A kidnapping suspect shot and killed by Spokane County deputies last summer suffered two gunshot wounds to the back, new documents show.
Spokane County prosecutors are still reviewing whether the fatal shooting of Edward S. Gover, 47, was justified.
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said the deputies responded appropriately to the violent and uncertain encounter but expressed frustration that the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office has ordered him to avoid publicly discussing autopsy findings that he said would help the community understand how two of the bullets that hit Gover struck him in the back as he reportedly advanced on them.
Three bullets also hit Gover in the chest, and a shotgun blast hit him in the groin.
“It’s like being in a conversation and having a partial gag on you,” Knezovich said. “It is to our disadvantage to not be able to talk about this.”
The previously undisclosed shot placement was buried in hundreds of pages of investigative files obtained by The Spokesman-Review. The files don’t include any discussion of the gunshot wounds to the back. The investigation was led by the Spokane Police Department as part of an agreement among local law enforcement agencies.
The confrontation occurred Sept. 5 in Spokane Valley after deputies Aaron Childress and Eric Werner responded to 1309 N. Skipworth Court when a 69-year-old woman reported that Gover – who was her boyfriend – had stabbed her in the arm and held her captive the night before during an argument. The woman told deputies that Gover had demanded she hand over a pistol kept in a safe, threatened suicide and once threatened to kill her before fleeing in her black Mercedes.
Gover returned as deputies were writing reports, but he turned the car and fled. Gover ditched the car a block away and Childress and Werner went back to the Skipworth home, fearing that he might return.
Childress told investigators that he saw Gover’s head rise above a 6-foot vinyl fence, which he jumped and began advancing. Both Childress and Werner told investigators that Gover appeared to be hiding a weapon and refused commands and said something about having a knife.
“The suspect began to charge Deputy Childress. Deputy Werner said that he did see something in the suspect’s right hand which was black and shiny and appeared to be a knife,” sheriff’s Detective Lyle Johnston wrote.
Werner aimed at Gover and shot at about the same time Childress fired five times. “The suspect immediately fell to the ground in a forward position landing upon his face,” Johnston wrote.
However, the deputies quickly learned Gover was unarmed. The black shiny object turned out to be a key fob for the Mercedes.
The interviews of Childress and Werner were conducted in the law office of attorney Robert Cossey, who did not give investigators consent to record the interviews, Knezovich said.
Knezovich initially declined this week to comment about the gunshot wounds on Gover’s back, saying that he was barred by state law from discussing any information contained in the autopsy performed by Spokane County Medical Examiner Dr. John Howard.
But late Friday, Knezovich said he obtained permission from the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office to describe the wounds witnessed by deputies as part of the investigation that were as not specifically tied to the autopsy.
“I went back and looked at the photos. There is nothing nefarious here,” Knezovich said. The gunshot wounds “were very consistent with what would happen in that situation.”
Early reports from the Medical Examiner’s Office last summer indicated Gover was shot five times in the chest.
Local attorney Breean Beggs, who has represented several families of people who died from law enforcement actions, said he would have expected investigators to correct any public misperceptions of how the Gover shooting took place.
“They always say when the angle of the shot doesn’t work that it’s because of the dynamics of the body falling,” Beggs said. “If someone is shot in the back, do some reconstruction to figure out what happened. The medical examiner doesn’t do that. It’s the investigator who determines how that was done.”
Knezovich said it appeared that Gover suffered a gunshot wound to the middle of the chest, one near his right clavicle and possibly a third bullet injury to the right ribcage. The photos also show that Gover had a gunshot wound to his right shoulder blade and another to the middle of his back.
Knezovich said he hoped that the gunshot wounds to the back could be further explained through the autopsy. But Howard said he believes he’s barred by state law from discussing the autopsy.