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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Family: Older woman killed by corrections officer in jail lobby ‘had her struggles’

UPDATED: Mon., Dec. 7, 2020

Police cars wait outside the Spokane County Jail after a shooting reported near there, as shown in this Dec. 4, 2020 picture.   (Maggie Quinlan/The Spokesman-Review)
Police cars wait outside the Spokane County Jail after a shooting reported near there, as shown in this Dec. 4, 2020 picture.  (Maggie Quinlan/The Spokesman-Review)
By Emma Epperly and Maggie Quinlan The Spokesman-Review

After a 70-year-old woman was fatally shot by a corrections officer Friday in the lobby of the Spokane County Jail, her family is left wondering if her death was necessary.

“I’m pro-law enforcement and I’m a law-and-order type person,” said Jack King, Nancy King’s nephew. “But a 70-year-old woman who weighs 110 pounds probably isn’t a threat to a corrections officer who knows how to handle prisoners.”

King knocked repeatedly on a door to the jail lobby before a receptionist unlocked the door for her. A sergeant then saw she was wielding what authorities called an “edged weapon.”

The Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office determined the officer shot Nancy King multiple times.

King lived a troubled life, but her family remembers her fondly.

Jack King said his aunt and his father were adopted as infants by his grandparents. They grew up on the South Hill of Spokane.

Nancy “always seemed to struggle to keep jobs and to relate to people on a personal level,” Jack King said.

She struggled with mental health issues and alcoholism for years as the King family did its best to support and take care of her, he said.

About five years ago, Nancy became estranged from the family after a falling out regarding finances, Jack King said.

“When her parents died, she had some money she inherited and she was able to get by on her own for a long time,” he said.

After the falling out, Nancy King left her retirement home and refused to return calls from family members, he said. When Jack King’s father died, the family lost touch with his aunt completely and thought she may have died or become homeless, he said.

At about 8 p.m. Friday, Nancy King entered the foyer of the jail, said jail director Mike Sparber. She pressed the button to be buzzed in by the receptionist several times, Sparber said.

The receptionist was trying to figure out what the woman needed, but she did not respond and continued to “pound on the door,” Sparber said.

A sergeant responded, in line with protocol, and when he reached the door, it had been unlocked by the receptionist, Sparber said. That’s when King came in carrying “an edged weapon,” which Sparber believed was a knife.

The officer told the woman to back away and disarm herself, Sparber said. He then “defended his life,” Sparber said, by shooting and killing King.

Jack King said he learned about his aunt’s death after the medical examiner called his mother. The death was a shock, he said.

“It’s rough, and it’s just hard to think about how her life ended,” Jack King said.

Even after hearing some of the circumstances surrounding the shooting, he struggles to understand why his aunt was killed.

“It’s really hard to picture that, but it was a cold night. I don’t know if she was having a mental breakdown or if she was just freezing to death and looking for someplace warm to go,” Jack King said. “Sure, a homeless person can seem scary, but it’s hard to picture someone that small and elderly being a threat to a corrections officer.”

Local activists questioned Spokane County’s commitment to providing a safe and secure prison system in a statement released by the Spokane chapter of the NAACP. More than two dozen activists and community members signed the statement.

“This is not the first time that a member of our community has died at the Spokane County Jail, incarcerated or otherwise, and this event brings to light the other lethal mishandlings within our local and statewide jails, incarceration institutions, law enforcement, and Department of Corrections,” the statement reads. “We have consistently raised concerns over the issue of dehumanization and othering within the corrections system of Spokane County and the lack of value put on the lives of populations being engaged by law enforcement.”

The Washington State Patrol is investigating the shooting with help from the Spokane Police Department, said Sgt. Terry Preuninger.

“Since she doesn’t have any children, there really isn’t going to be anybody rattling their swords for justice, and we wanted to make sure there was some pressure on the authorities to do their job,” Jack King said. “I just hope the State Patrol will do a good job and make sure the (corrections officer) did what he was supposed to do in the order he was supposed to do (it).”

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