Spokane police shot and killed a man late Monday who was believed to have been firing a gun at neighbors. Instead of recovering a gun at the scene, officers found a baseball bat that one neighbor who witnessed the shooting said was mistaken for a gun.
Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl acknowledged Tuesday that officers might have mistaken the bat for a gun.
Officers “observed the suspect holding a long object, which they believed to be consistent with a rifle or shotgun,” Meidl said in a news release. “Today I learned investigators recovered a baseball bat from the scene and a firearm was not located. The (Spokane Investigative Regional Response Team) will continue their investigation to learn the facts of what occurred during this incident, why witnesses and officers believed they heard gun shots, and what led up to the use of deadly force.”
The suspect, 35-year-old David M. Novak, died of a gunshot wound to the chest, according to the Spokane County Medical Examiner.
Officers rushed to the home at 623 W. Montgomery Ave. in north Spokane at about 10:30 p.m. Monday after receiving a 911 call reporting a man at the home was firing a gun. When officers arrived, they reported hearing at least one shot fired. Soon after, one officer reportedly fired at the suspect, killing him.
Court documents state Novak retreated into the house after being shot. A SWAT team then arrived at the scene and entered the house, found Novak and took him outside.
Medics tried to save Novak but he died at the scene.
Investigators found a metal bat outside near the truck, according to court documents. They also found a .223-caliber shell casing in the front yard.
Neighbors gave conflicting accounts of the incident.
Jolyn Maze, who lives across the street, said Novak came up to him and a few of his friends smoking cigarettes on the porch. He said Novak seemed drunk, called him a racial slur and tried to grab and assault him.
“He walked up, and then all of the sudden out of nowhere he said he was with the KKK,” said Maze, who is black. “I said: ‘You need to get out of here.’”
Maze said Novak left and went inside his own home and came outside minutes later with what he believed was a shotgun. Maze believed Novak fired “five or six times” into the air and toward his home. Maze said he retreated into his home and suspected the ammunition from Novak’s gun was bird shot because he heard a “ting! ting! ting!” noise on his house.
Maze said he called 911.
When police arrived minutes later and confronted Novak, he ignored commands to drop what Maze and police believed was a gun.
“He made the cops kill him,” Maze said. “He ain’t never did nothing like that before.”
Maze’s nephew, Anton Wolfe, was at Maze’s house during the incident. Wolfe told investigators he was on the front porch with Maze and a friend when Novak approached them. Wolfe said Novak appeared “extremely intoxicated,” according to court documents.
Wolfe said he had a friendly conversation with Novak, but Novak suddenly became agitated without reason. Novak then shouted racist slurs at the men, and grabbed at Maze and cocked back his hand in an attempt to assault him, Wolfe told police. Wolfe said Maze shook off Novak, and Novak left and said he was going to shoot the men, court records state.
Wolfe said he then went into the house and a few minutes later heard gunshots. He hid in the house during the alleged shooting.
Another neighbor gave a conflicting account.
Tyler Gerstbrein lives on the corner of Montgomery Avenue and Wall Street and said Novak wasn’t holding or firing a gun. From the vantage point of his yard, he said Novak was hitting his old white pickup truck in his driveway with an aluminum bat, which sounded like gunshots.
“Before the cops showed up, I saw him pacing back and forth near a truck,” he said. “He had a baseball bat in his hand, beating the side of the truck. He was screaming.”
Gerstbrein said he believed Novak also used the bat to strike another truck parked on the side of the road along Wall Street. He said the truck either belonged to Novak or Novak’s father. Both trucks showed damage consistent with being struck with a baseball bat, including a decal that was knocked off of the truck in the driveway, and several large dents to the front grill of the truck on the side of the road.
Once police arrived, Gerstbrein said, officers huddled on the corner of Wall and Montgomery and shined a spotlight on Novak, who was still standing near his truck in the driveway. They told him to “freeze and drop the weapon.”
“He looked confused and raised his hand and walked away,” said Gerstbrein, adding that Novak hit the truck once before dropping the bat. “Then there was one shot fired.”
Gerstbrein said after the single shot rang out, Novak ran into his home, which is when police began yelling at people to get back into their houses. About 10 to 15 minutes later, he said a SWAT team entered the home and pulled Novak out onto the yard near the sidewalk, where he appeared to be dead.
The name of the officer who fired has not been released. The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office will investigate the police shooting.
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