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Friday, September 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Mentally ill man shot by police outside motel was also shot by police in 2014

The man shot Monday by police is the same man shot eight times in 2014 by officers outside a homeless shelter.

Aaron D. Johnson, who has schizophrenia, was staying at the West Wynn Motel after being kicked out of a halfway home, said his aunt Judy Noritake. Johnson’s mother was paying for the motel and took him shopping at Wal-Mart for food earlier Monday. Johnson seemed to be doing OK when they went to Wal-Mart, Noritake said.

“She is pissed about what has occurred,” Noritake said of Johnson’s mother. “And she’s not pissed at the first responders. She’s pissed at the whole mental health care system.”

Police were called to the West Wynn Motel in west Spokane just after 2:30 p.m. on a report of a domestic violence incident, police said in a news release.

Officers approached the apartment and were contacted by a man who told them he had a gun, the news release said. Soon after, officers advised that shots were fired. One officer fired and struck the man. The shooting was the third police shooting in Spokane in five days.

Police did not say if the man fired any shots, though they said a gun was found near his body.

“She has virtually no details because the sheriff won’t tell her anything, beyond the fact that Aaron was shot multiple times and they don’t expect him to survive,” Noritake said.

Police told Johnson’s mother that he had called police and said someone named Brian was trying to kill him; Noritake said as far they know Johnson doesn’t know anyone named Brian.

“The issue about his reality is that there are so many alternate people who live in his head and are telling him things that the difference between what reality is and what he thinks reality is is pretty stark,” Noritake said.

Police said the initial call indicated there was an assault involving two roommates, and that one of the men left. Police received a second call indicating that the man returned and was armed with a knife and threatening to kill him. In a third call, the caller reported that someone was trying to kill him with a gun, the news release said.

In 2014, Johnson was shot eight times after threatening residents of Truth Ministries on Jan. 16, 2014. Johnson was carrying a knife and charged officers, according to court records. The shooting was ruled justified by the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office.

After that shooting Noritake said, Johnson spent time at Eastern State Hospital, a psychiatric hospital. When he was released he lived at a halfway house, until he was kicked out at the beginning of March. Noritake said her sister was trying to find him an apartment. Noritake said Johnson was taking medication for his disease and had been doing well. Motel staff said he was a quiet, respectful guest and they were even considering offering him a job.

Noritake, who wrote an op-ed for the Spokesman Review after he was shot in 2014, believes Johnson’s story is emblematic of wider issues around the mental health care system and how first responders are trained to interact with the mentally ill.

“He got shot eight times,” she said. “They meant to kill him, and they didn’t.”

Anthony Altizer, a maintenance worker at the motel, said he saw two officers arrive in one car and at least one exited the patrol car with his gun drawn. The officer asked Altizer if he’d seen any aggressive people, and Altizer told the officer he hadn’t.

One officer went toward the motel’s lobby and the other walked west in the parking lot. The officer who walked west fired the shots, Altizer said.

“All I heard was ‘Get down, get down,’ then four shots. Pow. Pow. Pow. Pow,” Altizer said.

The shooting is the third time in five days that a Spokane police officer shot a person. On Thursday, officers shot and killed a man near the House of Charity in downtown Spokane, and early Sunday morning police shot a man near Zola, a bar in downtown Spokane. The man shot outside of Zola survived.

On Friday, a man was killed in a stabbing at the West Wynn Motel. Police arrested the suspect later that day.

Spokane Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said soon after Monday’s incident that the man who was shot was in serious condition. Police began life-saving procedures before fire crews arrived.

Eric Paine, a maintenance worker who was in the motel’s indoor pool building at the time of the shooting, said he heard one shot, ducked and looked up and saw an officer demanding that a man get down in the motel’s parking lot. The man refused the officer’s orders and appeared to be confrontational. Paine said he didn’t see a weapon on the man from his vantage point. The officer fired and struck the man. Paine said although the man did not obey the officer’s orders, he did not appear to be moving toward the officer when the officer fired.

Officers on scene were wearing body cameras, the news release said.

“If nothing else my goal is to make this young man’s life, which has been tragic and tortured by this disease, mean something,” Noritake said.

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