says

Spokane police Officer Dan Lesser has been cleared in the fatal shooting of suspected car thief Johnnie L. Longest.

Longest was shot this spring after police say he fired a gun at police officers, a police dog and bystanders; Lesser fired back.

Longest died of a single gunshot wound that entered just right of his spine near the middle of the back, officials said.

Authorities determined the location of the bullet wound was “consistent with what (a witness) saw – Longest being hit in the back as his arm was extended toward the officers and the dog as he was firing,” said Chief Deputy Criminal Prosecutor Jack Driscoll.

Longest posed a threat to police and civilians on the night of March 17, which justified the officer’s decision to used deadly force, Driscoll said.

“Numerous witnesses stated that they were in the suspect’s line of fire and feared for their lives,” he said.

The incident began when police spotted Longest driving recklessly in a stolen Honda Civic that night.

When an officer tried to stop him, the driver eluded police. The car disappeared into an alley, but became high-centered on a concrete divider along Division Street.

Longest fled down an alley at Lacrosse Avenue and was tracked by a police dog. Lesser, the dog’s handler, was accompanied by Sgt. Brent Austin as the dog went after Longest. Austin tried to restrain Longest, but Longest pulled a .22-caliber handgun and shot the dog – named Var – twice, police officials said.

One bullet grazed Var’s head and another hit a paw. The dog did not die of his injuries, but retired.

Var received a police Purple Heart in April and died last month of a brain tumor.

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Then and Now: Comstock Park

James M. Comstock, born in 1838 in Wisconsin, arrived in Spokane in time to witness the great fire of 1889 and start Spokane Dry Goods with Robert Paterson. It became the Crescent, Spokane’s premier department store for a century. He also worked in real estate and owned other businesses. He served a term as Spokane mayor, starting in 1899. James Comstock died in 1918.