Suquamish police chief: 'Body cameras' documented shooting

SUQUAMISH — Body cameras worn by Suquamish police officers captured the Dec. 9 fatal shooting in a Second Avenue house, Suquamish Police Chief Mike Lasnier said Thursday.

A Suquamish man was killed when he allegedly drew a weapon on officers who went to his home to serve an arrest warrant on another man at the residence. Officers initially reported that the man, Thomas Anthony Black, fired at them; the Sheriff's Office-led investigation into the shooting revealed that Black did not have a gun, but that a toy gun was found nearby.

"The fact that the gun found near the subject was not an operational firearm should not be misinterpreted," Lasnier said Thursday. "The Lakewood Police recently arrested an armed robber who had committed over 30 robberies with a 'toy' gun. The robber wasn’t released 'because it’s not a real gun'; he’s being charged with the robberies ... Law enforcement officers can not hesitate when a subject suddenly produces a firearm, or assume it’s a toy."

Lasnier also called on the public to "reserve judgment" until the investigation is completed and all of the facts are determined.

Here is the text of Lasnier's statement, issued Thursday

*      *      *

This is a supplemental press release. While the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department PIO has made previous releases in this matter, I find it necessary to issue this supplement to inform the community of some key points regarding this situation. I feel that it is critical for the public to be aware of these facts, to maintain the trust of our community.

Different Law Enforcement agencies sometimes have different relationships with their communities, and different philosophies on how situations should be handled. If it were up to me, law enforcement would be releasing substantially more information to the public right now. It does no good to follow an inaccurate press release with one so sparse that it’s worse than useless, and leads to needless speculation. A press release shouldn’t make a bad situation worse; it should provide illumination and clarity to the public, and answer key questions.

I am constrained from releasing all of the information I’d like to share, because I don’t want to do anything that might be perceived as interfering with the ongoing investigation. We have faith in the investigation, and feel that the investigators are doing a good job, and treating all parties with empathy and respect. We’ll let them finish their difficult work.

Before I begin, I would like to say that our department is deeply saddened by the events that took place. Any loss of life is always horrible, and circumstances such as this take a lasting toll on everyone involved. Please keep everyone affected by this event in your thoughts and prayers.

1. The officers of the Suquamish Police Department have all been issued “Body Cameras”.  We are the only agency in Kitsap County to have issued them to every officer, and we also have cameras in every patrol car. The facts of this case were captured on camera, both audio and video. The cameras were immediately provided to the investigators, and they are in possession of the recordings and the cameras. The cameras are specifically designed to be immune from any tampering; no one at our agency can reset any dates or times; they are set at the factory and cannot be accessed or changed. The recordings have a digital overlay for security from tampering, and cannot be edited or altered; they can only be viewed. The investigators, as well as any prosecutor or inquest jury reviewing this matter, will have access to incredibly accurate information, and will not have to rely solely on the word, memory or testimony of any individual. They will be able to be “in the room” for themselves. We have nothing to hide; to the contrary, we ensure that every interaction is carefully and accurately documented.

2. The Suquamish and Port Gamble S’Klallam Police have fully cooperated with the investigation. We immediately notified the F.B.I., and an F.B.I. agent has participated as part of the investigative team; there is neutral oversight. As always, we welcome external review in any matter of this nature, and a full investigation by all appropriate State or Federal authorities. Again, we have nothing to hide.

3. Upon completion of the investigation, each agency will be conducting a detailed and exhaustive administrative review, as is common industry practice in Law Enforcement.  At the Suquamish Tribe, that will include a review board. Such boards are made up of outside experts, as well as Tribal Elected officials. Our police department doesn’t “review itself” in major cases; we are accountable to the elected representatives of the community we serve, and we are quite comfortable with that. We ask our community to trust us daily, and we trust them in return.

4. Additional facts will be forthcoming from the investigation that may shed further light on explaining why this incident may have occurred the way it did. I cannot discuss details here, as the investigation is still in progress, and I do not wish to be perceived as trying to hamper or influence its outcome; the facts will speak for themselves. We only ask the public to wait a little longer for the facts to become available. Some processes take time to complete. One local newspaper has already reported that Mr. Black had multiple warrants for his arrest from multiple courts, totaling $35,000 dollars. Additional information involving extremely serious felony activity in the residence will be forthcoming. The investigation will also show that officers had been to the residence previously looking for Calihoo, and that the residents knew full well he was a fugitive with a felony warrant for a serious sex offense. They had promised not to harbor him or render criminal assistance, and to call the police if he came to their residence.

5. The fact that the gun found near the subject was not an operational firearm should not be misinterpreted. The Lakewood Police recently arrested an armed robber who had committed over 30 robberies with a “toy” gun. The robber wasn’t released “because it’s not a real gun”; he’s being charged with the robberies. At least 30 times, he flashed that “toy” gun, and over 30 times, at a quick glance, it looked real. Law enforcement officers can not hesitate when a subject suddenly produces a firearm, or assume it’s a toy. Only truly disturbed people would ask police officers to wait for bullets to tear through them to “prove” the gun was real. When a subject in a dark room full of police officers refuses multiple commands to show their hands, and then suddenly reaches and swings up with what appears to be a gun, any sane person knows how the officers are going to react.

6. I am confident that a full, exhaustive review of this matter at every level will find that the officers reacted the only way they could when placed in horrible circumstances, and were forced to make a split second decision under circumstances that were tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving. I do not ask the public to share that confidence, because you don’t yet know everything I know. I only ask you to reserve judgment until all of the facts are available to you.

Chief Mike Lasnier


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