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Sun., June 24, 2012

Editorial: Deputies handle tough situation admirably

“The citizens of Spokane, we owe you a great deal of thanks.” – Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich

Sheriff, with all due respect, we think you have it backwards.

Tuesday afternoon, the Inland Northwest held its breath for one hour and three minutes while local law enforcement marshaled every resource available to pursue Charles Robert Wallace after he shot deputies Matt Spink and Mike Northwood.

Breath came hard for hours after the ferocity of the initial encounter while we awaited reports on the medical condition of the deputies. We are grateful they will recover and return to their families. We hope that, if they so choose, both will also be able to resume their careers in law enforcement, understanding that the severity of Deputy Northwood’s wounds may make that impossible.

He may owe his survival to Samaritans who stepped in to render aid, stanching the flow of blood from a severed artery. We know that it was those individuals in particular you were thanking in your statement.

And we are mindful of the heightened risks taken by all the officers involved as they chased the desperate Wallace, who fired on his pursuers and put the lives of dozens of other drivers in danger. Video shot from a tracking Sheriff’s Office helicopter shows a man amok, careless of anyone or anything but his own escape. The drivers of two oncoming, side-by-side vehicles Wallace drove between may not yet have exhaled.

Fortunately, the end was quick, and without further injuries. Wallace’s self-execution was a blessing to the officers who converged on his vehicle, and the community.

But how did it come to an ugly death in a car stolen from an 87-year-old woman who did not back down when he seized her keys?

The immediate blame has been focused on U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Imbrogno, who allowed Wallace to walk out of her courtroom in the belief he was headed back to drug treatment. But Imbrogno was just the last of many judges to look at Wallace’s ever-growing rap sheet. With Wallace, the system has been playing with fire for a long time.

The Wallace facing Imbrogno was facing a single narcotics charge. The Wallace indicted by a grand jury Tuesday was facing charges of being a felon arrested with a gun. That pending indictment would have been cause for renewed efforts to get Wallace back behind bars.

Further investigations and debriefings will surely expose other details of a confrontation that built for years, and played out in little more than one hour. Some mistakes may have been made in the rush to respond to the side of fellow officers and track down the shooter as quickly as possible. Bottom line: No one else was hurt.

We have become accustomed to reporting the wrongs of a few officers and deputies who think they are above the law. Tuesday, the actions of all the departments involved were a credit to law enforcement, no matter the uniform.

So, thanks. And be careful out there.

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