Witness said man left police with no choice in shooting

A man who was shot by a police officer Tuesday in downtown Oak Harbor was armed and assaulting a woman, according to police.

The Skagit Multi-Agency Response Team, which is investigating the shooting, hasn’t released the name of the 21-year-old Oak Harbor man who was shot in the arm. He is being treated at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for non-life-threatening injuries.

Oak Harbor Police Chief Kevin Dresker asked the Skagit County team to take over the investigation since it involved a police shooting.

The officer who fired the shot is a “very well respected” member of the department, Dresker said. The officer has a military background and has been with the department for two years.

At about 8:52 a.m. Tues-day, officers responded to a report of a man with a gun holding down a woman, said Washington State Trooper Heather Axtman, a spokeswoman for SMART.

About nine Oak Harbor officers and deputies with the Island County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene, in the area of Hal Ramaley Memorial Park on Bayshore Drive.

No officers were injured. The woman is unharmed, Axtman said.

A witness, who didn’t want his name used, said he saw at least six officers surrounding the man, who clearly was holding a handgun. The witness did not see the woman until after the incident was over.

Officers repeatedly told the man to put the gun down, but he didn’t comply, the witness said. A shot was fired and the man seemed to flinch slightly. Another shot was fired and it looked like the man was hit in the left arm.

It appeared that an officer armed with a rifle made the shots, the witness said.

The suspect struggled with officers as they took him into custody.

Police performed “exceptionally well,” and the man with the gun left them no choice but to shoot, the witness said.

Shawna Pinder, manager of the Haven homeless shelter in Oak Harbor, said the incident affected many in the homeless community because the woman is one of their own, and some people seem to be blaming the shooting on street people.

“I am so saddened for the victim, for the police officer, for the people who live on the streets in fear of this kind of madness, and for the community,” Pinder said.

“Homelessness is not a crime and I am more determined than ever to advocate for our folks who deserve a better life than this.”

Faith Wilder, who heads the board of the non-profit Whidbey Homeless Coalition, confirmed that the woman involved in the incident seeks shelter at the Haven, the Oak Harbor emergency shelter that is set up in local churches.

“We do know the woman who was attacked was one of our shelter guests,” she said. “The police have provided her with assistance. Our staff are following up to assure she has continuing support as she and others in the homeless community have been traumatized by these events.”

Wilder cited lack of comprehensive mental health services for Whidbey’s population as a factor in recent criminal acts.

“Neither her attacker nor the policeman involved woke up that morning imagining this would transpire,” Wilder said. “(The attacker’s) mental health brings to mind other recent events in the news where, for lack of appropriate services and supervised care, distressed people have become violent. Is this a mental health services issue or homelessness issue?”

“In some cases, like this one, it’s both.”

Downtown Oak Harbor was buzzing with activity all day Tuesday as police cordoned off the block to investigate.

“Two cops shot past me as I got to work, and then there were all these gun shots, and I thought, ‘What is happening?’” said Talon Xenis, barber at Yonder Sea.

“This is supposed to be Oak Harbor.”

Mary Amerson, resource specialist at Spin Cafe, said she was at work when the incident took place, but didn’t hear the shots. After a friend called to see if she was OK around 10:30 a.m., however, Amerson said she locked the doors. Spin Cafe reopened around 2:30 p.m.

The area of the shooting is a common site of 911 calls involving homeless people.

Axtman said she didn’t know yet whether the people involved were homeless.

Whidbey News-Times reporter Daniel Warn contributed to this report.

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