Deputies who initially said an armed assault suspect fired on them before they shot back, wounding him last week, now say they’re unsure if the man shot at them at all.
The newly disclosed doubts over who fired first in the Sept. 16 showdown are contained in investigative documents filed in Spokane County Superior Court. Investigators recovered no forensic evidence at the scene corroborating the deputies’ initial statements that “multiple shots” had been fired at them, and in subsequent interviews with Washington State Patrol investigators this week the deputies have acknowledged it’s possible the suspect didn’t fire his gun.
Either way, all of the deputies say they feared that hostile fire was imminent.
According to a search warrant affidavit filed Thursday in Superior Court, Spokane County sheriff’s Deputy Thad Schultz and sheriff’s Sgt. Martin Tucker told investigators they believed they were being shot at by Sean P. Houlihan and that sheriff’s Deputy David Westlake “may have been shot at or was in serious danger of being shot outside the front door of the residence.”
Investigators have not found any evidence supporting initial statements from deputies and a witness that Houlihan initiated the gunfire with a volley of shots after refusing orders to drop his weapon.
In interviews with investigators on Tuesday, for example, Westlake said he didn’t see Houlihan fire his gun “but clearly observed Houlihan pointing the weapon at them” and twice ordered the suspect to drop the weapon before shooting him, according to the warrant.
The warrant authorized WSP to search Houlihan’s 2003 Dodge pickup Thursday morning for shell casings that could help determine if he ever fired a gun during the altercation.
Although investigators recovered a .40 caliber casing, documents indicate Houlihan was armed with a 9mm pistol and that a second handgun was found inside the cab of his truck.
Houlihan remains in Spokane County Jail on $75,000 bond for three counts of first-degree assault.
Schultz, Westlake and Tucker were interviewed on Tuesday. They remain on paid administrative leave, said Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.
“Independent witnesses stated that shots had been fired,” Knezovich said. “Now we’re just trying to make the connections between the forensics and the statements.”
Houlihan, 37, is a self-employed floor and carpet installer who lives with his girlfriend at 909 E. Brentwood Drive, near Wandermere Golf Course in north Spokane County, where the deputies responded to reports of a shooting Sept. 16 about 11 p.m.
Houlihan’s friend Lester J. Doyle said Houlihan, who had been drinking heavily, pointed a 12-gauge pump shotgun and a semi-automatic pistol at him and fired two shots, then left in his pickup with the guns. Houlihan returned when the Tucker, Westlake and Schultz were on scene.
The deputies and Sgt. Tucker said in a tactical debriefing with investigators that Houlihan “had fired multiple shots from the Dodge pickup toward the deputies,” according to the affidavit. “Both Deputies then returned multiple shots toward Houlihan.”
But in interviews with WSP investigators on Tuesday, “both Deputies and Sergeant Tucker indicated the possibility that Houllihan had not fired his weapon at the officers when he arrived at the residence.”
Houlihan’s lawyer, Robert Schiffner, said he’s pleased with how the investigation is proceeding.
“I’m glad to hear that the investigation is tending to show what I believe happened, but we need to wait until all the evidence comes out,” Schiffner said. “I don’t want there to be a rush of judgment on my client, and I don’t want there to be a rush of judgment on the officers.”
Investigators recovered two shell casings in the basement where Doyle said Houlihan fired shots, as well as casings from outside the front door. They also recovered bullets that had been fired into Houlihan’s truck, but no bullets or shell casings were located that would indicate Houlihan fired his weapon, Schiffner said.
Schiffner said he hopes the crime lab can determine which bullets were fired from which guns but said he believed Houlihan was carrying a Glock 9mm – the same type of gun issued to deputies.