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Spokane police release video, audio of fatal January officer shooting

Sept. 27, 2019 Updated Fri., Sept. 27, 2019 at 8:53 p.m.

Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl, left, listens as Captain Brad Arleth, right, presents information Friday, Sept. 27, 2019 about the officer-involved fatal shooting of David Novak in January of 2019. The briefing given to the media outlined the 911 calls that led police to respond to the 600 block of Montgomery, leading to the shooting of Novak. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl, left, listens as Captain Brad Arleth, right, presents information Friday, Sept. 27, 2019 about the officer-involved fatal shooting of David Novak in January of 2019. The briefing given to the media outlined the 911 calls that led police to respond to the 600 block of Montgomery, leading to the shooting of Novak. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

During a Friday news conference, the Spokane Police Department released body camera footage and 911 calls that show the 4 minutes between reports of a man shooting at his neighbors and the moment when police shot and killed the suspected shooter, who turned out not to have a gun, on Jan. 7.

Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell cleared Brandon Rankin, the officer who shot and killed David Novak on Jan. 7, of wrongdoing last month. But Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl said the release of the calls and footage was part of an effort to increase transparency at the department.

The footage presented at the press conference showed the brief time between when the first 911 call came in and when Rankin fired at Novak.

The first 911 call came from Jolyn Maze, who lived across the street from Novak’s home.

“I need you at 620 West Montgomery ASAP – shots fired, please,” Maze said. “Neighbor – my neighbor guy is shooting at us.”

Maze later told police he heard seven or eight shots from across the street but did not see the gun. Maze also told police Novak was intoxicated, slurring his words heavily and becoming racially aggressive.

Maze told Novak to go home and that they could talk the next day, when Novak was sober. Novak then returned to his house across the street, before coming back toward the street with what Maze told police was a gun.

A second 911 call was from Kawada Johnson, who was in the same house as Maze. She also reported Novak was “shooting at us.”

Less than a minute later, the first police officer, Trevor Walker, arrived on the scene. About 2 minutes later, he radioed that he heard a shot and that it sounded like a pump-action shotgun or something similar, according to police.

Officer Chris Benesch and Rankin arrived on scene at about the same time, and Johnson told dispatch she was still hearing shots.

Jesse Tinsley - The Spokesman-Review

Footage indicates officers yelled for Novak to drop his weapon. Moments later, Rankin fires a single shot. Novak is not visible on the dark and grainy body-camera footage at the time he was shot, but police say he was standing in his driveway, between a truck and his front porch.

After the single shot was fired by Rankin, police lost sight of Novak and called in a SWAT vehicle before approaching the home, which caused an 18-minute delay before medical aid was rendered.

A medical examiner determined that Novak had a blood alcohol level of 0.27. The legal limit to drive in Washington state is 0.08. Police said they found a receipt in Novak’s home from 8 that night that showed he had purchased five vodka doubles.

A statement from Rankin about the circumstances of the shooting was read aloud at the press conference.

“As the suspect moved his right hand towards his waistline. I was in fear that he was reaching for the semi-automatic pistol that I had heard him fire previously or was about to take control of a shotgun with two hands,” Rankin’s statement read.

Lieutenant Troy Teigen, who led the press conference along with Captain Brad Arleth, noted that no shot-like sounds cannot be heard in Rankin’s body cam video prior to the shot Rankin fired. However, Teigen said such a sound can be heard in the body cam video of another officer that was played during the presentation.

One or two officers did not turn on their body cameras, Haskell said last month.

While the presentation by Arleth and Teigen added new information to the public record, it didn’t satisfy Novak’s family, in part because they weren’t notified of the press conference or allowed to view the footage in advance.

A small group of Novak’s family that confronted police before Friday’s press conference demanded to be allowed to view the new evidence along with the local media. But police held firm in their resolve to bar them from the press conference.

“It’s the police department’s choice to keep us out,” said Garry Creel, David’s stepfather.

It is the second time Novak’s family has publicly expressed their displeasure with how the police department has handled the investigation into his death.

During an August news conference where Haskell announced he would not pursue charges against Rankin, members of the Novak family emotionally expressed their concerns about what they said was the police department’s lack of communication to the family regarding their investigation.

A statement released by the family’s lawyer after the meeting addressed Chief Meidl directly.

“Chief Meidl, you continue to tell us how sorry you are for the family, but then you continue to exacerbate their pain,” the statement read. “Today, they were literally locked out of the meeting you held with the press.”

The statement goes on to push the police department to schedule meetings with the family prior to releasing information to the public.

The Novak family also objected to the revelation that Rankin and other officers who made statements related to the incident were allowed to view body cam footage before making their statements.

“It is concerning that the police department delayed getting the police officer’s statements in this case and allowed officers to review the body cam videos and speak with each other prior to giving statements,” they said in a statement.

In the family’s statement, they outlined their frustration with the way 911 calls were released.

“It is also disturbing that the police department is selectively releasing 911 calls while withholding at least one other 911 call that informed the police, five minutes before David was shot, that a man was pounding on David’s car making a loud banging noise,” the statement reads.

The family remained critical of the police department’s handling of the situation after the news conference and plans to file a lawsuit in the hope that more information will come out in court, Debbie Novak said.

The Novak family filed a claim for damages against the city of Spokane on Aug. 21.

Rankin is back on active duty.

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