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Officers involved in fatal shooting to return to work

Wed., March 25, 2009, 12:44 p.m.

Two Spokane police officers have been cleared to return to work after an incident last week in which police shot a Deer Park man to death.

Police policy requires that officers involved in a shooting take a three-day mandatory break from duty and then meet with the department’s psychologist for a clearance to return to duty. Spokane Senior Patrol Officer Dan Lesser and Sgt. Brent Austin had their evaluations on Tuesday, said Officer Jennifer DeRuwe, police spokeswoman.

Lesser and Austin confronted a fleeing car-theft suspect in a North Side alley after a traffic stop March 17 near North Division Street and Longfellow Avenue.

Officers said that the suspect, Johnnie L. Longest III, was in a stolen Honda Civic and driving recklessly. When an officer tried to stop him, the driver sped away. After disappearing into an alley, the Honda reappeared and then became high-centered on a concrete divider along Division.

The suspect fled and was tracked by Lesser’s police dog, Var, to an alley at Lacrosse Avenue. Authorities said the dog went after Longest, who shot Var twice with a .22-caliber handgun.

Lesser returned fire, striking Longest, who died at Deaconess Medical Center a short time after the incident.

Var was treated at a pet emergency clinic for a grazing head wound and a bullet in a leg, which a veterinarian decided not to remove. The police dog is not expected to return to duty and had been at retirement age for a K-9, officials said.

Longest’s criminal history included a charge of taking a motor vehicle without permission and a drug possession charge. He was in jail for 43 days ending Feb. 26. Family members said after his death that he returned to smoking methamphetamine after his release.

The Honda involved in Tuesday’s incident was taken from a north Spokane residence.

Spokane County Sheriff’s detectives are continuing an investigation of the shooting, shadowed by city police detectives.

Mike Prager can be reached at (509) 459-5454 or

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