January 23, 2014 in City

Spokane police shooting investigation slowed

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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The outside investigation into a Spokane police shooting behind Truth Ministries last week has been slowed as the lead detective stayed home sick with the flu for several days.

As a result, not all of the four officers involved have been interviewed, said Washington State Patrol trooper Jeff Sevigney.

“There are things the lead detective needs to be involved in,” he said. “That’s not to say other parts of the investigation aren’t proceeding.”

Two police officers fired their handguns at Aaron D. Johnson on Jan. 16 in the alley behind the homeless shelter. Court documents accuse Johnson of charging at a police sergeant with a knife after attempts to stop him – including shocking him with a Taser – failed.

Johnson was treated for his wounds and remains jailed on assault charges.

The focus is on being thorough and gathering all the facts, Sevigney said of the investigative delay.

“I imagine this case wouldn’t go to the prosecutor for several more weeks if not months,” he said.

Court documents say Spokane police Sgt. Terry Preuninger arrived last to the alley behind Truth Ministries at 1910 E. Sprague Ave. after an emergency call for help. He drove in from the east.

After another officer shot Johnson with a Taser, Preuninger jumped out of his car expecting Johnson to fall to the ground.

Johnson instead turned and charged at Preuninger with the knife, according to court records.

Two other officers then shot him.

Preuninger, who has received several awards and commendations during his 21 years with the department, is also well-known for testifying in support of officer Karl Thompson’s use of force during a trial on the beating death of Otto Zehm.

The other officers involved in the incident have been identified as Officer Holton Widhalm, Officer Michael Schneider and Officer Christopher Conrath. The WSP has not identified which officers fired their weapons and who fired the Taser.

Truth Ministries director Marty McKinney said Johnson had been staying at the shelter for three days. He hadn’t caused any problems but his behavior seemed to indicate a mental illness, McKinney said.

Johnson was acting oddly that night and was carrying a chunk of wood when he arrived, McKinney said, and “freaked out” when he was told he had to give it up. He began making threats and was told to leave. He remained in the alley behind the shelter after he was escorted outside.

“I believe it happened just as the police said it did just because of what he said before he went outside,” McKinney said. “I have no doubts the police officers did everything they could before they had to fire.”

Surveillance video of what happened inside the shelter has been turned over to the police. McKinney said there are no cameras installed in the alley.

Johnson, 29, has five convictions on his record, including theft, residential burglary and assault. He pleaded guilty to domestic violence-riot in 2013.


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