By Diana Hefley Herald Writer
LYNNWOOD — A Snohomish County sheriff’s deputy was on his way home in July when he stopped to speak with a pedestrian who had crossed against the light in front of his patrol car near Lynnwood.
The deputy, Mathew Boice, minutes later fatally shot the man, later identified as Justin Gaswint.
Boice told investigators that initially Gaswint was cagey but cooperative. The encounter quickly deteriorated. Boice reported that Gaswint threatened him, rushed him and may have been trying to take his gun, according to documents recently obtained by The Herald.
“I believe the male intended to take my gun from me and kill me with it. Moments ago (sic) he told me that I was ‘dead,’ and made an aggressive charge at me that I could not avoid. I yelled, ‘Stop! Stop or I’ll shoot!’ repeatedly, hoping the man would stop during his rush,” Boice wrote in a statement.
Gaswint, 32, was struck once in the chest. He was rushed to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, but did not survive. His family told investigators that they doubted that Gaswint would charge 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.
“Nobody is looking into this investigation for Justin. They’re all just looking at this from the officer’s standpoint,” the slain man’s stepfather, Clay Conley said Wednesday.
The records, including the deputy’s own statement, provide evidence that is contradictory to information initially released about the incident. The press release, sent to media a few hours after the July 16 shooting, stated that the deputy was charged as he was getting out of his car. The full investigation proved that wrong.
The Herald obtained about 350 pages of the investigation through the state’s public records law. The case was investigated by the Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team, a group of detectives from around the county assigned to probe officer-involved shootings.
The team forwarded the case to Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe, who will decide if the shooting was legally justified. Roe has not met with Gaswint’s family, his standard practice before making a charging decision in these cases.
The records obtained by The Herald include Boice’s written statement and a transcript of his interview with detectives. The records also include a list of evidence collected at the scene, photographs, interviews with emergency crews and with the handful of people who drove by the confrontation that morning.
The documents also include results of forensic and ballistic tests by the Washington State Patrol crime lab.
Witness reports and surveillance video footage corroborate that Gaswint had stopped at a nearby convenience store just before the shooting. He wanted to buy a cup of coffee. He put .85 cents on the counter, but the clerk shook his head. A small coffee was $1.52. Gaswint picked up his change and thanked the clerk. He reportedly approached a woman, asking her for spare change. He didn’t return to the store for the coffee.
That put him on the path to encounter Boice.
The deputy, who has been with the sheriff’s office since 2008, told investigators that he had been parked in a nearby neighborhood where a car had recently been prowled. His shift was ending, so he started to head home. He was stopped at a light, ready to take a right turn onto northbound I-5 from westbound 164th Street SW. He told investigators that Gaswint headed west in the crosswalk against the light.
“So I stopped and let him finish crossing and debating whether or not to let it go or just go home. And I thought I had time for one more stop,” Boice reportedly told investigators.
Boice parked his car on the overpass, pulling ahead of Gaswint. The deputy said he got out of his car and confronted Gaswint about walking against the light. He told investigators that Gaswint’s behavior immediately caused him concern. He said Gaswint was shifting his feet back and forth and appeared to be looking for an escape route. The deputy said Gaswint then began staring at his gun, holstered on his hip.
In a tape-recorded statement Boice told investigators “… I get the feeling in my stomach, the hairs on the back of my neck kind of stand up and I realize that he’s not gonna run anywhere. He’s not looking for any place to go. He’s now focused on me and not only me, he focused on my pistol.”
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 Correction 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 took a couple of steps back and asked Gaswint to spell his last name. The man complied. 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 was trying to “get control of the situation before it goes south,” according to the reports.
Boice said he told Gaswint that he was going to detain him. Gaswint turned, facing away from the deputy, and 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.
Boice told investigators that he backed up. 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 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 in police code to make clear help should get there fast, using lights and sirens.
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 struck by passing cars.
“So I hold my ground because I have nowhere to go,” Boice said.
Gaswint reached for the deputy’s pistol, Boice said. He yelled for Gaswint to stop then fired his handgun once.
Gaswint stumbled backward and fell to the pavement on his hands and knees. Other deputies arrived moments later and handcuffed Gaswint, who was conscious and talking. Paramedics arrived and began loading him into the ambulance. Gaswint said he was sorry and complained of pain, they reported. His condition quickly worsened on the ride to the hospital. Gaswint succumbed to his injuries.
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.
There was conflicting evidence of a close encounter.
Gaswint’s DNA was not found on the officer’s gun, according to the reports. 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.
Boice was put on paid administrative leave, as part of standard procedure. He has since returned to work.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.