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Run and Gun 

Why a Spokane County detention officer won't face criminal charges after shooting inside a hospital at a fleeing suspect

click to enlarge Deaconess Hospital - EMPIRE HEALTH SERVICES PHOTO
  • Empire Health Services photo
  • Deaconess Hospital

With shackles clanking against his right ankle, Cameron Trevino ran down a staircase inside Deaconess Hospital. Chasing him was Spokane Jail Deputy Sandy Rief.

"Stop!" Rief yelled as he raced down the stairs, "or I'll have to shoot you!"

Trevino, unarmed but facing charges of assault and possession of a weapon, didn't stop. Rief, who was guarding Trevino at the hospital after his apparent suicide attempt at the jail, kept his promise and fired.

Rief missed, and the bullet lodged into the hospital wall. Trevino then fell to the floor, where Rief and a hospital nurse cuffed his hands and ankles.

No one died that day in July 2014, but the episode raises a couple of questions: Why did Rief unchain Trevino's ankle cuff without securing his other leg, giving him a chance to escape? And should law enforcement officers shoot at unarmed, fleeing people who aren't yet convicted of crimes for which they're held?

The decision to shoot at an escaping offender would be understandable, defensible even, if there were an imminent threat to the officer or others, says Rick Eichstaedt, director of the Center for Justice. But Trevino was running away, and Eichstaedt questions how much of an imminent threat he really posed.

Then there's the issue of shooting inside a hospital, and by doing so, whether Rief created a bigger threat to innocent bystanders than Trevino did.

"Had that bullet hit somebody, the county would be liable," Eichstaedt says. "There may not be grounds for criminal [charges for shooting at Trevino], but death from a certain level of negligence is involuntary manslaughter. It just seems very strange to be shooting in a confined location like that."

Last week, County Prosecutor Larry Haskell ruled that Rief was justified in his decision, announcing that his office will not file criminal charges. His ruling, however, hasn't settled all the questions surrounding the case.

According to court documents, Trevino was upset with his cousin, Izaac Innes, a member of the Deuce Avenue Crips gang, for giving his girlfriend heroin. On the afternoon of July 11, he confronted Innes, pointing a Smith & Wesson pistol into his chest and saying, "I'm going to kill you," and was subsequently arrested for assault and unlawful possession of a weapon.

A few days later, in jail, detention officers found Trevino unconscious in his cell after an apparent suicide attempt. He was taken to the hospital for evaluation and treatment July 13.

Around 2 am on July 14, Trevino had to urinate, so Rief opened the ankle cuff chaining Trevino to the hospital bed, and a more immediate urge came over the prisoner — the urge to escape.

Rief was a five-year veteran of Spokane County Detention Services when the incident occurred and had completed the required amount of firearms and defensive tactics training. He also was one of the officers involved in the in-custody death of 33-year-old Christopher Parker in early 2013. He declined to be interviewed for this article.

Once his leg was free, Trevino jerked away from Rief's grip and sprang to his feet, fists raised, according to records. He slugged Rief in the face; Rief returned the favor. Trevino was unfazed by the blow and evaded the officer, escaping into the hallway.

A lengthy chase ensued that included multiple blows from Rief's baton, two instances of Trevino laying on his back and escaping again, and an entire can of pepper spray emptied into Trevino's face while he was trapped in an elevator. Eyes burning, Trevino still managed to get around Rief, who was blocking the elevator entrance, and find the stairwell door.

Once on the fourth floor and putting distance between himself and Rief, Trevino started down a long, dim hallway, according to Rief's testimony. The officer told Trevino to stop or he would be shot, but he continued to run. After Rief fired a single shot from his Glock 21 service pistol, Trevino fell to the floor and waited for Rief and a nurse to cuff him.

Trevino is currently being held in the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, and multiple attempts to contact him have been denied.

Two U.S. Supreme Court cases inform law enforcement's use of force. The first, Tennessee v. Garner, addresses the issue of deadly force against a fleeing suspect. In 1985, the court ruled that an officer may not use deadly force to stop a fleeing suspect unless the suspect poses a "significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others."

In the decision, Justice Byron White wrote: "The use of deadly force to prevent the escape of all felony suspects, whatever the circumstances, is constitutionally unreasonable. It is not better that all felony suspects die than that they escape."

The decision has been written into Washington state law governing use of deadly force; however, it still allows officers a fair amount of discretion. In general, as long as Rief had probable cause to believe that Trevino was going to hurt or kill him or someone else, he is allowed to shoot. According to court documents, Rief believed Trevino to be "a threat to the community if he escaped."

"He's an unarmed guy, so how big of a threat is he?" asks Matthew Harget, Trevino's public defender.

"And he was running away," adds Eichstaedt. "He was trying to get the heck out of there."

The second Supreme Court case sets an "objectively reasonable" standard for perceived threats from suspects. In Graham v. Connor, the court ruled in 1989 that an officer's use of force must be considered through the lens of a "reasonable officer on the scene."

The decision has been criticized for decades because it doesn't seem to allow any room to question the actions of police officers.

"If that's the standard, then name one circumstance where it would not be appropriate to unload your gun," Harget says. "For all you know, there could be a nursery with a bunch of babies in the next room."

Local civil rights attorney Mark Harris echoes Harget's concern about shooting in a hospital.

"It begs the question, if you have a person who you think is dangerous enough [to] where if he gets loose, you have to kill him, then how did it get to that point?"

No clause in the county jail's policy manual addresses an officer firing inside of a hospital, but it does allow Rief the discretion to make those decisions.

"During a hospital stay, it's an officer's judgment call," says Sgt. Don Hooper, a training sergeant at the jail. "He could have called for another officer to help, but it's really up to the discretion of the officer."

Now that the Spokane Investigative Regional Response team investigation is complete and the prosecutor has decided not to file charges, Detention Services Director John McGrath says an internal investigation and review of the incident will start soon, but he doesn't expect it to be completed for at least six months. McGrath lists why, even before his investigation, that he thinks the shooting was justified.

"He knew that [Trevino] was a fleeing felon, what charges he had, and he knew that if he got away ... he would do harm to somebody else," McGrath says. "It doesn't matter where he is. If he thinks that a person is going to do harm to somebody, he's gotta stop him." ♦

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