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Slain man’s friends question fatal police shooting

After Jeremy Groom pointed a gun at his own head and threatened suicide Saturday in Spokane, his friend of 20 years, Robert Thompson, Jr., figured he needed to do something fast to calm him down.

So he asked a question: “What do you see when you look at me?” Thompson, 29, recalled asking Groom, 34, in the parking lot of a Hillyard bar. The former Marine called Thompson a brother and said he trusted him, then handed him the clip from his loaded handgun.

But Groom, who was upset about the upcoming anniversary of his mother’s death, wouldn’t give him the bullet already loaded in the gun’s chamber, Thompson said.

Moments later he was dead, shot by Spokane police who rolled into the parking lot of the Special K Bar and Grill, 3817 N. Market St., and saw Groom pointing the pistol at Thompson after the two men tussled.

Thompson said he never feared Groom would shoot him and contends police overreacted. He said officers shot Groom immediately after ordering him to drop his gun, which never was pointed at police.

“They didn’t give him a chance to react,” Thompson said. “It didn’t have to go down the way it did.”

Groom was licensed to carry concealed handguns, friends say, adding that they never saw the handgun inside the bar and believe he’d kept it in his car. It’s unlawful to take firearms inside taverns.

Names of the two officers involved in the fatal shooting have not been released, but one is a 37-year-old officer with 10 years experience with the Spokane Police Department and the other is a 26-year-old officer with two years experience, said Sgt. Dave Reagan, spokesman for the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating the shooting. Both officers are on paid administrative leave.

Reagan said officers reported shots fired at 9:38 p.m., five minutes after Thompson’s wife called 911 concerned that Groom had armed himself with a gun. While en route, officers learned he’d threatened to shoot himself, and that Thompson had gone outside with him to “talk him down,” according to a news release.

“The suspect had been shot by officers after they saw him threatening a second man with a pistol,” Reagan wrote. Thompson said one officer who fired shots was to his left, the other was behind him.

“He had to have shot right by me,” he said.

Reagan said officers conducted CPR and called for medics, but witnesses said an ambulance never arrived. Medics from a fire truck performed CPR, but Groom was declared dead the scene.

Groom’s friend Raselle Morgan, 33, said he never had time to drop the gun after police shouted a single command.

“They should have given him the option to drop that gun. Period,” Morgan said.

Thompson estimated the time between police ordering Groom to drop his gun and shooting him at no more than 5 seconds.

“At the time he looked over at the cops, that gun was pointed at me,” Thompson said. “They went in there with the intent to kill him.”

Thompson said Groom, who had no criminal record, never would have shot him.

“It was just a way of saying ‘back up; don’t touch me,’” Thompson said. Thompson said Groom had the gun pointed at him for about 20 seconds before police arrived.

Thompson questioned why police didn’t shock Groom with a Taser or shoot to injure him. Law enforcement officers, however, are trained to shoot to kill, figuring that wounded gunmen could still be capable of pulling a trigger, and officers typically avoid non-lethal force when confronted with firearm threats.

Groom, who Thompson said was unemployed, has three children, a 2-month old girl, a four-year-old girl and nine-year-old boy.

He graduated John Rogers High School in 1994 and spent four years in the Marines before returning to Spokane in 2000, where he worked as an electrician. He enjoyed playing pool at the Special K and had been drinking the night of the shooting, but friends say he wasn’t heavily intoxicated.

He was upset about his mother, who died of breast cancer four years ago next Saturday, friends said. He and his girlfriend wanted to go home, and Thompson said they were waiting for their car to warm up before they left. Groom was upset at having to wait and exited the car, then shattered the windshield on his girlfriend’s car, Thompson said. Thompson got him back inside the car but Groom threatened suicide and pointed a gun at his own head, Thompson said.

That’s when Thompson persuaded Groom to give him the clip.

“But he says ‘I ain’t getting the bullet out of the chamber’” and tried to approach his girlfriend, Thompson said. That’s when the men brawled and Groom pointed the gun at Thompson. Within minutes, Groom was dead.

Friends and family remembered him Monday as a loving father with a big heart who enjoyed model cars, friends, family, barbecues and Raider football.

“When you were down, he’d pick you up,” said his cousin, Crystal Groom, 33.