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Family grapples with shooting death

A distraught James Rogers called parents ‘over and over’ before police standoff

James Edward Rogers spent Monday driving around the Spokane area, calling his family.

Depressed and distraught, the 45-year-old father of seven said it was over – that he had his father’s shotgun and planned to use it on himself. His family frantically searched for him, eventually learning of a police standoff on the lower South Hill with a man in a van.

It had to be him, said Rogers’ father, Alonzo Rogers, who owns the van his son took from their Deer Park home Monday.

Family rushed to the area of Hatch Street and Seventh Avenue to help officers persuade Rogers to surrender, but gunfire interrupted Rogers’ sister’s phone call with police.

She learned of his death three hours later. The Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office determined after an autopsy Tuesday that Rogers died of gunshot wounds but would not say how many.

Now, as a multi-agency team led by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office begins its investigation, Rogers’ family questions why police fired as a negotiator pleaded with Rogers to surrender, reminding him of his seven children.

Authorities released few details Tuesday about the gunfire other than to say that Rogers “continued moving around inside the van and refusing (a) negotiator’s requests that he surrender.”

“I don’t feel it was right,” Alonzo Rogers said. “They could have waited for me.”

Witnesses said police continued to negotiate with James Rogers after he threatened to kill them and said he had plenty of ammunition. The fatal shots were fired at 8:24 p.m. – nearly two hours after police first encountered Rogers.

In a home video shot by a bystander and provided to media, the negotiator can be heard telling Rogers that “we just mean to help.”

“You need to put the shotgun down. James. This is not a solution, bud,” the negotiator said. “We understand you have seven kids. They will need their dad in the future – they will need to talk to you.”

About six gunshots are then heard, but Rogers and the firing officer or officers cannot be seen in the video.

Alonzo Rogers said he believes the shooting was the result of inadequate training or the work of an officer who wanted to be a hero “or just a stupid jerk.”

Police first encountered Rogers after a woman called 911 at 6:28 p.m. to report a suicidal employee armed with a shotgun at SL Start, an assisted-living facility for disabled people at 811 S. Hatch St. The woman said the man fired a shotgun once near or from the van and may have shot himself, but detectives have not verified that claim, said sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Dave Reagan. A representative for SL Start declined to speak to The Spokesman-Review Tuesday.

Police tried blocking the parking lot exit to prevent Rogers from leaving, Reagan said, but Rogers backed into a brick wall and drove across a lawn to avoid the patrol car. He drove northbound on Hatch but tipped the van on its side while trying to turn on Seventh, Reagan said.

Rogers refused to leave the van, and officers – joined by the Spokane police SWAT team, the sheriff’s helicopter and the bomb unit’s robot – tried for nearly two hours to talk him into surrendering.

Police have not said how many officers fired shots, but Reagan said arrangements are being made to interview more than 20 officers who responded to the scene.

Detectives are also seeking other witnesses and emphasize that “anything witnesses saw or heard could be critical to the investigation,” Reagan said.

Meanwhile, Rogers’ family spent Tuesday trying to comprehend his death. Family said Rogers graduated from Clarkston High School, worked as a military police officer until the mid-1990s and was an experienced baker. His children range from age 5 to 24, including a son in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.

Rogers’ sister, Angela Crigger, cried Tuesday as she looked through photos of him as hospital chaplains sat nearby. Her children soon arrived at their Liberty Lake home and were told of their uncle’s death.

She said her brother, whom she described as her best friend, stopped by SL Start to say goodbye in what she believes was another cry for help.

“I know he was crying out for help – I know it,” Crigger said. “He wouldn’t have killed himself.”

Rogers had worked for SL Start for about a year as a care provider for disabled residents but had recently been told by the state that he needed to undergo alcoholism counseling to keep his license, said Alonzo Rogers.

James Rogers served six months in prison for a drunken chase with police in Whitman County in 2010. He underwent rehabilitation for alcohol abuse but had likely started drinking again, his father said. He was depressed about the counseling requirement and had been told he needed to pay about $350 a month instead of attending free counseling at the Spokane Veterans Affairs Medical Center, his father said.

“That started him downhill,” Rogers’ father said.

Alonzo Rogers said his son worried about losing his job and felt hopeless. He said so when he called Tuesday. Alonzo Rogers and his wife Barbara didn’t realize he’d left the home with their van and shotgun until he told them.

“He kept calling us over and over” and said where he was – a grocery store, a restaurant – but he was always gone when family arrived, Alonzo Rogers said.

Rogers said his daughter contacted police when she learned of the standoff and told them the shotgun was broken and difficult to reload. But the gun could fire a single round.

“We don’t know if there was even one in it,” Rogers said.

Police have not said if Rogers ever fired a shot.