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Jury: Husband, stepson killed Reynolds

CHEHALIS, Wash. — The 1998 shooting death of a Washington state trooper was a homicide and the woman’s husband and stepson were responsible, an inquest jury concluded today.

The verdict drew gasps in a small Chehalis courtroom. It also ended a long campaign by Ronda Reynold’s mother, Barb Thompson, of Spokane, to prove her daughter’s death was not a suicide, as it was initially ruled.

Jurors did not specify why they suspected Ronda Reynolds’ husband, Ronald Reynolds, and her stepson, Jonathan Reynolds. The jury’s rulings were unanimous.

Read the rest of the story here.

Past coverage:

Jan. 4: Ruling changes in ex-trooper's death

Oct. 15, 2010: State trooper's death focus of Ann Rule book

Dead man’s family wants jury inquest

Granville Dodd was home in bed when he got the call.

His younger brother, Quentin Dodd, (right) one of 11 siblings, had been shot in Spokane Valley by a Spokane County sheriff’s deputy. It was bad, his family said, but no one knew exactly what happened.

 Dodd soon learned his 50-year-old brother was dead. Nearly one year later, he says he’s still searching for answers to questions he has had since day one.

 Granville Dodd questions the deputy’s account of the shooting, compared to the forensic evidence, and he’s troubled that police portrayed his brother as being high on drugs when an autopsy showed only prescription medication was in Quentin Dodd’s system.

Spokane County prosecutors recently ruled the Oct. 24, 2010, shooting by Deputy Rustin Olson (left) was justified. Olson and another deputy who confronted Dodd that evening told investigators that Dodd wielded a sharp obsidian rock, refused orders to drop it, threatened to stab one of them, then ran toward Olson, prompting the deputy to shoot.

But the Dodd family, through their attorneys, Breean Beggs and Mark Harris, are calling for a closer examination of the case in the form of a jury inquest.

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

Dec. 19: Coroners says inquests offer transparency

Oct. 27: Man killed by deputy had been suicidal

Oct. 26: Family questions fatality

Inquest set for ex-trooper’s ‘98 death

CHEHALIS, Wash. (AP) — The Lewis County coroner has scheduled an inquest in October in Chehalis to answer questions about the 1998 shooting death of former Washington State Trooper Ronda Reynolds, a Cheney High School graduate, at her home in Toledo. 

Coroner Warren McLeod says the inquest jury will be asked to determine the manner of death. Reynolds' death was initially ruled a suicide by the coroner at the time, Terry Wilson.

Reynolds' mother, Barb Thompson of Spokane, believes the death was a homicide. She sued, and in 2009 a jury found Wilson erred.

The coroner appealed, and the case is before a state appeals court, which decided to wait for the inquest.

When McLeod took office this year he reclassified the cause of death from suicide to undetermined.

Thompson says she won't be satisfied until it's homicide.

Best-selling author Ann Rule’s newest book, “In the Still of the Night: The Strange Death of Ronda Reynolds and Her Mother’s Unceasing Quest for the Truth” looks at Reynolds’ death and what Rule calls a botched investigation by authorities too quick to believe an estranged husband’s claim of suicide.

Past coverage:

Oct. 15: State trooper's death focus of Ann Rule book

Seattle inquest jury split on cop shooting

SEATTLE (AP) — A coroner's inquest jury examining a Seattle police officer's fatal shooting of a woodcarver last summer returned its findings Thursday, with just one of its eight members saying the carver posed any threat.

 Four jurors said carver John T. Williams, 50, did not pose a threat and three others said they didn't know.

The conclusions reached Thursday after two days of deliberations are only findings of fact. In considering 13 questions, the jury was not asked to decide whether Officer Ian Birk (pictured with his wife and lawyer) committed any wrongdoing

 Evidence from the inquest and the jury's answers will be forwarded to King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg to determine whether Birk should be charged in the shooting. Satterberg said he expects to make a decision by mid-February.

Spokane County is one of few jurisdictions that does not conduct jurors inquests into police shootings.

Birk, 27, confronted Williams on Aug. 30 as he crossed a street holding a piece of wood and the knife with a 3-inch blade. Evidence at the inquest showed it took about four seconds from the time Birk first told him to drop the knife to the first gunshot.

The jurors split on whether Williams had time to drop his knife before Birk opened fire, with four saying he did not, one saying he did and the rest answering "unknown."

Four jurors found that Birk believed Williams posed an "imminent threat of serious physical harm" to him when Williams was shot. Four jurors answered "unknown."

The jury watched surveillance video taken from Birk's patrol car, which showed him getting out of the car to pursue Williams, who had crossed the street in front of the cruiser. Off camera, Birk quickly shouted three times for Williams to drop the knife, then fired five shots.

Birk testified that Williams had a "very stern, very serious, very confrontational look on his face." Williams still had the knife out and was in a "confrontational posture" when he opened fire, the officer said.

An autopsy found that Williams' blood-alcohol level was at 0.18 percent, above the 0.08 percent level at which a driver is considered legally drunk.

The police department's Firearms Review Board is expected to convene and rule on whether the shooting was justified. Birk has been on paid leave since the shooting.

The inquest came amid growing criticism that Seattle police officers have used excessive force in several recent incidents, particularly in dealings with minorities. Some community groups have called on the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the department.

Police shootings raise notion of inquests

In Montana, coroner’s inquests are conducted for every fatal police shooting in that state and whenever someone dies in law enforcement custody. The same requirement exists in Nevada, with Las Vegas authorities taking the extra step of televising their inquests. And elsewhere, communities are embracing inquests to help ensure public accountability as the number of officer-involved shootings escalates.

Now, following a rash of fatal police shootings statewide, including four in the past four months in Spokane County, some legislators want to make inquests mandatory in Washington, too. King County typically holds inquests into officer-involved shootings and allows a lawyer for the family of the deceased to participate. Legislation to require inquests for all fatal law enforcement shootings and in-custody deaths in the state is expected to be introduced during the 2011 session.

“This is a quicker, more transparent way to understand what taxpayer-paid servants – public servants – are doing,” said state Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and an intended bill sponsor. “These inquests answer what long, drawn-out litigation otherwise would have answered … and when they do it, they speak with authority.”

Read the rest of my story here.

Medical examiners in Spokane County have avoided inquests and county commissioners have largely steered clear of the issue even though Prosecutor Steve Tucker publicly called for greater use of inquests in 2006 after the fatal Spokane police confrontation with Otto Zehm, the unarmed, mentally ill janitor mistakenly identified as a theft suspect. The last inquest conducted here was 29 years ago.

Read Thomas Clouse’s story here.