Photo by Zachariah Bryan
Deputy Chief Nick Metz and Police Chief John Diaz brief the press on the Feb. 26 shooting of Jack Keewatinawin.

Police shooting of mentally ill person in Greenwood results in death

Update, March 1, 2013:

The suspect's father, Henry Northwind, has said he was not being held hostage, did not have a knife to his throat and did not, in fact, feel in any particular danger, according to the Seattle Times, who spoke with him and the suspect's brothers. Northwind, however, did say his son was raging inside the home, pacing "fast and hard, jumping up and down and stomping on the ground," according to the Seattle Times.

In the report, Northwind also disputes the claim that an officer fell to the ground. He said he saw his son fall to the ground and pull out the piece of rebar from his pants, and then the officers surrounded him in a half circle and opened fire. "They killed him like a rabid dog," he told Seattle Times.

Original, Feb. 28, 2013:

30 seconds.

From the point that a suspect ran from the front porch of his house to the point that he was shot a total of approximately 8-9 times (the total is not final) by three different police officers, only 30 seconds had passed, said Seattle Police officials at a press conference today.

“This was a very, very quick event. It was not prolonged,” Deputy Chief Nick Metz said.

Jack Keewatinawin, a 21-year-old male who lived with his father, was mentally ill. His brothers said he was schizophrenic and that police had dealt with him before, though police officials did not have any information regarding the suspects previous cases at the press conference. The Seattle Times reports that he was convicted of assaulting a woman in 2011.

“What we hear is when the person (Keewatinawin) was on his medications he was easy to deal with, but when he was not he wasn’t so much,” Police Chief John Diaz said. Diaz said they had no information yet about whether Keewatinawin was off his medications on the night of his shooting.

On Tuesday, Feb. 28, around 7:35 p.m. near a home at 100th Place and 4th Ave NW, Keewatinawin was fatally shot by responding officers near his home in Greenwood, resulting in his death.

Keewatinawin had called both of his brothers himself that night, tipping off the brothers to then call 911. Neither brother was at the scene. According to audio files played at the press conference, he was being erratic and had his father hostage.

The first call from one of the brothers was panicked and breathless. “My dad is being killed right now, please. My brother’s schizophrenic and he’s flipping out and he’s got a knife to him.”

Police said they did not know at this point whether the father actually had a knife to his throat. So far, only the 911 call from the suspect's brother has confirmed this.

The next brother that called was more composed but still worried.

“My little brother just called me. He thinks I raped his girlfriend and took his money … he doesn’t have a girlfriend, he doesn’t have money. He’s schizophrenic. He’s very violent,” the other brother said.

Since the home was near the North Precinct SPD Office, officers were able to respond fairly quickly. When they arrived, Keewatinawin came out onto the porch of his own free will, without being called by officers to do so. When the father came out onto the porch, too, Keewatinawin hid behind his father “almost as if he was using him as a human shield,” Metz said.

When Keewatinawin tried to go back into the house, an officer tried to taze the suspect.

“The taser was deployed, but the taser barbs did not penetrate what was believed to be pretty thick clothing,” Metz said.

Keewatinawin then attempted to run and three police officers gave chase. Officer Michael Spaulding went ahead of the other two officers and as the suspect slowed down, Spalding attempted to taze him. Again, the taser didn’t work, and Spalding slipped on the wet grass. Police say the suspect then turned around and raised the 18-inch piece of rebar above his head.

What happened then was instinct. Spalding, who also had a shotgun, believed he was in danger. He fired from his position on the ground.

At the same time, the two other officers giving chase also believed Spaulding was in danger. Thinking independently of one another, they both fired their handguns. They were identified as six-year officer Stephen Sperry and five-year officer Tyler Spear.

Police officials believe Keewatinawin was shot approximately 8-9 times, but the number is not final. Police immediately called 911 and tried to apply first aid, but the suspect was later pronounced dead at Harborview Medical Center.

A total of three weapons were found at the scene. A bone-handle knife, which the suspect reportedly held to his father’s throat and which was found in the yard; a heavy, 18-inch piece of rebar, which the suspect had threatened the responding officer with; and a small, sharpened stone, like an arrowhead, which officers did not see but was on the suspect's body.

As with any police-involved shooting, police officials said the three officers will be placed on paid administrative reassignment; the Firearms Review Board will look at the case; and, because the shooting resulted in death, an inquest will be made in King County court, where a six-person jury will review the case in the court of law.

None of the three officers had been in a police-involved shooting before. One of the three officers, Sperry, had Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, which is used to respond to cases involving someone with mental illness.

The investigation is ongoing. Police Chief John Diaz said that they would release more as they uncovered more details.

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