EVERETT — His gun was unloaded when he was shot and killed by Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies last year.
But the three deputies didn’t know that when they encountered Ilkka Hiironen east of Everett in January 2018, according to an investigation by the Snohomish County Multi-Agency Response Team. The deputies saw the man had a shotgun and that he was pointing it at them, they told SMART detectives, according to documents obtained by The Daily Herald in a public records request.
“I feared for my life,” one of the deputies reportedly said.
SMART is a countywide task force of detectives assigned to cases in which police have used potentially fatal force. Their findings have been forwarded to Whatcom County Prosecutor Eric Richey, who will determine whether the shooting was lawful and if any charges will be filed. He said Monday that he is still reviewing the case.
Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell said he would not review the case due to a conflict of interest within his office.
Hiironen, who grew up in Finland and moved to Lake Stevens with his wife in 2004, appeared suicidal before his confrontation with law enforcement, according to the SMART investigation. Family reported he recently had struggled with several issues: He abused alcohol, disliked his job installing fire sprinklers and had some family problems. His brother had killed himself over a decade ago, which family said caused Hiironen to be depressed for a long time, documents say.
On the evening of Jan. 21, 2018, Hiironen had been duck hunting in the Homeacres area when he texted his wife that he would not be home for dinner. During a 46-minute conversation, he said that he was going to shoot at the cops so they would have to shoot him, his wife told a 911 dispatcher, according to documents. She said he may have downed an entire bottle of whiskey.
During the phone call, the woman heard her husband screaming at someone, and then two gunshots sound off. She said she could hear a person’s voice in the distance.
Hiironen said the next person who walked by was going to die, she told detectives. He reportedly had a shotgun and two handguns.
Shortly before 9 p.m., deputies tracked his phone and found Hiironen under the U.S. 2 trestle, hiding behind his truck. He appeared to be holding a long-barreled firearm.
“Sheriff’s office, drop the gun, put your hands in the air,” one deputy yelled, according to the SMART investigation.
“You’re gonna have to shoot me,” Hiironen reportedly replied.
The deputies said he then stood up and pointed the gun at them.
All three began firing. Hiironen fell to the ground.
He had been struck by a single bullet, according to the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office. It grazed his left forearm and went through his shoulder blade, piercing both lungs and tearing open his aorta. He died from internal bleeding, the medical examiner found.
When the deputies ordered him to drop the gun and come out into the open, the man didn’t respond. The deputies applied first aid, but he was declared dead minutes later.
SMART detectives found several empty shotgun shells on the ground near Hiironen, as well as an empty bottle of whiskey. A shotgun, lying between him and the truck, was unloaded.
At the deputies’ location were 24 shell casings. A crime lab analysis couldn’t identify who fired the fatal shot.
Testing showed the man’s blood-alcohol contect was 0.34 — enough for most people to lose bodily function and possibly enough to kill someone.
Detectives found two voice recordings on Hiironen’s phone. In one, he told his family that he loved them and that he was sorry.