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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Woman Sues City Over Police Shooting Her Husband

A woman whose husband was shot and killed in front of their two children by a Spokane police officer has filed a lawsuit against the city.

Joan Lee, 37, alleges officer Ben Estes should have known his actions could cause emotional distress to Lee and her children, then ages 11 and 5.

Lee originally filed a claim with the city last summer, asking for $5 million. That claim was denied by city attorney Rocco Treppiedi.

“The use of force was completely justified under the circumstances,” Treppiedi said last summer. “Officer Estes … saved lives.”

Dennis Cronin, an attorney for Lee, filed the lawsuit in Spokane County Superior Court last week. It does not specify how much money in damages Lee is seeking this time, but it spends several pages explaining why the plaintiff believes police actions were inappropriate.

Estes shot Elwood R. “Leroy” Lee, 34, at the couple’s house early on Feb. 27, 1993. Estes was responding to a domestic violence call when Lee opened the front door and pointed a loaded rifle at Estes’ partner, officer Kevin Langford.

Estes drew his gun and fired one shot at Lee; the door then slammed shut. Unsure whether Lee had been hit, police blocked off traffic and spent the next six hours trying to make contact with him.

A remote-control robot, armed with a video camera, found Lee slouched over his hunting rifle. He had been shot in the head and had died instantly, police said. Shotgun shells spilled out of his pockets and a spare magazine for the rifle was on the table.

Cronin called the shooting “horrible” and said the children are “not doing well” as a result of seeing their father die.

The lawsuit’s main claim is that Estes didn’t take steps to make sure the children were out of harm’s way, even after the police had heard Leroy Lee warn officers to back off “or someone would be killed.”

Instead, the children witnessed the shooting on the front porch of their home on East 16th, Cronin said.

Treppiedi couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday but told reporters last summer that Estes fired “a reflex shot,” which demonstrates how critical the confrontation was.

A month after the shooting, Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney Donald Brockett decided the shooting was justified.

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