A History of Violence

The nature of law enforcement is dangerous. Sometimes it ends in violence. Here's a selection of incidents in Spokane County during the last 15 years.

August 28, 1994 | 42-year-old Sidney McDermott was shot and killed by Officer Marc Wheelwright1. McDermott was followed home by Officer Tracie Meidl after McDermott passed her unlawfully. McDermott pointed a handgun at her. Meidl fired multiple shots at McDermott, but Wheelwright fired the fatal one. A jury ruled in 1998 that Meidl and Wheelwright did not use excessive force.

March 8, 1995 | Spokane Police Officers David McGovern, John Gately, Harlan Harden and Jerry Hensley shot and killed 35-year-old Blaine Dalrymple after responding to a 911 call from his mother, who worried he would commit suicide. The mentally unstable Dalrymple locked himself in the bathroom of his mother’s apartment and, when police knocked on the door, he allegedly threatened them with a stick and a piece of broken mirror.

September 3, 1995 | Mario Lozada died in the Spokane County Jail after being restrained by officers. An autopsy showed his death was caused partially by methamphetamines in his system and partially by the force officers used when they bound his arms to his sides and his legs together, although coroners disagreed about which was the predominate cause. Lozada had been arrested for fighting with officers when they arrived at an apartment where he was partying, and he died less than 10 minutes after being restrained and left on his stomach on the floor of a jail cell.

April 15, 1997 | 41-year-old Joe Lawson was shot and killed by Spokane Police Officer Patrick Dobrow when Dobrow and another officer responded to a report of domestic violence from Lawson’s wife. Police say Lawson lunged at the officers with a knife, which prompted the shooting.

August 6, 2001 | In an armed standoff, Officers James Erickson and Shane Oien shot and killed 34-year-old Tyrone Thomas in the Peyton Building downtown. Thomas had gone to the offices of the Hotel Lusso to see his ex-girlfriend, who was a sales manager for the hotel and had a no-contact order against him. Police say Thomas fired at officers first, and Erickson and Oien were awarded Medals of Valor by the Spokane Police Department in 2002.

December 20, 2001 | Officer Christopher Lewis shot 35-year-old Steven Waddell during a confrontation at Waddell’s home. Officers had responded to a disturbance complaint about Waddell throwing household objects from his second-story balcony. After police arrived, Waddell built a small fire on his balcony and threw several rounds of ammunition into it, set fire to a mattress and confronted police with a sledgehammer, according to police reports.

January 28, 2002 | Robert Shepard, 47, was shot and killed by Spokane Police in the parking lot of Safeway on Mission and Hamilton. The struggle began when an officer stopped Shepard for acting suspiciously in the lot and Shepard refused to show his hands. After backup officers were called to the scene and Shepard still refused to cooperate, officers spotted a gun, which they attempted to wrestle from him. After unsuccessful attempts, Sgt. Marc Wheelwright killed Shepard with a single shot to the head.

September 22, 2003 | Lewis and Clark High School student Sean Fitzpatrick, 16, was shot by officers in the arm, stomach and jaw after he brought a gun to the school, threatened students and teachers and shot at a classroom wall. Police later found a suicide note in his room and concluded he had hoped for a police-assisted suicide.

September 26, 2003 | 15-year-old Eagle Michael was shot and killed by Spokane Police Officer Michele Madsen. Michael, who was a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, wore a hearing aid and attended the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind. He threatened Madsen with a BB gun that closely resembled at Colt .45 handgun, according to police.

August 30, 2004 | During a traffic stop for speeding and a burned-out taillight, Spokane County Sheriff's Deputy Chad Ruff3 tasered 34-year-old Spirit Creager. Ruff says Creager acted aggressive and intoxicated after being asked to step out of the car. Creager pleaded guilty to obstructing an officer and was fined $500, but later sued the county for $5 million for physical injury and emotional distress that resulted from the incident.

January 29, 2006 | 39-year-old Benites Saimon Sichiro died in a Spokane jail after multiple struggles with police while he was detained. On his third day in custody, a nurse recommended Sichiro be moved to a cell closer to her office because he was suffering alcohol withdrawal. He resisted as officers attempted to move him to the other cell, so one officer kneed him in the abdomen twice while other officers tasered him three times. An autopsy showed Sichiro died from internal bleeding from lacerations in his liver caused by blunt-force trauma to his torso.

March 18, 2006 | Otto Zehm, a mentally disabled janitor, died after a violent confrontation with police two days earlier. After police responded to a false complaint of robbery at a north Spokane Zip Trip, they beat Zehm with a baton, tasered and left him hogtied on the floor. The trial of Officer Karl Thompson, the lead defendant in the case, is scheduled to begin March 2011.

February 26, 2007 | While drunk, off-duty Officer James Olsen shot Navajo Indian Shonto Pete in the back of his head near Peaceful Valley. A jury acquitted Olsen in 2009. The Spokane Police Department launched an internal investigation soon after the acquittal.2

March 24, 2007 | 33-year-old Jerome Alford was shot and killed by Spokane Police Sergeant Daniel Torok after Torok approached Alford at an intersection, suspecting he was involved in drug activity. Torok and Alford fought multiple times during the confrontation before Torok fired his weapon.

May 12, 2007 | After a 12-day coma, 37-year-old Trent Yohe died. The coma was induced May 1 when Spokane Deputies Scott Bonney, John Cook, Michael Wall and Griffen Criswel responded to a report of drug activity, fought with Yohe, tasered and hogtied him. The Medical Examiner’s Office ruled that Yohe’s death was a result of methamphetamines in his system, heart disease and the way officers restrained him. Although deputies were not charged for the death, county commissioners approved a $50,000 settlement for Yohe’s family in March of this year.

July 27, 2007 | Josh Levy, 28, jumped to his death from the Monroe Street Bridge after nearly 20 hours of negotiations with police. After “talking him down” from the ledge, police tasered Levy in an attempt to get him into custody. However, only one of the stun gun’s probes made contact with Levy, and he returned to the ledge and jumped.

September 5, 2008 | Spokane Officer Rob Boothe arrested 22-year-old John Luna after a car chase and foot pursuit. Boothe was tried on a misdemeanor assault charge for allegedly kicking Luna in the head as he arrested him. Two officers testified against Boothe during the trial, and a jury acquitted him in September 2009.

March 18, 2009 | Johnnie Longest, 22, died at Deaconess Medical Center as a result of a shot to the back during a foot chase after officers found him driving a stolen car. During the chase Longest shot and wounded Spokane K-9 Officer Dan Lesser’s dog, but did not shoot Lesser or Sgt. Brent Austin, the officers pursuing him. After Longest fired at the dog, Lesser shot him in the back. A chief deputy criminal prosecutor cleared Lesser for the shooting, holding that Longest was a threat to the officers.

July 10, 2009 | 23-year-old Jason Poss was shot and killed by officers, who say he refused to drop a knife he was using to threaten citizens and an officer in a patrol car. Officers had responded to reports that he had threatened and assaulted people in northeast Spokane. As he threatened the officer in the car and refused to drop the knife, two officers on foot shot him.

1. A previous version of this story identified the wrong officer in the shooting of Sidney McDermott.
2. A previous version of this story mischaracterized the impetus for the internal police investigation.
3. A previous version of this story identified Ruff as an employee of a different law enforcement agency.

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About The Author

Heidi Groover

Heidi Groover is a staff writer at the Inlander, where she covers city government and drug policy. On the job, she's spent time with prostitutes, "street kids," marriage equality advocates and the family of a 16-year-old organ donor...