Kennewick officer cleared in officer-involved shooting, suspect charged

Tri-City HeraldJuly 19, 2013 

Richland Police Capt. Al Wehner, Prosecutor Andy Miller and Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg announce Friday that Kennewick Officer Jeremy Taylor was justified in shooting 26-year-old Dennis Jaymes Skellenger. Skellenger has been charged with alluding and third-degree assault, a felony.

— A Kennewick officer was justified in shooting a 26-year-old who pointed a gun at police near Horse Heaven Hills Park last month, officials said at a press conference Friday.

Dennis Jaymes Skellenger was shot in the chest by Kennewick Officer Jeremy Taylor after running from police and then pointing a gun at them.

Skellenger's .38-caliber gun was sent to the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab, which determined the weapon was inoperable. However, to the naked eye, no one could tell, officials said Friday.

Skellenger has been charged with eluding police and third-degree assault, both felonies.

Taylor acted in the only course of action that was available to him given the circumstances, said Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller.

Taylor’s job was to provide cover to the K-9 officer with the dog that was tracking Skellenger when he ran through the residential neighborhood.

“Officer Taylor was a true example of somebody who did what they were trained to do,” said Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg.

The Tri-Cities Regional Special Investigative Unit reviewed the case and looked into the officer's involvement to determine if his actions were justified.

Skellenger has not been arrested. He's recovering from his injuries at his Tri-City home and is expected to appear in court later this month to face the charges.

Taylor, who has been with the department for six years, was on paid administrative leave during the investigation. He will return to work Monday.

The events leading up to the shooting started at 7:55 a.m. June 14, when police received a call from the AutoZone store on West Fourth Avenue in Kennewick after Skellenger allegedly tried to return merchandise he had purchased with a stolen credit card, police said.

Officers have had at least 169 contacts with Skellenger since 2000, police said.

When police arrived that morning, Skellenger sped away in a gray El Camino.

Police did not chase him, and a short time later they received calls from other officers and citizens about the El Camino driving fast and erratically through Kennewick. The car was reported driving near 19th Street and Highway 395.

Skellenger abandoned the car on West 27th Avenue and South Keller Street shortly after 8 a.m., police said. Skellenger then fled through neighborhoods near Canyon Lakes, hopping fences on the way, as residents called police.

Police then got a tip that Skellenger was hiding in a tractor in a field near Horse Heaven Hills Park off Yelm Street at 8:24 a.m.

They surrounded the area and Taylor, along with Cpl. Matt Newton and K-9 handler Brad Kohn, approached Skellenger. All three men told Skellenger to come out.

Skellenger then pulled the gun and Taylor shot him at 8:34 a.m.

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