May 28, 2009 in City

Autopsy shows man was shot in back

Family says questions remain in police killing
By The Spokesman-Review
 

A suspected auto thief who was killed after he shot a Spokane police dog while trying to elude officers was shot in the back, an autopsy report released this week shows.

Johnnie L. Longest III was pronounced dead March 18 at Deaconess Medical Center, hours after he ran from police near Division Street and Rich Avenue. The fatal shootout occurred in an alley after Longest tried eluding police.

The 10-year-old police dog, Var, chased Longest down and suffered two bullet wounds; one grazed his head and another tore into his paw. The dog retired and received the police Purple Heart last month.

Police, however, provided no description of where Longest’s fatal injuries were located, and his family said they don’t understand why he was shot in the upper back at an upward direction, as the report from the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office indicates.

“We just want to know what happened,” said Longest’s aunt, Jackie Loy, who obtained the autopsy report this week and provided it to The Spokesman-Review. “If they shot him out of revenge because he shot a dog, they’re going to jail. You can’t take someone’s life because you’re angry with them.”

Police dispute any suggestion that the suspect was shot in revenge.

The location of Longest’s bullet wound is just one factor in a complicated situation that played out in seconds, police spokeswoman Jennifer DeRuwe said.

“The shooting in the back really isn’t an issue for us,” she said. “It’s the totality of the situation.”

Police are trained to understand that a suspect shooting a police dog is not a reason to fire shots, she said. But police also are trained to react to potentially deadly situations and to be alert when firearms are displayed.

A news release prepared by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office two days after the shooting said Var’s handler, senior police Officer Dan Lesser, “returned fire” after Var was shot as Sgt. Brent Austin tried to restrain Longest.

The police report on the shooting is complete and was recently forwarded to the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office, Lt. Dave McGovern said last week.

Longest, who had been released from jail less than a month before, high-centered a stolen Honda after police tried pulling him over for driving recklessly, according to previously published reports.

He ran from police and shot Var with a Smith & Wesson .22-caliber pistol after the dog tracked him to an alley at LaCrosse Avenue, police said.

Longest called his girlfriend during the pursuit, her father said, and she heard gunshots through her cell phone before Longest said he loved her and went silent.

She drove to the alley, just west of Division, but wasn’t allowed to approach as police performed CPR on Longest, according to previous reports.

Meghann M. Cuniff can be reached at (509) 459-5534 or at meghannc@spokesman.com.


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