Police identify officer who fired lethal shots at Montesano man

  • Fri Aug 9th, 2019 5:30pm
  • News

The county prosecutor has determined that the officer who fired the shots that killed Patrick West during a standoff at West’s Montesano home in April acted lawfully.

A nearly four-month investigation into the shooting was conducted by the Region-3 Critical Incident Investigation Team — which is made up of detectives from Thurston, Mason and Lewis county sheriff’s offices. At least 31 law enforcement workers with six agencies were interviewed by detectives.

The case report was made public this week. In it was a letter written by Prosecutor Katherine Svoboda describing her reasoning for the determination.

“After a thorough review of the submitted material, I am declining to file any charges in connection with the above referenced incident. It is my opinion that all criminal liability rests with the decedent, Patrick West. The actions of Officer David Peterson, while they led to the death of Mr. West, were lawful. It is my conclusion that this is a justifiable use of deadly force and the state could not prove otherwise beyond a reasonable doubt,” Svoboda wrote.

Autopsy photos and a final autopsy report, were not provided with the report, which included more than 16 megabytes of information, including documents, recordings, video and photographs.

APRIL 16

West had been experiencing depression symptoms of bipolar disorder for about two weeks prior to the day he was shot at his home on South Academy Street in Montesano, his widow, Amanda Rossi, said.

On April 16, Rossi was experiencing symptoms related to her multiple sclerosis requiring health care, and she didn’t want to leave West alone. The two had been married since 2015 and together for about 5 years.

She spoke with a nurse at the office of West’s psychiatrist for about an hour that morning. The doctor was not available, Rossi said, and she was told to call a crisis service. Columbia Wellness’ Crisis Services in Hoquiam sent two workers to check on West, Rossi said.

The crisis care workers came to the house, but West refused to talk, telling the workers to get off the property, Rossi said.

Rossi said the crisis workers could not leave without “assessing the situation” and they notified the Montesano Police Department. Montesano Police Lt. Robert Wilson and Officer Elliott Nelson arrived shortly after 2 p.m.

Officers believed West was suicidal and “was experiencing psychosis and hallucinations” and hearing voices, according to an April release from the Montesano Police Department.

Twice between 2 and 3 p.m, the police department’s release states, West came out of the house, once holding a sword in each hand and once holding a sword and “what appeared to be a ‘Molotov cocktail.’ ” The first time he confronted police; West struck a fence with a sword-like object directly in front of where Lt. Wilson was standing, then he retreated back to the basement, the release from April said. The swords later would be determined to be long, thin, pointed pieces of metal with improvised handles.

“Both of West’s parents continued to try and speak to West,” Svoboda wrote. “This did not change West’s behavior.”

Wilson “observed a red laser pointing from West’s location and directly at Wilson,” Svoboda wrote. The laser is consistent with those used to sight firearms. At this point, the threat was considered more severe and all persons were moved to a safer distance.

The Grays Harbor Critical Response Unit was deployed. The CRU, dressed in tactical gear, arrived about 3 p.m. with a military style vehicle and at least one sniper.

THE STANDOFF

At the time, Hoquiam Police Officer David Peterson was a 10-year veteran of two Grays Harbor police departments, Hoquiam and Cosmopolis. He had been a member of the CRU for “about three years.”

Peterson told interviewers that when he arrived he was told that West had assaulted a Montesano officer.

Peterson was assigned a ballistic shield, meaning he would be at the front of the “stack” of officers who would approach the house.

His team set up on the south side of West’s house behind a truck “for more cover” about 10 yards away from the house, outside the fence.

West had exited and entered the house through a basement door on that side.

Peterson was instructed to monitor the basement door, which was about half opened. He and two other officers approached the door behind the shield. Peterson attempted to push the door open with his foot, but it closed about half way, then the officers retreated back to the truck, but not before Peterson said he noticed a smell of “fresh marijuana.”

Later, West was observed to close the door.

