Ex-informant asked to be shot, records say
Surveillance cameras outside a Salvation Army housing facility captured Danny Jones in his red pickup truck as it lurched toward the building’s front door moments before smoke filled the air as officers opened fire last August.
Jones, a former confidential informant working for the Spokane Police Department as a drug buyer, was not armed. But witnesses say he asked to be shot and claimed to be high at the time of the killing, according to public records obtained by The Spokesman-Review.
The Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office announced earlier this month its decision not to seek criminal charges in the case against the four Spokane police officers who shot and killed Jones, 40, on Aug. 22, 2013. Those officers told investigators they feared for the safety of themselves, people inside the building and other drivers after Jones rammed another motorist on Division Street and led multiple officers on a chase to the Salvation Army’s parking lot.
On the day of the incident, police said that Jones had rammed multiple patrol cars before he was shot – an allegation also contained in the official investigation. Video triggered by motion sensors on cameras outside the building does not clearly show such contact, but it does show Jones rev the engine toward the front door of the Salvation Army building. At least one man inside the building hustled away in response, an interior camera shows.
Jones was the fifth man killed by Spokane-area law enforcement in 2013. In all but one of those cases, prosecutors have cleared officials of any wrongdoing. Deputy Prosecutor Jack Driscoll said last month he has not yet reviewed the case of Will Berger, a man shot with a stun gun and placed in a neck hold to render him unconscious last June by Spokane County sheriff’s deputies at a Moran Prairie gym. Berger later died.
Driscoll wrote the prosecutor’s office’s opinion not to seek charges against Spokane police Lt. Kevin King and Officers Robert Collins, Corey Lyons and Scott Lesser in Jones’ death.
“It was reasonable for officers to conclude that Mr. Jones’ actions constituted a ‘threat of serious physical harm’ to both officers and civilians,” Driscoll wrote, adding there was no evidence of “evil intent” shown by the officers.
The investigative report prepared for prosecutorial review, totaling more than 700 pages of evidence, does not definitively say who fired first, though King told investigators he believed he was the first to pull the trigger. While King, Collins and Lyons were armed with service handguns, Lesser opened fire with an AR-15 assault rifle.
Lesser retrieved that rifle from his car, exchanging it for a nonlethal shotgun he had been carrying. According to his report, when he arrived on scene he noted that another officer was carrying nonlethal rounds and returned to his car to grab his rifle. There is no mention in the reports of why this was done.
Police spokeswoman Monique Cotton said department policy grants officers discretion in determining the reasonable amount of force to be used in each confrontation with a suspect.
“The use of deadly force is taken extremely seriously,” Cotton said.
There is no audio on the video, but multiple witnesses inside the building and officers in the parking lot told investigators Jones said he would not be taken alive and that he was high on drugs at the time of the shooting. Drugs were found in Jones’ system during an autopsy.
Cotton said officers act in those situations with the safety of the public in mind.
“Our primary goal is to protect public safety,” she said.
Jones’ family told officers that he worked as a confidential drug buyer for the department in the past but had been in prison in Western Washington just before he was shot. Detective Al Quist with the Spokane Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit confirmed to investigators that Jones was used in cases in the past. Jones had contacted Quist by phone as recently as a week before the shooting, claiming to have issues with his medications and that he was being followed by police, the report said.
Quist said Jones asked to work for the department again, but there were concerns his drug habit had returned. Quist made it clear to Jones in multiple meetings that took place in the weeks leading to the shooting that he was “black-balled” from the department, according to investigative reports.
Multiple witnesses said Jones rammed a white truck on Division Street, prompting the police pursuit. Jones had told Quist that he was being followed by an undercover policeman in a white truck in the weeks before the shooting, according to Quist’s statement to investigators. The driver of the white truck that morning was an Avista Corp. employee on his way to training classes.
Jones made a U-turn in the intersection at Division and River Drive to strike the truck after the two drivers exchanged words shortly after 6 a.m., according to witness statements. An initial near-collision had occurred farther south on Division, the driver of the other truck said.
Jones was wounded in his chin, neck, chest and arm. His lungs, spleen and diaphragm were shot straight through, according to an autopsy report.
Another officer in a patrol car on the south side of Jones’ truck ducked when officers fired from the north through the cab around 6:11 a.m., according to investigative reports.
After reviewing the case, Driscoll found enough evidence to show Jones posed a credible threat to the community, and the officers acted appropriately in response to that threat.
“The facts show, from both what was observed by officers, as well as by civilians, that Mr. Jones posed a serious threat to the officers or others,” he wrote.