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Spokane-area officer-involved fatalities rose in 2013

Sun., Jan. 26, 2014

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the investigation into the death of Will Berger is ongoing.

Five men died last year at the hands of Spokane-area law enforcement, in actions ruled justified by prosecutors, after just a single fatal officer-involved incident the year before.

Comparing Spokane County to other areas of the country is a dubious enterprise because of the lack of standardized statistics on the subject. While the FBI collects detailed records on local crime and how many law enforcement officers have died in the line of duty, it does not total the number of people fired upon by police.

Spokane police Chief Frank Straub said his department has implemented all recommendations made by the mayor’s independent Use of Force Commission, convened in 2011 to evaluate police procedures after the death of janitor Otto Zehm in 2006. Training exercises, including classes on crisis resolution, have been integrated into the department’s standard practices, with all officers expected to complete training that exceeds state and national standards by the end of March.

Straub, whose officers were involved in three fatal incidents last year, said police often have to deal with scenarios made worse by drug use and other factors.

“As I have said on a number of occasions – there are a significant number of individuals in our community who are challenged by mental illness and co-occurring dependencies,” Straub said in an email. “Police officers are frequently put in situations where they encounter individuals facing these challenges.” 

Spokane police Officer Adam Valdez was involved in two of the fatal shootings. Jacob Dorfman was shot and killed after he led police on a chase on the South Hill in February while armed with a gun. In the other case, Justin Cairns died running from police while armed after he was suspected of shooting Cyrus Jones to death in May.

Valdez is back on patrol, according to Spokane police. Spokeswoman Monique Cotton said the department’s shift structure tends to put the same officers on the street when high-risk situations take place.

In the Spokane Police Department’s third fatal shooting, Daniel “Danny” Jones died in the Salvation Army parking lot in August. Investigators say Jones led police on a chase to the parking lot on East Indiana Avenue, then tried to ram police patrol vehicles before officers opened fire, killing him. Prosecutors have said those officers’ actions were justified.

Spokane County sheriff’s deputies were involved in two fatal incidents last year. Roy Jacobs Jr., 48, was shot while holding a knife in his kitchen, and William Berger, 34, died from lack of oxygen after deputies subdued him with a stun gun and what’s known as a lateral vascular neck restraint following an outburst by Berger at a Moran Prairie gym.

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich has defended deputies’ actions in each incident. Prosecutors ruled Jacobs’ death justified, but have not yet announced any charges in Berger’s death.

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