By Diana Hefley Herald Writer
LYNNWOOD — Nineteen months after a line-of-duty shooting, Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe announced that he won’t seek criminal charges against the sheriff’s deputy who fired the fatal shot.
Months ago, Roe finished reviewing the investigation into the July 16, 2011, shooting, but only recently sent a letter to the lead detectives, outlining his decision. In the letter, Roe apologized for taking so long, explaining that he had been waiting to meet with Justin Gaswint’s family before making a final decision.
“For many assorted reasons beyond my control, and frankly beyond theirs, I have been unable to meet with the mother and stepfather (our family contacts),” Roe wrote. “I have had somewhat regular contact with the stepfather by phone, but to say this has been a tough year for their family is an understatement.”
The family just recently left a message for Roe, saying they didn’t feel the need to meet with him before he sent the letter to the investigators.
“The loss of this young man’s life is tragic, and I cannot imagine the grief and anger his family feels. I know that this decision may cause more anger, which I would understand,” Roe wrote.
The prosecutor said he has concluded that deputy Mathew Boice was legally justified in shooting Gaswint, 32.
“It is my opinion that the deputy was justified in both his perception of a potentially deadly threat, and his decision to shoot,” Roe wrote.
The slain man’s stepfather, Clay Conley, said Wednesday that he can see why the prosecutor isn’t pursuing charges based on the investigation that was done. The investigation was far from thorough or impartial, he said.
“It’s just a ruse to make the public feel like it’s an independent investigation,” Conley said. “They’re not seeking justice. They are seeking expeditious protection of the county is all.”
The deceased man’s family told investigators that they doubted that Gaswint would attack an officer. A relative told a detective that Gaswint was more likely to run from a confrontation. They questioned why the officer resorted to gunfire, instead of attempting less lethal options.
The deputy reported that Gaswint threatened him, rushed him and may have been trying to take his gun, according to records obtained by The Herald last year.
Boice had stopped Gaswint after he crossed against the light in front of the deputy’s patrol car near Lynnwood. Boice told investigators that initially Gaswint was cooperative. The encounter, however, quickly deteriorated.
Gaswint had a warrant for his arrest, something Boice didn’t know at the time. The man was under the supervision of the state Department of Corrections for a 2008 assault conviction. He’d checked in with his community corrections officer four days earlier, but left before he completed a required drug or alcohol screening, according to court records.
Boice said he asked Gaswint to spell his last name. Gaswint then said he didn’t know his own middle name. The deputy said he decided then that he needed to check Gaswint for weapons.
He told Gaswint that he was going to detain him. Gaswint put his hands behind his back. Boice grabbed Gaswint’s hands and unsnapped his handcuff carrier. The pouch made a distinct popping noise and that’s when Gaswint pulled his hands away, Boice told investigators. The deputy said Gaswint cursed and started walking toward him.
The deputy told investigators he backed up, and Gaswint reached out, nearly touching him. The deputy said he was so concerned about having his handgun snatched from his hip that he covered it with his right hand. He tried to draw his Taser from its holster with his left hand, opposite from the way he normally would pull the weapon. That didn’t work.
Boice said he pulled his handgun and told Gaswint to stop. He also called for backup on his radio, using police code to make clear help should get there fast.
Gaswint stopped, turned around and started heading away from the deputy. Boice told investigators that Gaswint didn’t walk far before he turned around and said something like, “Code what? Code 2? You’re (expletive) dead,” Boice said.
The deputy told investigators that Gaswint then rushed at him. Boice said he couldn’t back up anymore for fear of being run down by passing cars.
Gaswint reached for the deputy’s pistol, Boice said. He yelled for Gaswint to stop, then fired his handgun once.
Gaswint fell to the pavement. Paramedics arrived and loaded the injured man into the ambulance. He said he was sorry and complained of pain, they reported. He later succumbed to his injuries.
There was conflicting evidence of a close encounter, according to records. Gaswint’s DNA was not found on the officer’s gun. There was no gunpowder on Gaswint’s sweatshirt. Ballistic reports indicated that the officer likely was more than three feet away when he fired the single shot.
Two witnesses who were exiting off the freeway reported seeing a deputy and a man in a hands-on scuffle. They said they saw the man appear to break loose and then stumble and fall on the sidewalk. They didn’t report seeing the deputy shoot the man or hear gunfire.
Roe met with the witnesses separately last year. Their statements to him were consistent with what they told investigators and largely corroborated the deputy’s account, he wrote.
“Most critical was their clear description of a close-quarter’s physical altercation,” the prosecutor wrote.
There is no way to know what Gaswint was going to do with the gun if he got it, Roe wrote.
“While we can’t know for certain what would have happened, a deputy faced with that uncertainty cannot wait to find out,” he concluded.
In his letter, Roe said in the future he plans to follow a more aggressive timeline in making decisions about officer-involved shootings.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.