Richland officers cleared of wrongdoing

RICHLAND -- The four Richland police officers who fatally shot a suspected car thief high on methamphetamine acted appropriately when faced with the split-second life-or-death situation, officials said Thursday.

James Dean Schultz, 27, was armed with a gun when he jumped into the driver's seat of a car during a high-risk traffic stop, pointed the gun at officers and fired twice before they returned fire, said Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller.

Though witnesses with Schultz say they never heard shots fired from inside the car, tests from two shell casings and a bullet fragment found in the car corroborate the officers' statements, Miller said.

"Mr. Schultz had reason to believe he was facing a very long prison term if he was apprehended that night," Miller said. " ... He shot at the police officers only after he realized he couldn't drive away from the scene."

Schultz was wanted on warrants at the time of the shooting.

Richland Police Chief Chris Skinner said the officers had reason to believe there was a threat to themselves and others when they fired at Schultz 23 times.

"There was very little we could have done differently," he said.

Miller determined the shooting was justified, after reviewing the completed reports from the Tri-City Special Investigations Unit and results from the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab tests.

His findings were detailed in a 26-page report released Thursday, which includes seven pages from the crime lab about gun and bullet tests.

"No matter how appropriate the circumstance was, it is still something that's going to affect them for the rest of their life and rest of their career," Miller said. "... If anyone is a victim in this very sad case, in addition to Mr. Schultz's family, it would be the police officers."

The four officers who fired their weapons, Sgt. Tony Striefel, Cpls. Bryce Henry and Hyrum Stohel, and Officer Jon Ladines, were placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard practice after an officer-involved shooting.

They have all since returned to duty.

Schultz's mother, Josie Arreola, told the Herald she doesn't doubt meth was found in her son's system at the time he was killed, but she still questions the inconsistencies between statements made by witnesses and the officers.

"Of course, he's my son and of course, you don't want to believe something so awful. ... They're telling me he was pointing a gun and shot at them. I don't know," Arreola said from her Lewiston home. "Of course I love my son and I don't want to believe it. But what they found is what they found."

Arreola said she is upset about how officials failed to keep her informed about the investigation and that she didn't get a chance to see the report before it was released to the public.

Her sister-in-law in the Tri-Cities got a copy of the report and read it over the phone to her, Arreola said.

Arreola also said she is irritated that the other people who were with Schultz appear to be putting all the blame on him.

"I would have accepted everything but total fault of James," she said.

According to the report, Schultz had been in Richland around 1:15 a.m. June 5 with two other people in a Honda Civic, that later was learned to be stolen.

Officers spotted the Civic and saw a man, later identified as Schultz, get into passenger side of the car. The officer tried to stop them in the 900 block of Aaron Drive and the driver, James Sams Jr., got out while it was still moving.

Investigators said Schultz tried to persuade Sams Jr. to flee from police and when he refused, Schultz pushed him out of the moving car, got into the driver's seat and drove away.

The stolen car was found dumped a short time later in the 100 block of Thayer Drive. Investigators say Schultz apparently stole a 1988 Honda during that time and drove it to Grandview.

Schultz then contacted Rolando Vargas and two others and asked for a ride to the Tri-Cities. They met up with Elizabeth Silva, who drove them back to Richland.

Police said Schultz returned to town to get the backpack he left behind while running from officers during the earlier incident.

Vargas, 21, apparently got out to get the backpack and was confronted in the backyard of a home in the 1400 block of Alice Street.

The homeowner called police. The backpack, with a .45-caliber, MAC-10-style firearm, later was found in the yard.

Officers stopped the car Vargas was seen getting into on Cottonwood Street just west of Thayer Driver, and the report said Schultz tried to get Silva to speed away, but she refused.

Silva, Vargas, who was sitting behind her, and the front seat passenger, Daniel Fuentes, followed officers' commands to partially roll down their windows, the report said. Schultz, who was in back on the passenger side, did not.

Silva got out of the car and walked backward toward police, leaving the driver's door open, and that's when Schultz climbed into the driver's seat and tried to start the car.

Fuentes then jumped out of the car, and the passenger door also remained opened.

The officers, who had their guns drawn, gave Schultz ample opportunity to surrender as they slowly approached the car, the report said. There were two officers on each side.

One officer, who reached the open passenger door and had a clear view of Schultz, saw Schultz's right hand move from the ignition key and grab a .380-caliber semi-automatic pistol from his lap area, the report said.

The officer said he saw Schultz "turn his upper body to the left and point the handgun in the direction of a police officer standing to Schultz's left, and watched as Schultz fired," the report said.

At the same time, an officer approaching on the driver's side was preparing to transition from his firearm to his Taser gun when he heard a gunshot, then saw Schultz point a gun at him, the report said.

The officers were within 2 or 3 feet of Schultz when he fired at them, said Pasco police Capt. Jim Raymond, who led the criminal investigation.

Officers then returned fire. During the three to four seconds of gunfire, one officer said he saw Schultz tracking another officer with his gun as the officer moved, the report said.

The officers believed Schultz continued to pose a threat as long as he held the gun and continued to move, and stopped firing once he stopped moving and dropped the handgun, the report said.

Police fired 23 rounds from their .40-caliber pistols. The crime lab's findings show one officer fired 12 shots, another fired five times, one fired four rounds and one fired twice.

Toxicology results show Schultz had greater than 1 milligram of meth per liter of blood in his system, which is three times the average seen by the state crime lab this year, officials said.

"Methamphetamine users can obtain a feeling of euphoria and may obtain a feeling of invincibility. It can affect a person's judgment and decision-making skills," the report said.

The report concludes that while the incident was tragic, the end result was based on decisions made and actions taken by Schultz.

It said if Schultz had followed repeated commands issued by police, the outcome would have been different.

"Rather, James Schultz made the conscious decision to use a functional firearm he illegally possessed to shoot at police officers," the report said. "James Schultz's action placed police officers, performing the duties asked of them by society, in immediate risk of death or serious physical injury."

An administrative review of the shooting also found no wrong-doing by officers.