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Police shooting ruled justified

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SPD K-9 Officer Daniel Lesser and 'Var' SPD K-9 Officer Daniel Lesser and 'Var'
K-9 Officer 'Var' died in June from complications from surgery to remove a brain tumor K-9 Officer 'Var' died in June from complications from surgery to remove a brain tumor
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SPOKANE, Wash. - The March 17 fatal shooting of a suspected car thief by a Spokane Police officer has been ruled justified in view of the suspect's actions and the threat he posed to both officers and civilian bystanders.

At about 10:20 p.m. that night, 22-year-old Johnnie Laroy Longest of Deer Park tried to elude a Spokane Police officer while driving a stolen Honda. The suspect high-centered the stolen car at Division and Longfellow and tried to flee on foot.

SPD K-9 Officer Daniel Lesser responded and began a track with Sgt. Brent Austin shadowing as his backup. The two engaged in a foot pursuit and the police canine 'Var' was released when Longest continued to run.

As they crossed Division adjacent to the Peking North parking lot, Longest turned and fired a .22-caliber pistol back in the direction of Var, the officers and a crowd of civilians who were in his line of fire. The canine was struck twice.

Lesser returned fire and struck Longest once, killing him. The Fatal Incident Protocol was invoked and the sheriff's major crimes unit became the lead investigative agency in the shooting.

An autopsy that day showed that Longest died from a single bullet wound that entered his back just right of baseline. In his review of the case, Deputy Prosecutor Jack Driscoll wrote that "this is consistent with what (a witness) saw - Longest being hit in the back as his arm was extended toward the officers and the dog as he was firing."

Driscoll also indicated that numerous witnesses stated that they were in the suspect's line of fire and feared for their lives, and that many stated they felt that the officers did what they needed to do under the circumstances.

Sgt. Austin and Officer Lesser also felt they were in Longest's line of fire, and that after shooting Var, felt that the suspect was pointing the gun at them, Driscoll said.

"It was reasonable for Officer Lesser to conclude that Longest posed a threat of serious bodily harm to himself and others and therefore the use of deadly force by Officer Lesser was appropriate and justified."

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