A state trooper who accidentally shot an unarmed pregnant woman during a drug raid in Spokane last fall was emotional in interviews with investigators and was overheard asking why the shot couldn’t have missed.
Sgt. Herbert Lee Slemp recently returned to the Washington State Patrol in an administrative position after prosecutors concluded no criminal charges should be filed against him for the Sept. 24 shooting of Keamia D. Powell, 24.
Slemp had been on paid leave since the shooting, which occurred as he was trying to stop the woman from escaping out a window as she ingested cocaine found in the bedroom.
After Powell was shot, she “reportedly apologized for not listening to the officers and not doing what she had been told,” according to police reports obtained by The Spokesman-Review under the state’s open records laws.
Slemp has said he accidentally fired his gun as he tried to stop Powell from climbing out a bedroom window at the apartment she shared with her mother at 1405 N. Lincoln St. The gun was in his right hand, and he “instinctively” squeezed that hand when reaching for Powell.
Slemp said he didn’t hear the gunshot or feel the gun recoil and didn’t realize Powell had been shot until she rolled over and he saw a gunshot wound on her shoulder.
On the advice of the state Trooper’s Association, Slemp answered only “a limited number of questions during the tactical debriefing” before sitting down for an interview on Sept. 29 while accompanied by his lawyer, Rob Cossey. Slemp declined to allow investigators to record the interview, according to court documents. He also declined to talk to a Spokesman-Review reporter when contacted by cellphone Friday.
WSP is investigating the shooting to determine if Slemp, who was leading the raid as sergeant of the Quad City Drug Task Force, violated department policy.
Reviews of the case by county and city prosecutors eliminated the possibility of assault charges against Slemp because he didn’t intentionally shoot Powell.
Third-degree assault can be filed in cases of criminal negligence, but Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Jack Driscoll said Slemp was not criminally negligent when he didn’t holster his gun.
“It was not a gross deviation from the standard of care, but a reaction to an event,” Driscoll wrote. “He was not in the process of handcuffing, or even initiating the handcuffing procedure with Ms. Powell, but still trying to control the situation.”
Spokane City Prosecutor Mary Muramatsu also declined to charge Slemp with misdemeanor city assault because Slemp did not intentionally shoot Powell.
“Although it is odd that Sgt. Slemp would claim to not have heard his gun discharge, there is no evidence to contradict the veracity of his statement,” Muramatsu wrote.
Muramatsu also declined to pursue reckless endangerment charges because she said there was no evidence that Slemp was handling his weapon in a manner that he knew would create substantial risk.
After Powell was shot, she fell out the window and onto the ground, then looked up at Slemp and told him she “didn’t eat anything,” Slemp told investigators.
“Powell then looked at him with a blank stare,” documents say.
Police say Powell’s wound was not serious, and that while she was “visibly upset and shaken” she was lucid and apologetic.
“She also said she has a drug problem and just can’t stop taking them,” according to court documents. Powell continued to try to ingest cocaine after she was shot and was heard telling police “I’m addicted,” as she lay on the ground bleeding.
Powell delivered her baby at a Spokane hospital the weekend after the shooting and has been charged with four felony drug charges related to the raid. Her mother, Aletha Robinson, also is charged. The child, a boy, was placed in protective state custody.
Other task force members said Slemp was standing in the bedroom “like in a daze” after the shooting.
Colfax police Officer Bryson Aase, who was in the bedroom with Slemp when Powell was shot, said he didn’t see the gun fire but heard the gunshot. He said Powell wasn’t doing anything “particularly alarming” but was not following orders. He said Slemp was standing behind Powell as she tried to climb out the window, leading to the shooting.
When WSP Detective Bryant Blake, a member of the Spokane gang enforcement team, asked him what happened, Slemp replied, “I shot her,” and was escorted outside.
Moscow police Cpl. Rodney Wolverton said “everything got real quiet” after the shot was fired before Robinson asked if someone had shot her dog. Wolverton said “everything seemed to hold tight” for 15 to 20 seconds before someone said, “Let’s get everybody out.”
Wolverton said the only statement Slemp made to him was “Why couldn’t I have … missed?”