LAKE STEVENS — The Feb. 9 police shooting death of a despondent man who was armed with a knife appears to be “another tragedy and casualty of war” but also a lawful act, Snohomish County’s prosecutor has decided.
Lake Stevens police broke no laws during a fatal encounter with Juan J. Salinas, 33, who reportedly shouted “Just kill me!” and repeatedly ignored commands to drop the weapon before he charged at officers, Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe said in an Aug. 1 memo.
Salinas was a former Army Ranger whose service in Iraq and Afghanistan left him with mental scars and living with post-traumatic stress and depression, an investigation by a special team of detectives found. Five Lake Stevens officers converged on the man’s neighborhood after he called 911 and said he planned to kill police and they needed to get there fast.
The investigation concluded Salinas was intent on committing “suicide by cop.”
“Mr. Salinas clearly, sadly, and unfortunately achieved his goal of forcing a police officer to shoot him, overcoming several officers efforts to peacefully resolve the crisis,” Roe wrote.
The circumstances of the death were investigated by the Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team, or SMART. The team’s detectives are drawn from throughout the county whenever police use fatal force. The lead detectives in this case were Nicole Stone and Barry Hatch, from the Mukilteo and Monroe police departments, respectively.
Documents from the SMART investigation were released to The Daily Herald in response to a public records request.
Detectives wrote that a tearful and agitated Salinas was encountered by the officers walking outside his home. He was bleeding and had a knife in one hand and an American flag wrapped around the other. Officers would later discover that he’d slit both of his wrists.
After the fatal encounter, police documented the condition of his home, records show. A chair was next to the open stove, and somebody had left the gas running. In a nearby room, photographs were spread on the floor. On the desk was a newspaper clipping about the 2004 death in Afghanistan of a young Ranger.
When he died, Salinas reportedly had with him a bracelet inscribed with the fallen soldier’s name and the date the man was killed in action.
The confrontation that ended in Salinas’ death was witnessed by people in the neighborhood, including somebody who recorded the encounter on a cellphone.
The investigation found officers repeatedly attempted to convince Salinas to put down the knife and to let them get him some help. Instead, he reportedly advanced on them. Attempts to stop him by using an electronic stun gun proved ineffective.
Salinas reportedly charged at the group. Officer Steve Warbis fired his Taser, but the man didn’t stop. That’s when officer Gleb Shein fired a single shot when Salinas was about 10 feet away, investigators told Roe.
Though mortally wounded, Salinas still would not let go of the knife. He was disarmed after receiving additional electric shocks from officer Joshua Kilroy, investigators found.
The officers immediately began first aid, including CPR, but without success.
Salinas was a combat veteran who served from 2001 to 2004. He had been deemed disabled by his mental health challenges. He had struggled in recent years with drugs and alcohol and at least two documented suicide attempts, according to the SMART reports. He’d been prescribed medications but reportedly was inconsistent about taking them. He’d also recently lost family.
“It appears that Mr. Salinas either didn’t get the treatment and medications he needed to cope with his war experience, or that he didn’t reliably take it,” Roe wrote. “It also appears that at times he self-medicated with other substances. I cannot fault the officer who fired the shot, or the conduct of the officers on the scene, some of whom are undoubtedly veterans themselves.”
Roe wrote that he hoped the officers who were involved in Salinas’ death receive appropriate support and counseling.
Lake Stevens police faced similar circumstances in 2009 when a suicidal John LaBossiere forced his way into a home and deliberately pointed a handgun at officers as they shouted at him to drop the weapon. LaBossiere, 26, had just months before returned from his third tour of duty in Iraq. He’d gone there twice as a U.S. Marine and more recently as a member of the Army National Guard. Officers were found to have followed the law in that case, too.
Veterans are over-represented among those who end their own lives, accounting for roughly 20 suicides each day nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. The federal agency recognizes the problem, particularly its connection to PTSD, and encourages veterans to seek help at 1-800-273-TALK.
Locally, the Snohomish County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness offers resources. Last year the group scheduled classes to help people who provide care for veterans living with mental illness.
The Lake Stevens community also has made a priority of being a welcoming place for veterans. It is home to more than 2,100 people who have served their country in uniform, according to U.S. Census population estimates for 2011 to 2015.
The commission aims to focus on outreach about veterans’ rights and needs, recognition of their contributions, and expansion of local opportunities for them. Projects could include connecting service organizations and employers with veterans.
Scott North: 425-339-3431; email@example.com. Twitter: @snorthnews.