Body camera footage shows moments leading to officer involved shooting
SPOKANE, Wash. — Newly released police body cam video shows intense moments that led up to Spokane Police officers shooting a suicidal man with a machete in downtown Spokane in 2016.
After an almost year long investigation, the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office determined the shooting was justified.
Multiple police body cameras captured the tense moments as officers tried desperately to get the man the help he needed and to keep everyone in Zola and the apartments above safe.
Ultimately, one officer fired his gun.
May 1, 2016 was a busy night in downtown Spokane. It was the night before Bloomsday.
Early in the morning, police responded to a reports of a man with a machete threatening people.
When police contacted Charleston Harper outside of Zola on Main Avenue, “Harper immediately armed himself with a machete,” said Lt. Steve Wohl. “Officer Haney deployed a taser firing it at Harper in an attempt to take him safely into custody.”
But that taser wasn’t effective.
As more officers arrived, the fifteen minute stand off began.
While some officers tried to negotiate with Harper and diffuse the situation, other locked the doors into Zola and tried to get people out of the bar and into the alley.
But, officers didn’t realize the front door to the foyer leading into the apartments and Zola was not locked.
Harper opened that front door and, “officers realized at this point Harper, who was still armed with a large machete, had access to the building,” Lt. Wohl explained.
When Harper went inside, officers fired both non-lethal beanbag and foam shots, and Officer Scott Lesser fired four rounds from an M-4 rifle, one hitting Harper in the lower back.
“In Officer Lesser’s report, he talks about them firing [non-lethal] first, and then as Mr. Harper continued into the building, that’s when he made the decision to fire,” Lt. Wohl said, “but you can tell the time was pretty close.”
Captain Brad Arleth says all officers receive crisis intervention training. They’re also trained to use less lethal force as an intermediate step, but also to be prepared to use lethal force.
“When we get to that point though we always have lethal cover in case the less lethal item doesn’t work,” he said.
The investigation found Officer Lesser’s use of deadly force was “reasonable.”
“Our officers are well disciplined in terms of understanding and their own responsibility in knowing when to deploy less lethal or lethal force,” Capt. Arleth said. “I think that’s the good thing out of this, is you don’t see everybody repeat firing after the officer makes the decision to employ lethal force.”
In a statement to the investigative team, Harper told police he was sick of everything and wanted to give up. He told investigators he was not going to kill himself, but he “could make them do it.”
Harper was treated at the scene and taken to Sacred Heart. After he was released, he was charged with burglary and harassment.
Police say he is currently in the Spokane County Jail.
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