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Private investigator interviewing witnesses to Feb. 8 police-involved shooting
POULSBO — A private investigator is interviewing witnesses to the Feb. 8 police shooting of a Poulsbo man at the Les Schwab Tire Center on Viking Avenue.
The investigator was hired by John Cross, a Port Orchard attorney retained by the in-laws of Joseph Matthew Henninger, the man killed by police. The in-laws dispute some of the findings in the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department investigation report. Prosecuting Attorney Russell D. Hauge determined May 10 that the shooting was justified. The report can be viewed here.
“We are interested in what witnesses have to say,” said Cross, a lawyer specializing in criminal law.
Henninger, 24, was in “obvious psychological distress” when he entered the Les Schwab Tire Center just before closing time, threatened employees, and fired a handgun twice, according to Hauge’s determination. No one was hit and employees and customers exited the building, according to Hauge.
When police arrived, they found Henninger “wandering through the service bays, tipping over equipment, shouting incoherently, and waving his pistol around,” Hauge wrote. Henninger didn’t obey police orders to drop his gun. He was shot when he “began moving, revolver in hand,” in the direction of a group of employees and customers gathered outside on Edvard Street.
“Although his motivation will remain unknown, the series of events started by Mr. Henninger that afternoon left the officers with no reasonable choice other than the use of deadly force,” Hauge wrote. “The officers behaved cautiously and responsibly.”
Henninger’s family and police don’t know when and where he obtained the gun, a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver. “The only records available show it was shipped from the factory to a dealer in California in 1946," Hauge wrote. "On the butt of the handle is engraved 'Bakersfield Police.'"
Teiney Carver, Henninger’s father-in-law, said his son-in-law’s behavior was uncharacteristic and was likely influenced by a change in depression medication two weeks before the shooting. Henninger graduated in 2006 from North Kitsap High School and was a student at Olympic College. He and his wife of 16 months, Sarah, lived a half-block from the tire center. Family members say he liked animals and working with wood.
But Henninger had long struggled with his weight; Carver said one of the people his son-in-law confronted at Les Schwab had been on the North Kitsap football team with him and had “bullied” him in school. The son-in-law lost 70 pounds in four months during training with Job Corps, but then was injured and couldn’t continue. Carver said those factors may have contributed to his depression.
Henninger was described in Hauge’s report as standing 5 feet 9 inches and weighing about 400 pounds.
Two weeks before the shooting, his medication was changed from Wellbutrin to Paxil. "All we know is, he had started to double dose,” Carver said. “I don’t know if it was by mistake or he was trying to self medicate. He would tell us, ‘I got it figured out.’ We just think it was two different medications doing the same thing and it overwhelmed his brain.”
Kitsap County Coroner Greg Sandstrom would not discuss the toxicology report, saying only that the results did not require him to amend the death certificate. The Herald on Monday filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the toxicology report.
The family disputes some of the details in the investigation report, and that's why they've hired a lawyer. “All those things they said he did, he didn’t do,” Carver said. Carver said one officer had his gun in his holster and was negotiating with Henninger when the other two officers fired. That could not be confirmed Monday afternoon; it's not noted in Hauge’s report.
Poulsbo Deputy Police Chief Wendy Davis responded by email: "A complete and thorough investigation was completed by the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office and a review of the case was conducted by Prosecutor Russ Hauge. Prosecutor Hauge determined that both officers were justified in their actions. Additionally internal reviews of the case were conducted and there were no negative findings during that process."
Carver also believes the number of bullets fired by police was excessive. Hauge’s report doesn’t state how many shots were fired by officers. Sandstrom said Henninger died of bullet wounds to the torso, right arm and neck. At the viewing, the mortuary would not display Henninger from the neck down because of the damage to his arm and torso, Carver said.