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Hauge: Fatal shooting by police was 'justified'
POULSBO — Kitsap County Prosecuting Attorney Russell Hauge said Wednesday that police were justified in fatally shooting an armed Poulsbo man at the Les Schwab Tire Center on Viking Avenue Feb. 8.
“It was a justified shooting,” Hauge told the North Kitsap Herald. “The investigation is still open, but I don’t anticipate any new information at this point.”
Hauge said he has given only a “cursory review” of the investigation report, but expected to release a full analysis of the report, as well as toxicology, in about 10 working days.
Hauge said there will be, in his report, “some discussion” of what caused Joseph Matthew Henninger to walk into the tire center and fire a handgun. But, he added, “That’s not the focus. The question is whether under Washington law the actions of the officers were justified.”
Henninger’s father-in-law, Teiney Carver of Poulsbo, said in an earlier interview that Henninger’s depression medication was changed two weeks before the shooting, from Wellbutrin to Paxil. Carver thinks that may have been a cause of his son-in-law's behavior, which he said was uncharacteristic.
“Whatever happened, something happened in his head. He just let the real personality of Joe go and somebody else went into that Les Schwab,” Carver said at the time.
Henninger, 24, graduated from North Kitsap High School in 2006 and was a student at Olympic College. He and his wife of 16 months, Sarah, lived a half-block from the tire center.
Carver said his son-in-law had struggled with weight. He lost 70 pounds in four months during training with Job Corps, but then was injured and couldn’t continue. He thinks those factors may have contributed to his depression.
At 5:52 p.m. Feb. 8, 911 received a call from the tire center of a man with a gun. Police arrived four minutes later, according to a Sheriff’s Department report.
Witnesses reported hearing shouting and then gunshots in the store just before 6 p.m. Subway employee Melissa Johnson said she heard “eight more shots” after officers arrived.
“It was like fireworks,” a woman, pumping gas at the Shell gas station near Les Schwab, said at the time.
The officers who went to the scene were Officer John Halsted, a 16-year Poulsbo officer; Officer Ricki Sabado, a 28-year Poulsbo officer; and Sgt. Robert Wright, a 22-year Poulsbo officer.
According to the Sheriff’s Department report, the officers were “confronted with actions by the man with the gun that placed them and the public in positions of jeopardy. Officers fired shots, striking the gunman.”
Hauge said the officers gave Henninger “clear commands” to drop the gun. “He refused to drop the weapon and was still behaving in an irrational manner, and at that point officers decided to fire.”
Henninger was declared dead at the scene. No one else was injured. Coroner Greg Sandstrom said Henninger died of gunshot wounds to the torso, right arm and neck. Sandstrom would not discuss the toxicology report, saying only that the results did not require him to amend the death certificate.
Poulsbo Deputy Police Chief Wendy Davis said Wednesday that Halsted and Wright fired at Henninger; Sabado did not shoot and "was more of a witness and less involved." Sabado returned to patrol March 1. Halsted and Wright are doing administrative work, in keeping with department policy, until the case is concluded.
Davis said the department is analyzing what occurred. "Hindsight is 20/20," she said. "We always analyze what occurred and make sure we’re doing best practices. We’d be remiss if we're not always evaluating what we’re doing and how we’re doing it."
For the family, questions remain. Carver said in an earlier interview that the family doesn’t know where Henninger got the handgun; Carver said his son-in-law didn’t own a handgun. He also didn’t know why Henninger went to the tire center. In the earlier interview, he speculated that his son-in-law fired the gun — he said it was fired at the ceiling — to get employees’ attention because the tire center was loud. He speculates that firing the gun would have impaired his ability to hear the police officers’ commands.
“There are so many questions,” Carver said. “We have lost a person who loved people and animals. He was not a violent person.”