James C. Danforth was walking down a dark, rain-soaked Hillyard sidewalk last November – near a home where hours earlier he allegedly fired a weapon indoors and threatened a woman’s life – when his profile was illuminated by a spotlight.
Still walking, the 59-year-old man, in full camouflage including a heavy coat, turned toward the officers who had shone the light on him, and who already had their weapons drawn. A small flash of light erupted from his jacket pocket and a single bullet ripped through the fabric, heading toward them.
Before he could get off another shot – his weapon had malfunctioned, failing to eject the cartridge – the two officers ducked and immediately returned fire, striking Danforth three times.
The last seconds of Danforth’s life, captured on Spokane police body camera footage and 911 recordings, were released to the public Wednesday morning. Danforth is one of five people fatally shot by officers last year, and was the only one who fired a weapon at police before he was killed.
In April, prosecutors ruled the shooting justified, saying Danforth represented a “serious and immediate threat” to Officers David Stone and Brent Armstrong, and the persons inside the home. No criminal charges were filed, and the officers were allowed to return to work after weeks of administrative leave.
The video was captured by Stone, who was training Armstrong at the time of the shooting.
Hours before, police had received a call from a distraught woman who reported Danforth was threatening the home’s inhabitants at 2934 E. Rowan Ave., waving a gun around and firing rounds inside the house.
In her call to 911, the sound of gunshots can be heard in the background.
“It’s a pistol of some sort,” she told the dispatcher. “All I know is he’s shooting it off in the house.”
By the time police arrived, Danforth had already left on foot. He was described as an older man, wearing a camouflage jacket, and probably had a gun.
Spokane police Capt. Brad Arleth, who led members of the media through the shooting investigation and video presentation Wednesday, said the officers agreed to keep watch on the house while the woman and her son packed to leave in case Danforth returned. It was at that time, while they sat in their patrol car outside of the home, that Stone and Armstrong noticed Danforth walking eastward on the sidewalk.
The video shows Stone adjusting the patrol car’s spotlight as he steps out of the car, raises his handgun and points it toward Danforth, who continues walking. Arleth said both officers demanded that Danforth stop and show them his hands, which were tucked into his coat pockets.
Seconds later, Danforth turns his right shoulder and moves toward the vehicle as he points the pistol in his pocket at the officers and fires. Both officers react and hide behind the vehicle while returning fire.
After a flurry of shots, Danforth hits the pavement. Stone keeps his gun trained on him while he lies on the ground.
About three minutes after the shooting, officers move in to provide medical attention.
Arleth said Danforth was lucid up until making his way to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, and was actively interfering with paramedics on the way to the hospital. He was pronounced dead by hospital staff at 10:49 p.m. According to a toxicology report, Danforth had meth and THC in his system when he died, and a blood-alcohol level of 0.22.
In the ensuing investigation, officials learned Danforth was able to fire one round before a bullet became lodged in the chamber. Neither officer was hit, nor were any structures behind them, including homes and vehicles.
A white-colored house that was behind Danforth was struck by several police bullets, but the home was unoccupied, police said.
Arleth said it was “fortunate nobody else was injured.”
“For whatever reason, it just got to be a bigger and bigger thing,” he said.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.