Parents of mentally ill man killed by deputy file federal lawsuit against Spokane County Sheriff’s Office

SPOKANE, Wash. — The parents of a 25-year-old man killed by a Spokane County deputy have filed a federal lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office. 

Justine Murray and Mark Jentsch allege that Deputy Joseph Wallace “needlessly chased” their son Ethan Murray into a secluded area of the woods on May 4, 2019 and opened fire without justification. 

At the time, deputies said Murray appeared to be high on drugs and was running in between children who were playing near an apartment complex off of North Cherry in Spokane Valley. 

The complaint, filed Wednesday, claims Murray was sober, mentally ill and homeless. It also states he did not commit a crime, nor did he pose a threat to the deputy or anyone else. 

According to the complaint, Murray was contacted by law enforcement six times in three days for reports of disturbances. The first two contacts were made on May 2 and 3 by the Spokane Police Department and, according to the complaint, officers noted signs of Murray’s mental distress. 

Murray was contacted by the Sheriff’s Office four times on May 4. The complaint states that in each of those encounters, deputies noted his mental distress and in his final encounter that day, he was shot and killed. 

RELATED: Man killed by Spokane Co. Sheriff’s deputy identified

In the 911 call that led to his last encounter with law enforcement, the caller speculated that Murray was intoxicated, but it was later determined that he had no intoxicating substances in his system. 

In the aftermath of the shooting, the Sheriff’s Office claimed Murray threatened them and appeared to have something in his pocket, so they shot him. The complaint states Murray was shot five times: in the head, chest and arms, and died about 20 minutes after the shooting. 

The complaint states the Sheriff’s Office’s initial report of the incident indicated Murray pulled a “knife or something.” 

“Finally, on June 4, 2019, and only after investigators provided him with special access to privileged investigative materials (including dispatch records and audio recordings of radio traffic from the shooting), which were then unavailable to any other party or the public, Defendant Wallace issued his official written statement about the shooting, prepared with the assistance of criminal defense counsel,” the complaint reads, also noting that the written statement did not contain  anything about the “or something” uncertainty. 

An investigation revealed Murray was unarmed and the item in his pocket was a pair of black sunglasses. 

“The shooting of mentally ill, unarmed individuals by police is becoming a national crisis due to lack of adequate training,” said the attorneys representing Murray’s estate. 

Murray’s family believes Wallace is liable for compensatory and punitive damages for violating his Fourth Amendment rights, and their Fourteenth Amendment rights. They believe the county is also liable for inadequately training their deputies to recognize mental health symptoms and de-escalate these situations. 

“Defendant County is liable for its widespread policy or custom of failing to correct, tolerating, or encouraging employee attendance at ‘Warrior Mindset’ and/or ‘Killology’ trainings that teach disregard for constitutional use of force, foreseeably creating a culture of excessive force and disregard for de-escalation,” the complaint reads. 

The Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office determined Wallace was justified in his shooting of Murray and did not file any charges, but Murray’s family is seeking that the case be tried by a jury. 

4 News Now has reached out to the Sherff’s Office for comment on the lawsuit.

RELATED: SCSO deputy will not face charges in deadly shooting last May

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