Independent unit tested by Richland police shooting

When a police officer kills someone, controversies often start with citizens questioning whether the shooting was justified or if police are trying to cover up for one of their own.

Tri-City law enforcement officials formed a Special Investigations Unit in January to have an independent unit of officers from various agencies -- the best of the best -- handle the criminal investigation and ensure it's as unbiased and professional as possible.

The SIU also removes the burden of what can be a lengthy investigation from one agency.

Though questions and criticisms still follow the June 5 shooting that left a 27-year-old Grandview man dead, officials say the SIU passed its first test.

"It worked reasonably well," said Pasco police Capt. Jim Raymond, who led the investigation. "The job got done in a reasonable quick manner. ... Overall, we believe it was a good job."

The SIU was activated after four Richland police officers shot and killed James Dean Schultz when they stopped a suspicious car in a neighborhood. Schultz, who was high on meth at the time, was a suspect in an earlier car theft and had sped away from police.

Officials released their findings Thursday, detailing how they determined the shooting was justified when Schultz pointed a gun and fired twice at the officers.

All the agencies in the Tri-Cities and the prosecutor's and coroner's offices in Benton and Franklin counties have members who can be called out if the SIU is activated. In this case, since Richland officers were involved in the shooting, they weren't part of the investigative team.

The team was led by Raymond and assisted by Kennewick police Capt. Craig Littrell. Supervisors, investi- gators and evidence technicians from the Pasco, Kennewick and West Richland police departments and the Benton County and Franklin County sheriff's offices and the Washington State Patrol were involved.

Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller acknowledged that he initially had reservations about forming the unit because he was concerned about losing accountability with having officers and commanders from different agencies on an investigation.

But, 10 weeks after the SIU's first activation, Miller commended the unit's work, saying it was "as good as any investigation" he's worked with.

Members of the SIU and the Washington State Patrol Crime Scene Response Team spent "hundreds of hours" investigating the fatal shooting, and the SIU's initial investigative report was more than 2,000 pages.

The initial investigation was completed June 21, and the reports were compiled and forwarded to Miller for review.

Miller then had to wait until he got the results of crime lab tests on Aug. 12 before making his ruling.

The lab results included key information that corroborated officer statements about Schultz firing at them first after he climbed into the driver's seat from the back seat.

An officer at the open front passenger door said he saw Schultz use his right hand to grab a .380-caliber semi-automatic pistol from his lap area, point the gun at an officer approaching near the open driver's door and fire.

The test results show a scorch mark from a barrel muzzle blast and a bullet tear in the middle of the upright driver's seat, suggesting Schultz brought his right hand up and across his chest to the left as he leaned toward the center console and fired.

"The trajectory path of the bullet shows that James Schultz was firing in the direction of the police officer that was standing behind him and to his left," the report said.

Investigators also recovered a fire .380 shell casing from the driver's seat and another .380 shell casing from the front passenger floorboard, the report said.

Ballistics tests showed the two casings had been fired from Schultz's gun, the report said. A bullet fragment recovered from the driver's seat was found to have been fired from the same gun and confirmed Schultz fired two rounds at officers, the report said.

Police also found the gun used by Schultz in the driver's seat. A second .380-caliber semi-automatic pistol was found hidden behind the rear seat armrest.

The completed SIU investigation was given to Miller, who found no wrongdoing by the Richland police officers.

Richland police also conducted their own administrative review of the shooting to determine if department policies and procedures were followed by their officers, and what, if anything could have been done differently.

The administrative review was completed by Richland police Capt. Jeff Taylor, who then forwarded his findings to Chief Chris Skinner. Skinner, who had been chief less than a week at the time of the shooting, also determined his officers acted appropriately.

"That morning, there were some really tough decisions made in quick moments. I like to believe we took care of each other that morning and, more importantly, took care of the community that morning," Skinner said.