For Snohomish man’s family, a puzzling police shooting

LAKE STEVENS — More than 17 months have passed since Shawn Larson was fatally shot by a Snohomish County sheriff’s deputy at the truck scales on Highway 9 near Soper Hill Road.

The Snohomish man had a loaded pistol zip-tied and taped to his hand.

Newly released documents detail w

hy the deputy says he shot that night. The records don’t answer what Larson was doing at the scales with a gun.

A prosecutor soon will decide whether the shooting was justified, but Larson’s family still hopes for a different kind of answer. They remember the 39-year-old as a caring, sensitive man who was never aggressive. They want to know what went so wrong. They fear there is no answer.

The Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team (SMART), which reviews all officer-involved shootings in the county, in late December completed its investigation into Larson’s Aug. 6, 2009, death.

Larson’s family has pored over several hundred pages of police reports released under open-records laws. Prosecutors say there are more to come.

The documents made public so far mostly detail what investigators were told by the deputy and witnesses to the shooting.

That night, sheriff’s deputy Joshua Hostetter was driving a homeless man to a shelter in Everett when he saw a commotion at the truck scales, according to the SMART records.

A white pickup truck had suddenly veered onto the scales. When Hostetter pulled in, another driver pulled in and alerted the deputy that the pickup truck had been all over the road moments before.

Hostetter walked up to the truck. Larson was sitting in the driver’s seat with the door open.

He asked Larson what was going on. Larson didn’t reply.

Hostetter ordered Larson to turn off the truck’s engine. Larson reached around the steering wheel with his left hand to get to the ignition, records show. The deputy asked to see Larson’s right hand, which was on the other side of his leg.

Hostetter drew his duty pistol. He told Larson to show his hands.

That’s when Larson lifted his right hand.

“ ‘I have this,’” the deputy remembered Larson saying. He was holding a .45-caliber Glock handgun.

Hostetter said he yelled, “Drop it!”

Instead, he said, Larson appeared to raise the handgun and begin pointing it in the deputy’s direction.

Hostetter fired twice and then took cover behind the truck. He radioed that shots had been fired and that he needed medics and backup.

When two other deputies arrived minutes later the Glock was still in Larson’s hand. The backup deputies drew their handguns while Hostetter moved toward Larson. The deputy grabbed the handgun and pulled. It didn’t budge. He pulled harder, and the gun gave.

The other deputies cut Larson out of his seat belt and pulled him onto the ground. Then they saw that his right hand was “wrapped and zip-tied into a fist,” according to Hostetter’s statement to investigators.

The deputies began first aid while awaiting paramedics, but Larson died at the scene.

For more than a year, the shooting has been under investigation by SMART, the special task force of homicide detectives trained to examine deaths involving police.

Completed SMART investigations are sent to Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe.

Since receiving the investigation, Roe has visited the shooting scene and met with lead investigators. That is standard protocol for every SMART investigation, he said.

Roe plans to meet with Larson’s family in the coming weeks, he said Wednesday. If the family wishes, a victims’ advocate will be present. That also is standard protocol for SMART investigations.

Sometime afterward, Roe said, he will decide whether the shooting was legally justified. His duty is to determine whether a police officer’s use of force was lawful, not to explain every mystery.

Toxicology reports showed Larson didn’t have drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of the shooting. Everyone who knew him and talked to investigators said he wasn’t an aggressive person.

He kept to himself and was struggling due to a foot injury that kept him from working.

Earlier that night, cellphone records show, Larson sent a text asking how many sleeping pills it would take to “do the deed with a 45 taped 2 my hand.” The text was sent to an nonexistent land line number, and investigators apparently were unable to identify the message’s intended recipient.

Medics cleaning the ambulance after the shooting later found prescription medication bottles. Labels on both bottles showed prescriptions for Larson, but the bottles contained a mix of pills, including sleeping aids and medications used for treating depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and allergies.

One of Larson’s close friends later told investigators that Larson seemed depressed. The friend also said Larson may have hinted about suicide, but he didn’t make the connection until it was too late.

“I couldn’t put my finger on it. Something seemed different the last few weeks,” he told investigators.

Larson’s family last week released a statement about his death. They remember him as a shoulder to lean on, someone who was always there for his family.

Larson coached youth sports and touched many lives, they wrote.

“We are left with our memories and everyday reminders of little and big things of how we were touched by Shawn,” they wrote. “We miss Shawn so much.”

Hostetter returned to patrol two weeks after the shooting, sheriff’s spokeswoman Rebecca Hover said.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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