An off-duty deputy sheriff most likely prevented his highly intoxicated neighbor from killing others in a west Pasco neighborhood by firing on the man as he threatened people with three guns, including an assault rifle, law enforcement officials said.
Officials held a news conference Thursday to release details about the four-hour standoff that left Rick R. Howard dead.
Howard, 49, fired at least 60 rounds inside his home and at officers, Sheriff Steve Keane said. He was shot and killed Wednesday night by a member of the Tri-City Regional SWAT Team.
Howard was suffering a mental breakdown when he left his house on Sacramento Drive around 6:50 p.m. with a handgun, shotgun and SKS assault rifle, officials said. He had been drinking all day and possibly had a fight with his wife.
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Benton County Deputy Jason Erickson had just come home from work and was outside with his children when another neighbor told him Howard was having a breakdown, Keane said. As Erickson talked with the neighbor, Howard came out of his house with the guns.
Erickson tried to talk to Howard but returned to his own house to call 911, Keane said. He then heard several shots, grabbed his service pistol and went outside.
Erickson saw Howard pointing a gun at a neighbor and ordered him to put it down, Keane said. When Howard refused, Erickson fired several shots at Howard, who was not hit and went back inside his house.
"Shortly after this numerous gunshots were heard coming from inside the home," Keane said, sitting next to Pasco police Chief Bob Metzger at the press conference. "In addition, several additional firearms, handguns and an assault rifle were observed lying nearby on the front porch."
As law enforcement officers from agencies around the Tri-Cities descended on the neighborhood, Erickson had to kick down his own back fence to get his family out of harm's way, Keane said. Police tried to evacuate the neighborhood while Howard continued to fire inside the house, toward surrounding houses and at officers.
The bullets damaged Howard's house and hit a water line, flooding the interior, Keane said.
"There were holes in the windows, doors and ceiling," Keane said.
Howard made a few calls to 911 while inside the house, threatening to kill people if officers didn't back off, Keane said. Authorities blocked off several blocks in the neighborhood and tried to contact Howard over a loudspeaker.
Shortly after 11 p.m., Howard exited the house with an assault rifle and "brought it up in a threatening manner," Keane said. Deputy Scott Surplus, a member of the SWAT team, then fired a shot, which hit Howard in the chest as he stood in the doorway.
An autopsy performed by a forensic pathologist Thursday afternoon confirmed Howard died of a single bullet wound to the chest, said Chief Deputy Coroner Roy McLean. Toxicology tests are scheduled to be performed and the results will take weeks.
Howard, Erickson and Surplus were the only people believed to have fired during the standoff, officials said.
Keane told reporters that Erickson's actions most likely saved his neighbors' lives and prevented a potentially "catastrophic" situation.
"In my opinion, if he wouldn't have reacted the way he did, we might likely be looking at a situation where innocent civilians may have been shot or killed," Keane said.
Erickson and Surplus will be on paid administrative leave, which is standard protocol, as a special investigative unit reviews the shooting. Erickson is a Benton County patrol deputy who has been with the department since 2011. Surplus has been with the Benton County sheriff's office since 2000 and is also a member of the Regional U.S. Marshal's Task Force.
Police spent much of Thursday back at the scene in west Pasco trying to determine how many bullets were fired and what may have led to the standoff.
Howard did make suicidal statements to a neighbor and investigators are looking into whether the incident was "suicide by cop," though it's too early in the investigation to tell, Keane and Metzger said.
"He did make some statements from what I understand that he wanted to die. I believe he said that to one of his neighbors and that he wanted his neighbor to kill him," Keane said. "So there is some information out there that perhaps he wanted to die by suicide by cop."
-- Tyler Richardson: 509-582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @Ty_richardson