Officer Michael Brown was “entirely justified” in shooting a kidnapping suspect in downtown Oak Harbor July 11, Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks found.
Banks reviewed reports from the Skagit County Multi-Area Response Team, or SMART, which is made up of detectives from different Skagit agencies. The team conducted an independent investigation into the officer-involved shooting and the prosecutor evaluated the reports for the possibility of criminal charges.
“Officer Brown acted not only within the bounds of the law,” Banks wrote, “but I find that his actions were subjectively and objectively reasonable and necessary to protect life and property, considering all information known to him.”
Oak Harbor Police Chief Kevin Dresker conducted a parallel administrative investigation into the entire incident and found that the department’s policies and procedures were followed. He said officers were forced to make split-second decisions in a hectic scene.
“I think they acted with bravery and professionalism,” he said.
Brown shot the suspect, Nathan Trujillo, in the arm with a rifle. Trujillo survived and is now serving time in prison on a kidnapping charge.
Some people in the community praised the officer for shooting Trujillo in the arm, but officials say that was not his intent. Dresker explained that Brown was aiming for the area of center mass, which is what officers are trained to do when a suspect poses a threat of serious harm.
Trujillo was moving unpredictably, Dresker explained. Brown’s first shot missed and struck the siding on a condominium complex across the street. The second shot hit Trujillo on the tricep.
Trujillo was waving a handgun that turned out to be a BB gun, but officers had no way to know that and acted appropriately; the perception that it was a gun justified the use of deadly force, Banks and Dresker concluded.
Banks reviewed about 600 pages of reports, audio and video recordings, still images and diagrams in his review. His report outlines the events that started at about 9 a.m. in the area of Hal Ramaley Memorial Park on Bayshore Drive.
A witness called 911 to report that a man, later identified as Trujillo, was holding a woman at gunpoint in the park and speaking irrationally about “something religious.”
“Several other witnesses described the same scene in later interviews,” Banks wrote, “and reported the same bizarre behavior of the man – that he was shouting about God and the devil, and speaking of cleansing evil from the woman he had apparently abducted.”
Eventually nine officers, including Dresker, showed up at the scene and took covered positions around the suspect and the woman. Trujillo was seen “pointing the pistol at officers, waiving it wildly, and then pushing it into the female victim’s head, neck or upper body,” the report states. He didn’t respond to the officers’ commands.
One officer attempted to shoot Trujillo, the report states, but the rifle failed to fire. Dresker said officers looked at the gun afterward and couldn’t find anything wrong with it. The problem, they concluded, was the magazine was loaded to capacity and not seated correctly.
Two other officers were prepared to fire, but they were concerned about crossfire.
Brown took his rifle out of safe mode and aimed slightly above Trujillo’s center of mass. He saw Trujillo take the gun in both hands and point it down at the woman. He thought Trujillo was going to kill the woman, so he fired, Banks wrote.
Brown fired the first shot that missed. Trujillo turned toward him and Brown quickly fire again, hitting him on the arm.
Trujillo continued to struggle with officers that rushed to him and restrained him. The officers applied a tourniquet, which may have saved the young man’s life, Dresker said.
A lot had happened in a short amount of time. Only one minute and 40 seconds elapsed between the time when one of the first officers at the scene reported the suspect was armed and Brown fired the shots.
Trujillo was transported to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he underwent surgery. Afterward, he told officers he had no memory of the events. He tested positive for amphetamines and benzodiazepines.
Trujillo pleaded guilty Sept. 8 to kidnapping in the first degree. He was sentenced to five and a half years in prison.