A search warrant was obtained to go into the house. CRU officers decided to knock the door down. More officers joined the “stack.” Peterson led the approach behind his shield. An officer was issued a battering ram.

“We breached the door,” Peterson said in his after-incident interview with investigators. His team backed off again because of, Peterson said, a “strong smell of propane” gas coming from the house.

The decision was made to insert a “throw bot” or remotely operated device officers can use to look around the house.

“We again decided to go down single file …,” Peterson said, noting obstacles in the path. “As we came down, again, I was tasked as the shield officer still. I was the first person to walk down toward the door. …”

“I would say I was 10 yards away from the door, again kind of moving to my left to get a better visual of the basement,” Peterson said. “At some point, I noticed the same individual (West) inside his basement.”

West was “maybe 5 yards” into the basement, Peterson said.

In his account, Peterson said he could see through the door that the left side of West’s body was pointing at the basement door. He said West held two swords.

“I would almost call it a fighting stance, just by the aggressive manner it was,” Peterson said.

West threw the sword in his left hand out the door. Peterson stepped out of the way and the sword-like piece of metal struck a teammate on the calf.

“I was facing him, with the shield, and I had my pistol out,” Peterson said. “… And before I knew it, he had thrown a sword directly at us. I had to sidestep as quickly as I could to my left. And I remember thinking, the first thing on my mind is, ‘I just exposed my team.’ Because the sword came at me, I would say, blade-first/point-first. And it went right past my right leg.”

“I looked at him again, and he still had a sword in his right hand. At that point in time, I feared for my life. I feared for the other people behind me, the other officers. At that point I fired.”

As part of the investigation, the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office took a .40 caliber Glock 22 and other tactical equipment from Peterson into evidence.

‘LESS LETHAL’

Three rounds struck the house. Two struck West, in the back and in the arm, county Coroner Robert Kegel said in May. Multiple shell casings were found about 6 to 7 yards from the house.

Aberdeen Police Officer Cody Blodgett was armed with a 40-milimeter launcher loaded with “exact impact rounds,” he told investigators. These rounds are commonly called “blue nose” or incorrectly “bean bag” rounds. The projectiles have a foam tip. One description on the internet said the rounds can have the of impact force of a fist, but spread the pain over a wider area of the body. The Montesano Police Department has described this type of ammunition as “less lethal.”

Blodgett has 10 years of experience as a police officer, four with Hoquiam and six with Aberdeen. He has been a member of the CRU since December 2011. He fired his weapon “within 10 seconds” of the volley fired by Peterson of “five or six” rounds, Blodgett said, after approaching the house.

West still was not complying with orders from officers, Blodgett said. He threatened West with another shot and West began following officers orders. Blodgett fired just a single round from his less-lethal weapon.

Officers began administering first aid and took West from the house and to a nearby ambulance, which took him to Grays Harbor Community Hospital.

TODAY

Since the incident, new police use of force laws have gone into effect throughout the state.

Prosecutor Svoboda says the new laws would not have changed the outcome.

“This decision is based on the new law that went into effect,” she wrote. “If this had been Officer Peterson was a civilian, with a less broad self-defense right, it still would not have been criminal conduct.”

She said she expects a civil case to be filed against one or more of the agencies involved.

Officer Blodgett is back on the job, an Aberdeen Police representative said.

Officer Peterson is still on limited duty pending a “Firearm Review Board” inquiry, Hoquiam Police Chief Jeff Myers said.

When a reporter visited the home of Amanda Rossi on Thursday, a family friend said that she did not want to comment as she was upset after reviewing a copy of the evidence. The next day, Rossi sent an email stating she has many questions left unanswered.

“Pat had not committed ANY crime and felt helplessly attacked by the extreme amount of police force trying to remove him from his home,” Rossi wrote.

The house looks similar to the way it did on the night of the shooting. There is a truck parked near the gate in the fence. The door that was knocked down has yet to be replaced.

To reach Michael Lang, editor for The Vidette, call 360-357-3936 or send an email to mlang@thevidette.com.